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Bledisloe Cup: Wallabies should look to fallen heroes for motivation

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Polota-Nau unsure if he can keep pace (0:36)

The Wallabies veteran has returned to training camp, and admits he feels a little out of his depth. (0:36)

The Wallabies have tried all forms of motivation to win back the Bledisloe Cup. None have worked, as shown by the Cup being New Zealand property since 2003.

A different approach is required. Maybe it's time for the Wallabies to go back to traditional values and gain inspiration from those who sacrificed their all on the rugby field and battlefield, in particular two Australian Test players who died a century ago this week.

Anyone would be motivated by what occurred to six members of the 1913 Australian rugby team which achieved this country's first Test win on New Zealand soil, but who within five years would be killed at either Gallipoli or on the Western Front.

Two of those -- Bryan Hughes and William 'Twit' Tasker -- were killed on the 6th and 9th of August 1918. They need to be remembered, in particular by the Wallaby fraternity. While researching my latest book 'The Wallabies at War', I uncovered countless extraordinary stories of bravery, hardship and courage involving Australian rugby representatives who served at major conflicts, including the Boer War, Boxer Rebellion, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Among the most heart-wrenching episodes involves 'The Sad Six': Fred Thompson and Harold George who died at Gallipoli and Hughes, Tasker, Herbert Jones and Clarence 'Dos' Wallach who never returned from the Western Front. Each had compelling stories.

In the official 1913 Australian team photograph all six look so young, so ambitious and showed they could mix it with the world's best rugby nation. They headed to New Zealand with little expectations, as the local ranks had been decimated by the rugby league bogeyman. Then came the first Test in Wellington held in such diabolical conditions that the game had to be played in four quarters so officials could provide players with reviving hot drinks. The tourists' gloom was not helped by a 30-5 loss.

At least in the final international of a three-match series at Lancaster Park, Christchurch, the Australian team was delighted that it was dry, enabling them to play expansive football, and with it a 16-5 triumph. Thompson and Jones were among the try-scorers, while Hughes kicked two conversions. As this was the first Australian team since the 1894 NSW tourists to beat New Zealand on their own soil, they returned home heroes, feted by the public and press.

In just over a year, unrest in Europe put all their promising football careers on hold.

Rugby in Australia stopped during the Great War. Virtually every available footballers enlisted. Several district rugby clubs were decimated, including Eastern Suburbs, the 1913 Sydney competition premiers, which had seven of their best-known players killed. These included George, Thompson and Wallach.

During the Gallipoli campaign, it resembled a Wallabies reunion as George was joined in the trenches by Thompson, Tasker and resourceful Test front-rower Jimmy Clarken, while nearby on the cliffs working as a stretcher bearer was Australian rugby's mighty forward, Tom Richards. Another Wallaby George Pugh commented that as there were so many rugby players in the AIF ranks, "it puts you in mind of a football tour, as they all seem to be here. No omissions by the selectors on this trip."

George's selfless attitude led to his downfall on 10 May, 1915. George, a tall forward, went to pick up a Sergeant Cotterill, who had been shot through the breast, to bring him back to their trench. When lifting him into the trench, George was shot, the bullet touching the spine and paralysing his legs. He died the following morning on the hospital ship, anchored off Gallipoli. Tasker wrote that George "earned the Victoria Cross nearly every day. He met his death in a way that any man would feel proud to die."

Nineteen days later, Thompson, another forward, was also dead, when seeking revenge at Quinn's Post for his teammate's demise.

As Clarken wrote after his close friend's death: "He was after a few Turks after that and never missed a chance to knock some. Then came the great rush of the Turks, and Fred stood up there, potting them off one after another. We called him to come down, but his only reply was: 'It is the only way to stop them.'"

Thompson was shot through the head, but "lived just long enough to say to us all: 'Goodbye. I am sent for. Good luck to you all'."

The next of the 1913 team to fall missed out on Gallipoli, instead arriving to confront the horrors of France. Herbert Jones, a centre, survived the horrendous Battle of Fromelles, but three months later on 4 November 1916, his battalion, located near the French town of Flers, was about to be relieved when he was hit by a shell and killed instantly.

Wallach, another forward, suffered a similar fate to Jones in the French slush, following several years of distinguished service. Although the Bondi-based family was of German origin, with their father emigrating from Hamburg, that did not stop six of Henry and Mary Wallach's eight sons donning the Australian khaki.

Wallach, one of the last to leave Gallipoli, was awarded the Military Cross for 'great coolness under fire and devotion to duty' at Pozieres in 1916. In April 1918, he was involved in repelling Germany's major offensive near Villers-Bretonneux. In an attack on a German position, which saw Percy Storkey win a Victoria Cross, Wallach was gunned down, shot in both knees.

His legs had to be amputated, and within days Wallach was dead and buried in the Etretat Churchyard Extension. The Wallach family agony did not end there. Nine days later, his younger brother Neville, another capable Easts footballer, was killed nearby when a shell burst at his company's headquarters.

Another family to suffer was the illustrious Hughes clan, a family which includes lord mayors, state and federal politicians, lawyers, writers, architects, doctors, pastoralists, film makers and Olympians. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's wife Lucy is a member of the Hughes family.

Bryan Hughes, who played in the Australian back-row in two Tests, joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and was involved in numerous skirmishes on the Western Front, receiving the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.

On 6 August 1918, he was holding a crucial section of the line near Hazebrouck, when carrying a Lewis gun, led a patrol party towards Celery Copse. As he pushed towards the German trenches, Hughes was hit by machine gun fire. A short-time later he died.

He left behind a letter to his mother, which said in part: "I would lay down my life a hundred times for you & my dear sisters and brothers, and other dear ones, but especially for you & I'm in this fight for you all & for everything that we hold sacred. So please God if I am taken, I will be with Father & Roger & Granny & Aunt Liz & all our other dear dead, waiting for you all & praying for you all."

"Twit" Tasker, the most expressive of five-eighths, led a varied war life. After being severely wounded at Quinn's Post in Gallipoli, where he was found half buried in dirt from a Turkish artillery shell, suffering battered legs and ankles, he was discharged. He recuperated at his family's country home in Condobolin.

He tried to re-enlist, but kept getting knocked back by the army doctors. Twit was eventually allowed to re-join the AIF in August 1916 as part of the 116th Howitzer Battery.

There was an unexpected delay to his return to France, as he was court-martialled for desertion, after leaving camp to attend to business in London. Tasker did not get back in time, due to a railway timetable mess-up at Waterloo Station. He was found guilty of absence without leave. The sentence was a reduction in rank.

Six months on he was wounded in action, which involved another lengthy recuperation, and when he joined the unit in June 1918 was badly gassed. This did not stop him from again returning to the front, where he was shot several times in the groin during the second day of the Battles of Amiens, near Harbonnieres on 9 August 1918. He did not recover from his wounds, and was buried that day in the French town saved by the Australians- Villers-Bretonneux.

The Referee newspaper noted his death with a tribute which ended: "His spirit is that which will permeate the men and women destined to make of Australia the salt of the earth in days to come, when few here now will be here to see the greatness come to the land and its people- a greatness born of the turmoil of the war."

If such heartbreaking stories of toil and endeavour from their own green and gold brotherhood- who lost ten in the Great War and nine in the Second World War- cannot lift the current breed of Wallabies, then nothing will.

Lest we forget.