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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Hal Sever

The oldest surviving English rugby international at his death, Hal Sever got his Test career off to a flying start when he scored one of his side’s three tries in the historic first England victory over the mighty All Blacks in 1936. The game may have entered the history books as the ‘Obolensky Match’, after Sever’s fellow wing marked his debut with two tries, but the Sale man made a major contribution to the 13–0 victory in front of a 73,000 crowd at Twickenham that included the Prince of Wales, soon to be King Edward VIII. His 35-yard sprint to the posts for try number three rounded off one of England’s finest victories and launched an uninterrupted ten-cap career that stretched to the end of the 1938 championship season.

Sever attended Shrewsbury School, where he played no rugby. He was vice- captain of the school soccer and cricket teams and also played in the fives team. When he left school in 1928 he got involved in rugby and joined Sale FC. He also played for Cheshire and played for the combined Lancashire and Cheshire XV that met the All Blacks earlier in their tour in the 1935/36 season, scoring a try in a 21–8 defeat at Birkenhead.

At Sale he helped form a magnificent three-quarter line that boasted internationals from Wales, Claude Davey and Wilf Wooller, Scotland, Ken Fyfe, and England, Sever himself and Jack Heaton. When he won his first cap against the All Blacks he became only the second Sale player to play for England, following Pat Davies. His 60 tries in one season for the club still stands as a record and he played both before and after the second world war.

If the 1936 Home Nations Championship series was a bit of a damp squib for both England and Sever ‘ England drew 0–0 with Wales, lost to Ireland and beat Scotland ‘ the Sale wing took top billing in 1937 as he steered his country to the title. He started with a remarkable drop goal against Wales at Twickenham that provided a 4–3 victory – a drop goal was worth four points in those days. A Welsh clearance bounced off the shoulder of Robin Prescott and into the hands of Sever, who stunned everyone by hitting the mark from 35 yards. Next up were the Irish, who found themselves leading at Twickenham by two points with six minutes to go. England won a scrum in their 22 and the ball was worked left to Sever on the wing. In The Book of English International Rugby (1982), John Griffiths wrote:

‘Sever set off on a glorious run down the line which took him past several would-be tacklers before he launched himself over the try line with a tackler on his back. England were home by a point and withstood a last- minute penalty kick at goal.’

The Triple Crown decider was at Murrayfield where Sever once again got among the scorers, sidestepping his way through the home defence to score a second-half try which secured a 6–3 victory.

His international career came to an end against Scotland at Twickenham in 1938 after he had scored a try in a defeat against Wales in Cardiff and helped England notch a record score in beating Ireland 36–14 in Dublin. A 21–16 defeat in the Calcutta Cup match, the first game to be shown live on BBC television, proved to be the last England outing for Sever and 11 other players and it also provided a bizarre moment that led to the Sale wing’s being entered into the Guinness Book of Sporting Blunders. The book claimed Sever had run into the Scotland goalpost, losing not only the ball but his teeth as well. However, Sever provided a different version of events a few years later:‘The suggestion that I collided with the posts is absolute nonsense. I very nearly reached the try line, was upheld by the opposing pack and was unable to ground the ball.’

Widely acclaimed as one of the best wings of his generation, Sever won admirers across Europe. As the Welsh writer ‘Dromio’ (WJT. Collins) stated in his book Rugby Recollections (1948):

‘The most impressive wing of the Thirties was HS Sever. He played in all of the games of 1936–37–38 and won the admiration of comrades and opponents. A magnificent runner, fast and strong, he was very difficult to tackle. A fine kicker, a dropper of goals, great in defence ‘, he was one of England’s greatest wings.He also played eight times for the Barbarians, making his debut in 1935, scoring two tries against Penarth, Swansea, and London.

Sever was an actuary by profession and later became a general manager of Refuge Assurance.

Harry Sedgewick Sever, rugby player and actuary: born 3 March 1910; married (one son, one daughter); died Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey 2 June 2005.

Reprinted by permission from the Independent, Obituaries, 15 June 2005