‘Get These Savages Off Our TV Screens’
That was the headline in one English newspaper after a vicious 1970 World Cup Rugby League final between Australia and Great Britain at Headingley in Leeds.
The Brits had won all three lead-up games, while Australia registered just one win – against the Kiwis – and a shock loss to France a week before the final saw the Kangaroos written off in most quarters.
Britain, who had regained the Ashes with a 2-1 Test series win over Australia in Australia earlier in the year, planned to cause as much physical pain as possible in the World Cup final, on their way to an expected easy victory.
But Australia had other ideas, and triumphed 12-7, with Australian Associated Press’s reporter at the ground describing it as ‘one of the most heroic, but brutal achievements in the history of the game’.
“Once it was obvious the Australians had the World Cup parcelled up to take back home, the Brits opened out with a blatant brand of violence that made even seasoned former internationals flinch in the grandstands.
“In the c losing stages Australians were kicked, butted and punched, but rarely was the British offender admonished by the authorities.
“However, the Australians finally lost their patience as the full time whistle blew and several Australian forwards tore into their rivals in a wild punch-up, which had to be quelled by prompt action from teammates and several policemen standing near the touch line.”
English referee, Fred Lindop sent off Australian halfback, Billy Smith and British centre, Syd Hynes in the dying minutes.
When Australian fullback, Eric Simms tred to shake hands with British winger, John Atkinson after fulltime, Atkinson (a policeman) replied with a punch to the head.
In another shameful incident, Australian prop, John ‘Lurch’ O’Neill was wrestled to the ground by three English forwards and kicked by a fourth, right in front of touch judge, Jack Brierley, who did nothing.
Australia’s tries were scored by wingers, Lionel Williamson and Father John Cootes (a Catholic priest). Atkinson scored Britain’s try.
The Australian dressing rooms after the match resembled a battlefield clearing station, but Fr Cootes was not required to read the last rites.
Australian second rower, Bob McCarthy could barely walk playing one of the greatest games of his distinguished career, tackling everything in sight.
In his biography ‘Macca’, McCarthy wrote that Britain’s ace lock, Malcolm Reilly came up to him after the match, shook his hand, and said ‘Too good Macca’.
The two enjoyed a beer together later that night, but McCarthy found it hard to come to terms with Reilly’s on-field tactics.
“A game of football was like warfare for Mal,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know why he went in for the violence; he was such a naturally gifted player he certainly didn’t need it in his game. Perhaps it was the Pommie make-up – hating the opposition and wanting to give it to us Aussies”.
A few days after the final, the Australians played English club side, St Helens, and were thrashed 37-10 , some in the 16,000 strong crowd chanting ‘go home convicts’.
Then there was a short tour of France, including a match against France A in Paris and a Test in Perpignan.
The Australians had so many wounded they struggled to put 13 players on the field, but won the Paris match 36-8 and the Test 7-4.