On a hot spring day, in the French city of Grenoble, France extracted revenge against Great Britain, in one of the great turnarounds of international rugby league history.
Just three weeks before, Britain had beaten France 50-15 at Headingley, Leeds in front of a crowd of 21,948.
The French selectors made wholesale changes, and with a game plan to negate British halfback genius, Alex Murphy, the new look side delighted the 9,000 fans at Stade des Alpes, with a 24-15 victory.
A crisis meeting of French officials and senior players had been held back at the team hotel, ‘The Queens’, after the Headingley loss.
New French president, Claude Devernois despaired of what appeared to be a gap in class between the two countries.
Reporting in Miroir des Sports, Renaud de Laborderie said Mr Devernois emphasised it was vital to cull players who lacked drive, and were content to stay “in their comfort zone.”
Andre Lacaze, a reserve for the Headingley game, was one of those promoted to the starting side. The Villeneuve-sur-Lot star said he had been in tears watching Alex Murphy controlling the game.
“Watching helplessly from the sideline, I’d never felt so humiliated in my whole life, as we were humbled,” Lacaze said.
The Grenoble match saw French five eighth, Gilbert Benausse, from Lezignan, score two tries and kick three goals.
The other try scorers were winger, Andre Savonne from Avignon; fellow winger, Marcel Bonnet and centre, Raymond Gruppi (both from the Joinville club).
Britain’s try scorers were Neil Fox from Wakefield, who grabbed a double, as well as Brian McTigue from Wigan. Warrington fullback, Eric Fraser landed three goals.
France’s diminutive halfback, Rene Jean from Avignon, hurled himself at the legs of the big British forwards.
Laborderie wrote that French Rugby League had been “rehabilitated”.
“In the end, they were just 13 men like us,” said Lacaze. “They are not supermen at all”.
France’s next Test, in October, 1959, was against the touring Australian Kangaroos in Paris, with Australia winning 20-19.
Footnote: I had the pleasure of meeting Savonne, (who was known as the ‘Vaucluse Bison’, because of his block busting runs) during the Queensland Residents’ 1989 tour of France. He was mayor of Rocheford-du-Gard, and I met him in his mayoral office. After I interviewed him, he presented me with a large, boxed bottle of red wine from the River Rhone region. He died in 2000. His grandson, William Bonnet played rugby union for Le Pontet (which was once a rugby league club), and then for Nimes.
Photo: Gilbert Benausse.