Girish Mahajan

1951 French rugby league tour of Australia and New Zealand

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1951 French rugby league tour of Australia and New Zealand

The 1951 French rugby league tour of Australia and New Zealand was the first ever tour of Australasia by any French sports team in history. Puig Aubert captained the France national rugby league team who played 28 matches in total in both Australia and New Zealand, winning 21 of them in what is regarded as the high point in the history of rugby league in France. The Australian Test series resulted in a 2-1 victory to France, however the tourists then lost their match against the New Zealand Kiwis. Welcoming the team home to Marseille, more than 150,000 people turned out for a street parade.

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Touring squad

The French side was coached by former internationals Bob Samatan and Jean Duhau, and was captained by Puig Aubert. France had just claimed the 1950–51 European Rugby League Championship before embarking on the tour. The squad's average age was 26.5 years. The backs' average weight was 11.1 stone (70 kg) while the forwards' was 14.5 stone (92 kg).

France's captain Puig Aubert had been offered a large contract to play in Sydney but returned to his homeland where he was voted French sportsman of the year.

Australian leg

The tour's Australian leg featured games played in every mainland State capital except Adelaide, drawing a total of over 450,000 spectators.

Monaro: Max Preston, D Stewart, Doug McRitchie, D Hodges, T Fogarty, P Schumack, Ken Brogan (c), Ted Schell, Ken Fogarty, K Barber, B Grant, R Alexander, Pat Rankin

France: Puig Aubert, Ode Lespes, Gaston Comes, Maurice Andre, Raymond Contrastin, Robert Caillou, Jean Dop, Paul Bartoletti, Gabriel Genoud, Andre Beraud, Michael Lopez, Élie Brousse, Gaston Calixte

Newcastle: L. Milne, Jack Bradley, Rees Duncan, Frank Threlfo, Brian Carlson, L. Brown, E. Long, Charlie Gill, J. Gordon, Jim Evans, Albert Paul, Don Schofield, Ben Haslam

France: Maurice Andre, Raymond Contrastin, Jacques Merquey, Gaston Comes, Vincent Cantoni, Maurice Bellan, Robert Caillou (c), Francois Rinaldi, Jean Audobert, Louis Mazon, François Montrucolis, Guy Delaye, Raoul Perez

Western Districts: Oriel Kennerson, Norm Jacobson (c), Leo Nosworthy, J. Birney, M. Smith, Rolf Trudgett, W. Kelly, J. West, Ian Walsh, F. Hogan, L. Kable, Ron Kelly, Ken Slattery

France: Puig Aubert (c), Raymond Contrastin, Ode Lespes, Maurice Bellan, Maurice Andre, Rene Duffort, Jean Dop, Francois Rinaldi, Jean Audobert, Andre Beraud, Michael Lopez, Édouard Ponsinet, François Montrucolis

Sydney: Clive Churchill (c), Johnny Bliss, Ray Thomas, Gordon Willoughby, Johnny Graves, Frank Stanmore, Keith Holman, Denis Donoghue, Kevin Schubert, Jack Holland, Bernie Purcell, Noel Mulligan, Les Cowie

France: Puig Aubert (c), Raymond Contrastin, Jacques Merquey, Gaston Comes, Vincent Cantoni, Rene Duffort, Joseph Crespo, Paul Bartoletti, Gabriel Genoud, Louis Mazon, Édouard Ponsinet, Élie Brousse, Gaston Calixte

Riverina: Les Koch, N. Kingsmill, Bruce Powdery, N. Bruce, N. Biscaya, R. McDonnell, J. Scott, N. Milton, P. Coupland, Nevyl Hand (c), D. Piper, J. Green, P. O'Connor

France: Puig Aubert, Maurice Andre, Maurice Bellan, Jacques Merquey, Ode Lespes, Robert Caillou (c), Jean Dop, Francois Rinaldi, Jean Audobert, Andre Beraud, Guy Delaye, Michael Lopez, François Montrucolis

1st Test

After five matches against New South Welsh teams, the French side played the tour's first Test match against Australia in Sydney. The two countries had played four Tests against each other previously, with Australia winning all of them.

All of the French players selected for the Test had played in at least one tour match so far except their five-eighth, Charles Galaup who had only recently arrived in the country. The Australian team featured nine players from the Sydney team that drew with France nine days prior, in addition to four Queenslanders.

Puig-Aubert opened the scoring with a Penalty kick. At one point France led 16-0, but Australia came back, starting with a penalty kick by Graves. The half time score was 16-2.

Australia came back strongly in the second half. However, the game ended with the French celebrating their first ever rugby league victory against Australia. France's captain Puig Aubert was presented the Commonwealth Jubilee Cup after the match by the Governor General of Australia, William McKell.

