Matt Burke

Last updated
Not to be confused with Matt Burke (rugby player, born 1964), also an Australian rugby international. For others, see Matt Burke (disambiguation).

Matt Burke
MATTHEW BURKE (cropped).jpg
Birth nameMatthew Coleman Burke
Date of birth (1973-03-26) 26 March 1973 (age 46)
Place of birth Sydney, New South Wales
Height184 cm (6 ft 0 in) [1]
Weight97 kg (15 st 4 lb)
School St. Joseph's College
SpouseKate Burke
Rugby union career
Position(s) Fullback
Correct as of 2 November 2007
Senior career
Newcastle Falcons
Correct as of 10 July 2014
Provincial / State sides
1993–04 New South Wales Waratahs [2] 115 (1172)
Correct as of 10 July 2014
Super Rugby
1996–04 New South Wales Waratahs 78 (959)
Correct as of 10 July 2014
National team(s)
Australia [3]
Australian Schoolboys
Correct as of 21 August 2004
National sevens team(s)
1993 Australia 1
Correct as of 10 July 2014

Matthew Coleman Burke (born 26 March 1973) is an Australian former international rugby union player and sport presenter on Sydney's 10 News First.

Rugby union Team sport, code of rugby football

Rugby union, widely known simply as rugby, is a contact team sport that originated in England in the first half of the 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand. In its most common form, a game is played between two teams of 15 players using an oval-shaped ball on a rectangular field with H-shaped goalposts at either end.


Burke was a goal kicker and regular try-scorer for the Wallabies who contributed to the team's victories in the 1999 Rugby World Cup, multiple Bledisloe Cups and Australia's sole test series win against the British and Irish Lions in 2001. [4]

The 1999 Rugby World Cup was the fourth Rugby World Cup, the quadrennial international rugby union championship. It was principally hosted by Wales, and was won by Australia. This was the first Rugby World Cup to be held in the sport's professional era.

Bledisloe Cup

The Bledisloe Cup is a rugby union competition between the national teams of Australia and New Zealand that has been competed for since the 1930s. The frequency at which the competition has been held and the number of matches played has varied, but it currently consists of an annual three-match series and two-match series in World Cup years, with two of the matches also counting towards The Rugby Championship. New Zealand have had the most success, winning the trophy for the 47th time in 2019, while Australia have won 12 times.

British and Irish Lions rugby union team

The British & Irish Lions is a rugby union team selected from players eligible for any of the Home Nations – the national teams of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The Lions are a Test side and generally select international players, but they can pick uncapped players available to any one of the four unions. The team currently tours every four years, with these rotating among Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The most recent series, the 2017 series against New Zealand, was drawn 1-1.

When he retired from international rugby in 2004 he was the leading points scorer in the multinational Super Rugby Competition. He is the most-capped fullback [5] and the second highest scorer for Australia in Test rugby. [6]

Super Rugby rugby union competition

Super Rugby is a professional men's rugby union competition involving teams from Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan. Building on various Southern Hemisphere competitions dating back to the South Pacific Championship in 1986, with teams from a number of southern nations, Super Rugby started as the Super 12 in the 1996 season with 12 teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The Super 12 was established by SANZAR after the sport became professional in 1995. With the top players from nations that represent 16 of the 24 top-three finishes in the history of the Rugby World Cup, the competition is widely regarded as rugby union's toughest provincial competition.

A test match in rugby union is an international match, usually played between two senior national teams, that is recognised as such by at least one of the teams' national governing bodies.

Early life

Burke grew up in Carlingford, New South Wales, and attended at St Gerard Majella Catholic Primary School, Carlingford and St. Joseph's College, Hunters Hill. [7] He was selected for the Australian Schoolboys team in 1990 and toured with the teams to the United States and Ireland. He played his club rugby with Eastwood and maintained his association with the club throughout his career.

Carlingford, New South Wales Suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Carlingford is a suburb of Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Carlingford is 22 kilometres north-west of the Sydney central business district in the local government area of City of Parramatta. Carlingford is on the north-eastern outskirts of the Greater Western Sydney region and is on the south-eastern outskirts of the Hills District and western outskirts of Northern Suburbs.

