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Francis Tarr

Oxford 1907 XV 

Standing (L-R): Henry Edmunds Latham, Lawrence Cave Bencowe, Arthur Howard, Stephanus Nicholas Cronje, Hugh Martin, Francis Nathaniel Tarr. 

Sitting: Noel Willoughby Milton, Henry Holland ('Jumbo') Vassall, Harold Augustus Hodges, Worthington Wynn Hoskin (Captain), Randolph Stonehewer Wix, David B.Davies, Geoffrey Dorling ('Khaki') Roberts. On Ground: George Cunningham, Rupert Henry Williamson.


(Picture Courtesy of Patrick Casey)

Born in Belper, Derbyshire, on August 14th 1887 the son of Frederick and Emma, Francis Nathanial Tarr was educated at Stoneygate School , Leicester, and then Uppingham before going up to University College , Oxford . By the time that he matriculated he was already an accomplished centre three quarter. Solid in defense he also had a long stride and could happily either give or take a pass at speed. It was little time before his attributes as a player came to the attention of the Oxford University Rugby Club.

Selected for his first Blue in 1907, Tarr travelled to the Queens Club on December 10th to face Cambridge in the annual inter university match. At this time Oxford had a particularly strong side, with this being especially true of their backs as was shown during the course of the game. Although the Cambridge pack did their best to make a match of the encounter for the first half hour, after this the light blues had little left to offer. Tarr was in the thick of the action, kicking intelligently and attacking the Cambridge defence during the comprehensive seventeen points to nil victory.

Tarr retained his place in the Oxford side the following year returning to Queens Club on December 12th 1908. It was a very different match from the previous year, although an enjoyable one from the perspective of the spectator being a particularly hard fought encounter. The Cambridge pack were much improved and their dominance limited the flair of the Oxford backs, particularly in the second half where Oxford found themselves almost totally on the back foot. “FN Tarr, at left centre three quarter, gave a magnificent display of defensive play” noted the Times’ correspondent as Tarr and his team dug deep to hold out for a five points all draw in a match that Cambridge should probably have won given the run of play.

Tarr’s efforts for Oxford had not gone unnoticed and just a month later he was called up for his debut England cap against the touring Australian’s at the Rectory Field, Blackheath, on January 9th 1909. Tarr had already faced the tourists for Oxford , losing by nineteen points to three at Iffley Road , and would no doubt have relished the chance for revenge whilst wearing the colours of his country, but this was not to be. During a poor match, the greasy pitch making handling difficult, England scored the first try of the game through Edgar Mobbs in a move that Tarr had initiated. Shortly after Tarr slipped as he attempted to touch down past beyond his own line for the drop out and allowed Australia to even up the try count. Although England were competitive for the first twenty minutes, the visitors soon showed their dominance and there were few that doubted they deserved their final three points to nine victory in a match where although excellent at times Tarr was far from his best.

Undeterred by this defeat Tarr was again selected by England to travel to Cardiff the following week on January 16th to play Wales . To be fair this was a game where England were the decided underdogs, the combination of a powerful Welsh pack and the flair of their backs a difficult obstacle to overcome. This was borne out by the play. Although the English pack raised their game to the point of parity with the Welsh overall the team looked to lack self confidence and the conservative play of the backs, at one point in the second half Tarr choosing to run the ball himself rather than pass it outside to either of two open players, doomed England to an eight points to nil defeat.

Tarr’s third cap came two weeks later at Leicester on January 30th 1909 as England faced the visiting French. The visitors played with courage, but lacked direction and the technical superiority of the England side soon began to show. During the course of the match Tarr scored two tries, the first after a bout of interplay with Edgar Mobbs and the second with a fine individual run. Despite this Tarr was regarded as having a relatively poor match. Again he showed some flashes of brilliance during the twenty two points to nil victory, a score line that belied the passion of the encounter if not the relative merits of the two sides, and Tarr was now dropped by England returning to his studies.

Before graduating from Oxford Tarr was to take his place for a third and final Blue against Cambridge on December 11th 1909, again at the Queens Club. It was to be a brilliant day for Oxford as they comprehensively bested Cambridge by twenty three points to three, with Ronald Poulton scoring five tries. Unfortunately for both Tarr and Oxford he was to play little part in the game, breaking his collar bone after only ten minutes of play and being forced to leave the field, although as by this time Poulton had scored twice the Oxford victory was already looking assured.

Graduating from Oxford and commencing work as a solicitor Tarr returned home and joined the Leicester club, regarded then as now as one of the strongest in the country. Although at times over his career he may have played for Headingley, Richmond and Midland Counties it was here that Tarr was to truly find his niche after university. For Tarr, however, there was to be one last bite of the international cherry as he was recalled to the England side that faced Scotland on March 15th 1913 at Twickenham after four years in the international wilderness. Played in front of a twenty five thousand crowd, including the Prince of Wales, the English pack played well from the off and had this been mirrored by their backs then the match would have essentially been over within the first twenty minutes. As it was with their fly half William Davies having a particularly poor match this was far from the case. Tarr was to see little of the ball as the match progressed, although he was generally acknowledged as having played fairly well for all this as England scraped to a three points to nil victory. The only score of the match, a try by Leonard ‘Bruno’ Brown, towards the end of the first half allowed them to claim both the Calcutta Cup as well as a first ever grand slam, although this term would not have been recognised at the time. The match which marked the end of the 1913 International season also marked the end of Tarr’s international career as he again fell from grace with the selectors.

With the outbreak of war the following year Tarr was immediately called to arms. Whilst at Oxford he had been a Cadet Sergeant in the Officer Training Corps and had continued his interest in military matters later by joining the 1/4th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment as a Territorial Second Lieutenant in 1911, gaining promotion to full Lieutenant in 1913. Although the territorial battalions were under no obligation to serve overseas in August 1914 the majority of them immediately volunteered for active service, joining in the patriotic fervour of the day. The first fully territorial division to be deployed to France was the 46th (North Midland), which included Tarr’s Battalion within its strength and landed at Le Havre on March 3rd 1915. With the end of the first battle of Ypres the Western Front had entered a relatively quiet period of static trench warfare. Shortages of material and particularly artillery and machine guns was a major problem to the allied forces, with operations being minimised to small local skirmishes that preserved both troops and ammunition. Even so the British forces continued to loose about three hundred men per day to snipers and shellfire and on July 18th 1915 Lieutenant Francis Tarr was killed in action whilst acting as Adjutant to a machine gun section.


"The Complete Who's Who of England Rugby Union Internationals", R Maule,  Breedon 1992

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© D A Hunter, 2009
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