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When Tahs were hard men and the opposition nervous

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The downing of the Boks

Commemorating the 1937 downing of the Springboks by the Waratahs

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As far as Wild Bill, Jockey, Shirts, Fob and Steak were concerned, it didn't matter that the Springboks were supposedly the rugby masters.

This was the day when the Waratah emblem had to reign supreme. Even if the conditions on June 19, 1937, were dreadful, when the NSW team ran onto a flooded Sydney Cricket Ground pitch, the locals knew they had to stick to an adventurous game plan.

Forget the torrential rain and stick to what had made the Waratah brand renowned during their landmark 1927-28 tour of Britain and France. Coach Johnnie Wallace, a pivotal figure of that tour, told his players there was one easy way to expose the Springboks' fitness concerns. Run them around the park. Keep throwing the ball. Always be positive. The Waratahs were, scoring four tries to one to enjoy one of their most memorable victories against an opposition who eventually finished with only 13 players on the field.

Players jostle for possession during the 1937 clash.

Players jostle for possession during the 1937 clash. Photo: Fairfax Archive

Seventy-five years on, the 2012 Waratahs are celebrating this victory, which involved some of the most charismatic characters to wear NSW colours.

Captained by Cyril Towers, the master of the Randwick running game, his line-up included a future Australian 440 yards champion, Frank ''Fob'' O'Brien, the tiny John ''Jockey'' Kelaher, retailer Vic ''Shirts'' Richards and Drummoyne copper Jack ''Steak'' Malone. His enforcers in the pack were Australian rugby's most dynamic duo - the legendary Wild Bill Cerutti and his sidekick Aub Hodgson.

The son of Italian immigrants, Cerutti was known as Wild Bill from almost day one, following his first representative game where he ran around the field, belting any notable player who came near him. In the press box, one scribe asked: ''Who's that wild bastard running around out there?''

That wild bastard became Wild Bill in the next morning's newspaper.

Hodgson was ever crazier. Countless punches were thrown - all of which connected- during their first meeting in a Sydney club match. In the first lineout, Cerutti decked Hodgson; Hodgson poleaxed Cerutti in the second. As Hodgson got to his feet, Cerutti suggested a truce: ''A young GPS forward like you shouldn't start this sort of thing. Let's call the whole thing off.'' Hodgson agreed.

However, during the first lineout of the second half Cerutti belted Hodgson. A groggy Hodgson got to his feet, nursing a battered jaw and yelled: ''I thought you said we'd made a truce.'' Cerutti leant back and roared with laughter. ''That's lesson number one, never trust the opposition.''

And with those words began a lifelong friendship, even if it was a little flighty at times. During the 1936 Wallaby tour of New Zealand they became bored at a function and decided to adjourn to a back room to test each other's slapping abilities. The good-hearted slaps turned into nasty uppercuts and hooks, and teammates had to pull them apart.

Later Cerutti became a mentor to future generations of Wallabies, as a manager and tour liaison officer, providing advice to promising players that they should smoke Havana cigars, and drink gin and tonic rather than beer. Hodgson was renowned for organising wild parties, including one that is still talked about by the 1966 British Lions team as the bathtub was filled with champagne. He was also renowned for welcoming visiting teams at Sydney Airport in his pyjamas.

He was the master of winning bets, especially if someone questioned his vast rugby knowledge. Hodgson even secured lunch out of Test cricketer Sid Barnes, who was known as a tightwad, after he bet him that if they stood side by side in Martin Place on a Monday morning more people would stop and say hello to him more than Barnes. Hodgson won that bet by about 50 people. Since Wild Bill and Aub passed on, NSW rugby has become decidedly more staid.

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