Australian Schoolboys rugby union team

The Australian Schoolboys & U18 rugby union team is the national team for schoolboy rugby union& U18 players in Australia. Considered to be the pinnacle of schoolboy & U18 rugby in Australia, the team plays in fixtures against other national representative schoolboy teams from around the world. Many players who have played in the Australian Schoolboys team have gone on to further representative careers with Super Rugby franchise teams and the Australian national rugby union team.

Eastwood Rugby Club

Eastwood Rugby is a rugby union club playing in the Sydney Premier Rugby competition. The club currently plays at T G Millner Field but is moving to the Hills where the Club's players and supporters are primarily drawn from. The Eastwood District extends from the Parramatta River at Meadowbank to the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry.

Rugby career

Burke progressed to the Australian Under 21s team in 1992 and 1993 at the same time as playing at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1992 and the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 1993. He made his Test debut in 1993 when he played in the third Test against the South African Springboks.

Hong Kong Sevens

The Hong Kong Sevens is considered the premier tournament on the World Rugby Sevens Series competition. The Hong Kong Sevens is currently the seventh tournament on the World Series calendar, and is held annually in Hong Kong on a weekend in late March or early April. The tournament spans three days, beginning on a Friday and concluding on Sunday. The tournament is organised each year by the Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU). This year hong kong rugby sevens will be held on Friday 3, Saturday 4, Sunday 5 April 2020.

Rugby World Cup Sevens international rugby sevens tournament

The Rugby World Cup Sevens is the premier stand-alone international rugby sevens competition outside the Olympic Games. The event is contested every four years, with tournaments for men's and women's national teams co-hosted at the same venues. It is organised by World Rugby, the sport's governing body.

South Africa national rugby union team National sports team

The South African national rugby union team, commonly known as the Springboks is governed by the South African Rugby Union. The Springboks play in green and gold jerseys with white shorts, and their emblem is the Springbok. The team has been representing South Africa in international rugby union since 30 July 1891, when they played their first test match against a British Isles touring team. They are currently the best ranked team in international Rugby.

Bledisloe Cup and early Wallabies years

In the national team for two years as the starting fullback and goal-kicker, Burke gained early attention for scoring arguably one of the most impressive tries in Bledisloe Cup history during the second match of the 1996 tournament, held on 27 July at Brisbane Suncorp Stadium. After gathering a low pass from felled teammate Richard Tombs (from a standing start from his own 22 meter line), Burke dodged a total of six defenders culminating with a 'dummy pass' to another teammate Ben Tune - allowing him to cover approximately 75 meters to score a try. The try put Australia ahead 16-9 at half time. Whilst the All Blacks would win with a last minute try to Frank Bunce - this game is particularly remembered for Burke's try. [8]

Richard Tombs is a former Australian international rugby union player.

Ben Tune Australian rugby union player

Ben Tune is an Australian rugby union player. He played most of his rugby career on the wing but later switched to outside centre.

He just carved up through the middle and nobody touched him between there and the line. To me, it was probably the single most special moment of Bledisloe Cup games that I know - to see that young man score [9]

Chris 'Buddha' Handy, Former player and rugby commentator

In 1997, Burke was excluded from the Wallabies by a groin strain suffered during the domestic season and he was temporarily replaced by Stephen Larkham; then also a goal-kicking fullback. However he returned in time for the first Bledisloe Cup match in 1998, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground where he scored all 24 (2 tries, 1 conversion and 4 penalties) of the Wallabies points against New Zealand. It is an individual point-scoring world record against the All Blacks - which still stands. [10] Australia had not beaten the All Blacks for four years in a single game up to that point and this heralded not only an Australian comeback, but an unprecedented five year domination of the tournament.

Goal-kicking and shoulder injury

Burke was considered one of the finest test goal-kickers of his day - second, perhaps, to contemporary rival New Zealand kicker Andrew Mehrtens. At a time before it became common in test rugby, Burke was one of the few goal-kickers able to take successful penalty attempts from beyond the half-way line. Yet he was known to have clusters of missed goal-kicking attempts. In the third match of the 1998 Bledisloe Cup, he missed three straightforward kicking attempts in the first half - before being relieved of kicking duties under instruction from Australian Captain John Eales in the second half (being in fact relieved of the goal-kicking by Eales himself). [11] In the dying minutes of that particular march, he gained some measure of redemption by scoring a match-winning try but was also afflicted by a serious shoulder injury [lower-alpha 1] - sidelining him for the better part of the next year.