The Queensland team for this match featured Brian Davies, Denis Flannery, Harry Griffiths, Ron Griffiths, Noel Hazzard, Neville Linde, Ken McCaffery, Rex McGlynn, Des McGovern, Alan Thompson, Harold 'Mick' Crocker, Bernie Drew, and Ron Davis in his only appearance for the Maroons.

The Northern Queensland team featured Bob Banks.

2nd Test

After five matches against Queensland teams, the French side played the tour's second Test match against Australia in Brisbane.

Only one change was made to the French team for the second Test: five-eighth Charles Galaup was replaced by Jacques Merquey. This time The Australian test team included six Queenslanders and returned to its winning ways with a 23-11 victory. Following a head clash with French prop forward Louis Mazon in the second half, Australian captain Clive Churchill was assisted from the field.

France were leading 12-7 at half time. However, in the second half Brisbane captain and five-eighth, George Atherdon scored a try and his side was leading 16-15 with seven minutes remaining. France were awarded a penalty near the half-way line and Puig-Aubert scored a drop-goal from about 53 yards out two minutes from full-time. Aubert reached a points total for the tour of 112, thus passing Briton Ernest Ward's total of 106 the previous year.

Also playing for France were forwards François Montrucolis, Andre Beraud and Guy Delaye. also playong for Brisbane were forwards Fallon, Blackford, Mick Crocker, Brian Davies, Bill Sims, Easts' halfback Ron Stanton, hooker Terry Coman, and centres Alec Watson and Nev Wilson.

3rd Test

The French team travelled back from Queensland to Sydney for the third and deciding Test match of the series. The Australians were slight favourites to win the match. People began to queue up in bitterly cold winds the night before the match.

This was the last test match for Australian five-eighth Wally O'Connell.

Following the New Zealand of the tour, the French returned to Australia for another 3 matches before heading home.

France defeated Canterbury 13-7 in front of 13,000 at the Show Grounds.

New Zealand defeated France 16-15 in a "brutal match" at Carlaw Park. Des White kicked the winning penalty goal after the full-time siren had sounded to seal victory in "one of the most dramatic and dirtiest games ever played by the Kiwis".

First it was West Coast five-eighth George "Geordie" Menzies forced off with a cheekbone broken by a French head-butt. Then it was Otago's 1946 All Black halfback, Jimmy Haig with a broken jaw. Also Charlie McBride was bitten.

In the mid-second half, a brawl erupted amongst the forwards. French prop and national middleweight champion, Louis Mazon, was heavily involved. It took referee J. Griffen three minutes to separate the combatants. Ten minutes later, when the touch judges and officials intervened and things finally settled down, Griffen sent France's hooker Martin Martin from the field for throwing mud at him, but the Frenchman refused to go. The president of the French Rugby League, Anton Blain, and his New Zealand counterpart, Jack Redwood, came on and eventually persuaded Martin to leave the field.

No replacements were allowed so the game wound down with 11 Kiwis on the field against 12 Frenchmen. There was no ground clock or siren in those days and the players had to listen for the chimes from the nearby University of Auckland wedding-cake tower to get an indication of time remaining. They knew that it was usually all over by 4 pm, but this game went well past four.

In the final seconds of the match New Zealand wing Bevan Hough, a 1950 British Empire Games silver medal-winning sprinter, was heading for the Domain Stand corner and a certain try when he was taken out by a high shot from Cantoni. White was then called to kick. He backed up against the white picket fence sideline on the domain side, and sent the ball sailing between the posts, the crowd roaring before it got there.

The bitterness continued. One of the Frenchmen attacked Maurie Robertson, leaping onto his back as he left the field, and a touch judge was knocked to the ground. As the crowd gathered to congratulate the Kiwis, the French spat at them. Later however, at the after-match dinner the French were gentlemen, conceding victory to the better side. Puig Aubert shook White's hand and congratulated him on the match-winning goal.

The 50th anniversary of this match was commemorated during the 2001 French rugby league tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea with another Test between New Zealnd and France in Auckland.

Two days after the one-off Test match France returned to Carlaw Park to play Auckland. France won 15-10 in front of 30,000 spectators. Auckland included Des White, Jimmy Edwards, Tommy Baxter, Cyril Eastlake, Bevan Hough, Bruce Robertson, captain Des Barchard, Cliff Johnson, George Davidson, Graham Burgoyne, Doug Richards-Jolley, Clarence Hurndell and Allan Wiles.

During this match, French half-back Jean Dop was running for the ball when he was stuck by a spectator, prompting police to move the crowd from the area.

References

1951 French rugby league tour of Australia and New Zealand Wikipedia


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