FLASHBACK: December 1950

France played a (British) Empire side in Bordeaux, with the crowd of nearly 40,000 giving the day a carnival like atmosphere.

Brisbane Sunday-Mail journalist, Alan Cleaver reported on the match and marveled at the way the French had adapted to league, after only taking up the 13 man code in 1934, and then having the game banned by the pro-Nazi Vichy Government during World War II.

“Among them (the spectators) are shabby peasants, dockers, labourers, businessmen and gaily dressed girls,” wrote Cleaver. “The French backs are mostly nuggety and dark; the exception is a tall, muscular left wing, named Contrastin, who has a finely clipped moustache. The forwards are a solid lot, but not bulky. All have close cropped haircuts and wear light-soled boots (more like shoes) with small sprigs and elastic ankles for extra speed.

“The ball is also different – longer and lighter.

“The Empire team had stars such as Brian Bevan, Lionel Cooper, Harry Bath, Bob McMaster, Arthur Clues (all Australians) and Dave Valentine (a Scotsman), but the quick passing French had the edge on them.

“The refereeing was, at least, questionable; the Empire men had travelled three days and nights.

“But the real difference (France scored two tries; Empire one in a 16-3 win) was a brilliant little fullback. His name is Puig Aubert (pronounced Pwee-Awbair) and the southern crowds call him ‘Pipette’.”

Lionel Cooper told Cleaver, Aubert was the best fullback in the world “without a doubt”.

Aubert kicked five goals, one a drop kick from the sideline.

The Empire players told Cleaver the French specialised in the shoulder charge and loved a physical game.

France were set to tour Australia and New Zealand in 1951.

I grew up with stories of the legendary Aubert’s achievements on that tour, with my father and grandfather seeing him in action in a match against North Coast at Lismore.

Then, in 1978, by sheer chance, I ran into ‘Pipette; in the Bar Le Rugby in Carcassonne, when my wife and I were touring Europe in our Kombi Van.

Then, in 1989, I met the great man again while covering Queensland Residents’ tour of France.

In 2004, before covering the Australia v France Test in Toulouse, I bought a copy of ‘Immortal Pipette’ from the author, Bernard Pratviel.

Then, in 2011 I delivered the Harry Sunderland Lecture, on behalf of the Queensland Rugby League History Committee, in the Paddington Room at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, with the topic the great 1951 tour by France.

Then to complete the cycle – in 2014 I stood beside the statue of Puig Aubert at Stade Domec in Carcassonne.

Puig Aubert – a great man, the most famous French name in Australia, aside from La Perouse. (Puig Aubert died in 1994).

Puig Aubert

Puig Aubert

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