Obituary: Joseph James “Joe” McPartlin, teacher and rugby player

MCPartlin (2nd row, 3rd from right) won six Scottish caps and played with a smile on his face. Picture: Contributed
MCPartlin (2nd row, 3rd from right) won six Scottish caps and played with a smile on his face. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 12 June, 1938, in West Hartlepool. Died: 24 October, 2013, in Oxford, aged 75

Joe McPartlin, who has died following a lengthy battle against prostate cancer, played rugby with a smile on his face, something which perhaps told against him in the committee room, where he was sometimes seen as not taking the game seriously enough. He played the game well too, winning six Scotland caps at a time when the selectors were not prone to leaving well alone, and dropped players found the Scotland dressing room door shutting firmly and finally behind their exits.

He was born of Glaswegian parents in West Hartlepool, and although he was briefly a pupil at St Aloysius’ College in Glasgow, he was mostly schooled in England, at Wimbledon College.

He learned to play rugby there, left and did his National Service, before going up to Oxford University, to St Edmund Hall, to read geography in 1959.

In his first year at Oxford, he only managed to play for the Greyhounds, the University’s 2nd XV, but, later that season, he made his first appearance in the Scotland trial, with his club association given as Harlequins.

McPartlin impressed enough to win the first of his eventual six Scotland caps in a narrow 11-13 Murrayfield loss to France.

He kept his place for the next international, against Wales in Cardiff, but played with a hand injury, fumble several passes and was dropped. He ended up having to sit out the Irish and English games, the pioneering short tour to South Africa that summer and the entire 1961 international season.

In season 1960-61 he won the first of his three Blues, but, as would be the case in the two following seasons, he was on the losing side, as Cambridge put together a four-in-a-row winning streak.

However, his form for the university won him a Scotland recall for the 1962 Five Nations. This was the season in which Scotland came very close to their first Triple Crown in 25 years, bouncing back from a 3-11 Murrayfield defeat to France with their first win in Wales since the 1920s.

McPartlin then set up Arthur Smith for the first try in a 20-6 Dublin win over the Irish, before it all ended in tears with a 3-3 Murrayfield draw against the English, on a day when Ken Scotland’s normally certain place kicking deserted him.

That Calcutta Cup game was McPartlin’s final international. He did win a second Blue at the end of 1962 and a third, as captain, the following year.

He played with some fine players at Oxford, where Peter Stagg was a team-mate, while he had the West Point graduate Pete Dawkins, the American whose 40-yard torpedo throw passes caused a stir at the time, as his winger in 1962.

In 1963, his final year at Oxford, McPartlin was elected president of the exclusive Vincent’s Club, which was limited to 150 members, for outstanding Oxford University sportsmen.

Among the previous presidents were Lord Dunglass – the future Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home; while Sir Roger Bannister, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Norris McWhirter, Cecil Rhodes and three Kings – Edward VII, and Kings Harald V and Olaf V of Norway – were also members, as was former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

McPartlin never really left Oxford. He taught at St Edward’s School in the city, played for Oxford (town) RFC and for Oxfordshire – having played for Surrey while with Harlequins. He also represented the Army and was a Barbarian.

He retired from playing rugby to become a first-class referee, and, in 1975, he was elected on to the Oxford University RFC committee.

He was still a committee member on his death, having served for many years as fixture secretary.

McPartlin loved rugby’s social side; he was a gifted and sought-after after-dinner speaker, and, by his selfless work for the university rugby club, he enabled others to get as much out of the game of rugby as he had.

Joe McPartlin never married. He is survived by his three brothers – Gerry, George and John – and his sister Mary and their families.

His Requiem Mass will be held in Oxford on Thursday, followed by a private committal and a celebration of his life, in the Oxford University RFC club rooms in Iffley Road.