Rugby World Cup 1999

After undergoing surgery on the affected shoulder, Burke delayed his comeback to the domestic Rugby season, in an attempt to right himself for the 1999 Rugby World Cup. As a result, Burke faced some criticism for NSW's subsequent poor performance in the Super 12 competition that year and also caused tension between himself and NSW Coach Matt Williams. [12] [lower-alpha 2] At test level, he was being relieved by emerging rival Chris Latham, at the fullback position. Despite making it back in the squad in time to contribute to the 1999 Rugby World Cup victory, it has been speculated that this injury affected his counter-attacking playing style and future fitness.

As part of the campaign to "Bring back Bill", [lower-alpha 3] as the starting Wallaby fullback and primary goal-kicker in the 1999 Rugby World Cup, he scored the majority of Australia's points in the last two games to help secure victory [3] - 24 points against South Africa in the Rugby World Cup semi final and 25 points against France in the grand final. Earlier in 1999, in an echo of the previous year at the MCG, he individually kicked 23 (1 conversion and 7 penalties) points against the All Blacks at Stadium Australia. [3]

Selection battles with Chris Latham

After the 1999 World Cup, Burke had become plagued by ongoing injuries which were severely limiting his recovery and return to form. While his goal kicking and fairly regular try-scoring had saved Australia in many games; his injuries would soon take their toll. [lower-alpha 4] Queensland Reds fullback Chris Latham was soon competing with him for Wallabies selection and Latham was the favoured Australian fullback in the 2000 Bledisloe Cup. [lower-alpha 5] This began the twilight phase of Burke's career where he was switched between various back-line positions before intermittently being recalled to starting fullback. Latham, who had performed strongly at Super Rugby level began his test career with many costly defensive errors at fullback in 2000 and 2001– which initially helped to preserve Burke's place at the number 15 jersey.

Lions series 2001

Burke regained his starting fullback position for the Wallabies in the second test of the 2001 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, after Latham was dropped for a poor performance in the first game of the series. [13] This was Burke's first start in the number 15 jersey since the 1999 Rugby World Cup and he ended-up playing a starring role in the Australian comeback in the final two games. In the deciding third game, both sides drew on tries and conversions but his five penalties against three by future Newcastle Falcons teammate Jonny Wilkinson left the hosts 29-23 winners at Sydney's Stadium Australia. To date, it is the only Australian series victory over the combined multi-nation British Lions. He was also part of the Wallabies team which beat the New Zealand All-blacks for the first time in 2001 at their traditional stronghold at Carisbrook, Dunedin. [14]

Positional switch to outside centre

Burke was made to switch positions when playing for the Wallabies for most of the remainder of his career - at first to wing, and then to outside centre during a period of continual experimentation with the Wallabies back-line. This was initially done to accommodate both Chris Latham at test level, [lower-alpha 6] and for newly converted former professional rugby league footballer Mat Rogers at the state level for the NSW Waratahs (Rogers later playing fullback for the Wallabies as well while Latham was either benched or playing at wing). [lower-alpha 7] Burke was considered versatile enough to satisfactorily fulfill these roles whilst now primarily considered a specialist kicker. Many commentators said that he was restricted from playing more freely in a counter-attacking role, while not in his favoured fullback position. Burke himself has stated that he always considered himself a fullback and that the decision to switch him to outside centre was a mistake. [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 9]

Complicating matters for national selectors, the Australian National Rugby Team now became saturated with a flurry of traded National Rugby League 'convert' players ready to replace aging back-line first generation professional players such as Burke (Rugby Union was only made a professional sport in 1996 [lower-alpha 10] ). Burke was otherwise retained as vice-captain and goal-kicker for the 2002 season. That year, he famously kicked a penalty after full-time to win the Bledisloe Cup in windy conditions at Stadium Australia - one of the last times his influence was crucial to the outcome of a match (and incidentally, the last time Australia held the Bledisloe Cup as of 2019).

