13 February 2023
From The Vaults
Name: William Wavell Wakefield (1920-1927)
Total Caps: 31 Calcutta Cups: 5 Triple Crowns: 3 Outright Championship Victories: 3 Grand Slams: 3 World Cups
William Wavell Wakefield is one of the most celebrated English rugby players of all time. His total of 31 caps was an English record for over forty years and he was still being described as England's greatest ever forward in 1983 when he passed away at the age of 85. He came to the attention of the England selectors as captain of the RAF side and when playing for Harlequins in 1919. The following year he made his debut as rugby reconvened in the aftermath of the First World War. Wakefield settled in quickly, scoring against Ireland in Dublin, and by the end of his first season he was integral to the side and pack leader to the forwards. The following year he helped England to a Grand Slam and repeated the feat two seasons later in 1923. The natural heir to Dave Davies, he was made captain in 1924 and immediately led his side to an unprecedented third Grand Slam in four seasons. Wakefield was a modern loose wing-forward who also spent time at Number 8 and in the second row. He was also a thinker and introduced defensive set-plays in the scrum and in the loose. In both 1923 and 1924 he led by example by scoring the opening tries in the decisive games of the series. His ingenuity and bravery was not limited to the football field. Growing up in the Lake District he learned to fly and land aeroplanes on Lake Windermere. During the First World War he became one of the first men to successfully land a fighter biplane on an aircraft carrier (the first had perished in the act). After the war he remained with the RAF and flew as a Flight Lieutenant in the Second World War at the age of 41. In later life he served as a member of parliament and as president of the Rugby Football Union. Wakefield described rugby as 'a game of beauty and power'. Watch this video clip to find out more about his life and career.
About the Author: This article is an extract from the book One of Us: England's Greatest Rugby Players available here. Phil McGowan has been a member of the World Rugby Museum team since 2007.