Rugby World Cup 2003

In 2003 he was given back the starting fullback position, one last time - but ultimately did not perform well enough to retain it. Midway through the 2003 Rugby World Cup he was axed from the starting line-up following a narrow pool win over Ireland (17-16); a match in which he was substituted after 64 minutes. He was replaced by former professional rugby league footballer Mat Rogers, which drew mixed reactions and he would be relegated to the bench for the rest of his test career. By this time Mat Rogers was already the starting goal-kicker (after being brought on the field as a substitute in the world cup pool game against Namibia, Burke was signaled that Rogers was to continue as primary kicker by the coaching staff after attempting to take the ball from him for an attempt at goal [lower-alpha 11] ) and he, along with Chris Latham, had finally emerged as the two preferred fullbacks. Future wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock had also simultaneously become the leading outside centre. Further diminishing the aging Burke's place on the team was the fact that there were now at least four other recognised goal-kickers in the team - Mortlock, Rogers, Matt Giteau and Elton Flatley - who all admirably performed as replacements to Burke. However Australia, to date, has never again had a regular goal kicker with a similar tenure.

Final year with the Waratahs

In 2004, any hope of rekindling his international career was over when he was controversially completely dropped from his state team, the NSW Waratahs. While he was injured early in that Super 12 season – he still managed to score 62 points from his first six games; placing him ahead of Andrew Mehrtens in the all-time points lead of the Super 12 (now Super Rugby) competition. Yet 'inconsistent performance' was cited as the key reason behind the axing. Others have speculated his age as the reason for Burke's dumping - this is questionable considering NSW simultaneously attempted to 'convert' footballer Andrew Johns from rival code league, despite Johns' and Burke's similar ages. [lower-alpha 12] NSW Coach (and former NSW and Australian teammate) Ewen McKenzie's decision to drop Burke drew ire from many in the union fraternity, including Phil Kearns and Simon Poidevin, who accused McKenzie of disloyalty and being shortsighted. [15]

In a sign of continued bad blood between the two, McKenzie would later ridicule suggestions that Burke would be recalled to the Australian Wallabies in 2007 (see below); describing it as return of the "superannuation crew". Burke responded by deriding McKenzie's apparent "ignorance of British Club Football" - where he was playing at that time. [16] However, Burke would later endorse McKenzie for Wallabies coach prior to his appointment in late 2013. [17]

Despite his expected retirement, Australian Coach Eddie Jones described Burke's axing from the NSW squad as an "independent event" - indicating some use for Burke at test level. Indeed, Burke did appear intermittently as a substitute in various roles, including fullback, for the Wallabies in the 2004 season. He played his last international test for the Wallabies on 21 August 2004 against South Africa, coming off the bench for the final six minutes - where he missed a penalty attempt (Australia lost 23 - 19). In 2006, in his last international appearance, he was starting fullback for the World XV Rugby team against the South African Springboks for their first 2006 game - contributing 17 points (5 pen, 1 con) in their 27 to 30 points loss.

Playing in England

After losing his Super Rugby playing contract with the NSW Waratahs, Burke was offered contracts by eight different clubs - including other teams in the Super Rugby competition. Interested teams reportedly included the Queensland Reds and teams in New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, France and England. [18] Wallaby coach Eddie Jones also kept the door open for further test duty depending on the availability/fitness of certain players for the Wallabies tour of the UK in late 2004, but Burke contradicted this statement by confirming his retirement and stating it was unlikely that he would play test rugby again. [19]

Burke joined the Newcastle Falcons in the English Premiership. Here he has played alongside former English rival Jonny Wilkinson (his opposite kicker in Lions tour of Australia). He has also won the 'Player of the Year' at the Falcons and was named as captain of the side. In February 2007, he obtained a British passport (while retaining Australian citizenship), qualifying through his England-born mother. His main reason for doing so was Guinness Premiership regulations prohibiting teams from having more than one non-European Union citizen on the field at any time. This enabled the Falcons to play him at the same time as New Zealand prop Joe McDonnell. [20]

In 2007, there was again brief speculation that Burke would return as starting fullback for the Wallabies in the Tri-nations and Bledisloe Cup tournament; which would lead up to the world cup. Chris Latham was recovering from knee reconstruction and Mat Rogers had since returned to Rugby League. He was even formally approached by new Wallabies coach John Connolly regarding his availability for that season. [16] Burke rejected this, citing commitments to his Newcastle side in the UK - but did state he would consider another approach regarding the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Burke was not ultimately approached, as Latham had sufficiently recovered. [lower-alpha 13] Had Burke come back to play for Australia - it would have set a new precedent as the ARU have stood firm in only considering Australia-based talent for Test selection since the game went professional in 1996. [lower-alpha 14]


In May 2008 Burke announced his immediate retirement from playing after failing to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee suffered the previous October. [22]

Legacy in the game

Owing to Matt Burke's lasting impact in the New South Wales jersey, the Waratahs' Player of the Year is now awarded the Matt Burke Trophy. [23]

In addition to being a leading fullback and playing with the Wallabies for over a decade, Burke's third year as New South Wales Waratahs captain saw him become the first player in the history of Waratah rugby to play over 100 games.

Burke is still Australia's most capped fullback, having played 54 of his 81 Tests in that position. After breaking 1000 career points for NSW in 2003, he has scored 878 Test points for Australia. [24] In Bledisloe Cup contests, he still holds the individual record for total test points against New Zealand (176 points in 17 Tests). [25]

Burke was voted starting fullback in the Wallaby Team of the Decade which celebrated the first ten years of professional rugby union, spanning 1996 to 2005. [26]

Post-rugby sports and media career

Since his retirement he has opened a sports business, which specialises in skills sessions for children. In early 2013, Matt joined Network Ten's coverage of the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, and is an expert commentator for Australia's coverage of the 2013 Rugby Championship.

In October 2013, Burke was appointed as sport presenter on 10 News First in Sydney, after Brad McEwan moved to Melbourne to present sport for 10 News First.



  1. He was rolled onto his shoulder whilst landing just over the try-line by desperate New Zealand tackler Christian Cullen [11]
  2. Williams had in fact been a schoolteacher of Burke, years earlier
  3. This was the media campaign to regain the Rugby World Cup, known as the William Webb Ellis Cup after the sport's mythical founder, which Australia had last won in 1991
  4. Burke never regained full function in his injured shoulder and in 2000 he suffered an injury to his ankle. Initially he remained in the national team, but was replaced by Stirling Mortlock in kicking duties. He eventually required an operation, being replaced at fullback by Chris Latham for the rest of the 2000 season.
  5. Latham, whilst originally from Northern NSW, had moved to Queensland to play for the Queensland Reds in order to further his rugby career due to Burke's incumbency at NSW
  6. Latham having earlier been trialled at wing as well over the 2000-2001 period.
  7. 'Rogers had made it clear to Bob Dwyer and the coaching staff he wanted to play fullback' - M. Burke. A Rugby Life (2006).
  8. "I never thought of myself as a jack-of-trades in the game, yet down the years that's pretty much the way it turned out....Probably I should have stayed at fullback the whole time and just contested that position... - (Matt Burke (2006). Matthew Burke: A Rugby Life. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Publishing. p52)
  9. "I would have preferred to stay at fullback. After all, I hadn't played number 13 since 1995. But I understood the decision had probably already been made. Whatever the reasons behind it - whether it was part of an agreed deal when Rogers had signed - it had been decided" - (Matt Burke (2006). Matthew Burke: A Rugby Life. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Publishing. p249)
  10. Rugby Union, which distinguished itself from league over this issue in the early 1900s, was previously manned with dedicated amateurs up to the top level until professionalism in 1996 enabled top-tier (such as test rugby) players to get paid.
  11. This match is notable for the 142-0 world record scoreline - of which Roger's 42 points is an individual record for points in any test match - a record previously held by Matt Burke. When later writing a newspaper match report, he reflected on why Burke had attempted to take the ball from him for goal-kicking at one point in the match. Rogers stated that he assumed it was a force of habit as opposed to an attempt by Burke to stop his record from being broken. Burke, however in his autobiography, later clarified that Rogers had previously agreed that when Burke was off the bench - he was still to be the primary goal kicker. This informal deal was essentially stifled by the coaching staff that day and helped to signal to Burke that he was now completely supplanted in the Australian team.
  12. Burke, as captain of NSW, had come under some criticism himself for endorsing the pursuit of Andrew Johns when both he and Johns have the same manager - John Fordham.
  13. Latham had in fact criticised the choice of an aging Burke to replace him, stating his support for local talent. Some speculated that this was due to "selfish motives". [21] Burke had explicitly stated in his autobiography that he and Latham had always maintained a cordial, if competitive relationship during their careers.
  14. For this reason, players would go overseas to play in other (more lucrative) club competitions only after they had finished their international career. This is similar to the stance taken by NZ Rugby in response to professionalism in order to stem a drain of local talent to northern hemisphere competitions (such as France - where player contracts are more generous and have been longstanding prior to the 1996 changes)

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