It was the trip from hell, one which could have seen an entire Queensland sports team wiped out.
It was 1989, and the Queensland Residents’ rugby league side was touring France, with Blackwater’s Greg Reynolds the coach and Valleys’ hooker, Bill Holmes the skipper.
After four days in camp in Toulouse, Queensland played their first match against Aquitaine Midi-Pyrenees Province at Villeneuve-sur-Lot on September 24.
The Maroons won 42-8 and afterwards were hosted to a reception at Bar Glacier, where our host, Antoine, ensured everyone of a fine welcome.
The journey to Villeneuve from Toulouse took less than two hours, and the driver was adept and polite.
A new driver was assigned for the return journey. He was a big chap, a rugby union fan, who was quite disparaging of league, and could not believe how small the league boys were, compared to the chaps from the 15 man code.
Early in the journey the players realised this bloke wasn’t quite ‘with it’, in fact, he was drunk. Several times players had to grab the steering wheel to stop the bus veering to the wrong side of the road.
The driver, who spoke no English, kept splashing his face with water to stay awake. He became hopelessly lost, twice. At the meal stop, the driver accepted a beer from a waitress, as he sat down with a group of rugby mates, but the players swooped before he could drink it. When he left the dining room, a player tailed him to make sure he did not go to the bar.
The return journey, with a 90 minute stop for dinner, took six hours.
How do I know the intimate details of this near disaster? I was on the bus!
‘The Courier-Mail’ had assigned me to cover the tour, but provided only daily expenses, with the Queensland Rugby league providing the air fares, accommodation and internal travel.
That meant staying, and travelling, with the players.
At the end of the nightmare bus trip, I complimented the players on their self control. I know of some touring sides from previous years, who, once the bus had reached its destination, would have dragged the driver from the bus and given him a lesson he wouldn’t forget. Mind you, I think the Queensland boys were in a state of shock, and so weary, they just wanted to get to bed.
The headline in ‘The Courier-Mail’, on top of my story, read: ‘Driver Toulouse with the Grog’. One of the great headlines. And the story made the front page. (Mind you. I quite like the headline I have written for this story.😁)
The match against Aquitaine was played at Stade de la Myre-Mory, with the Aquitaine side including players from Toulouse, St Gaudens, Pamiers and Villeneuve-sur-Lot.
They were captained by Pierre Ailleres, whose father, George captained France in the 1968 World Cup in Australia. I saw the French, with George leading the way, put a courageous show against Australia in the final at the SCG, before going down 20-2.
‘Players’ Player’ for Queensland, at Villeneuve, was five eighth/halfback, Kevin Langer (Brisbane Wests), while coach, Reynolds rated lock, Mick Kings (St George) his best. Kings and starting halfback, Ray ‘Gas’ Ovens (Ipswich) scored two tries each, while winger, Guy Harvey (Brisbane Norths) kicked seven goals.
Aquitaine led 8-0 after 15 minutes and looked good, playing razzle dazzle football. They had one guest player – Australian five eighth, John McGuire.
Queensland lock, Darren Wolens (Ipswich) was cautioned by referee, Marc Millett for a head butt, with Millett pushing Wolens away, when it looked as if he and his French rival would go on with things.
Photo 1: Kevin Langer (left) and Brisbane Wests’ teammate, Paul Stewart
Photo 2: Darren Wolens (second from right) training with the Gold Coast Seagulls. Also in the pic., from left, are Jeremy Schloss, David Baildon and Robin Thorne
Photo 3: George Ailleres (left) wheels the French front row in a Test against Great Britain in Toulouse in 1969. The French hooker is Yves Begou and the other prop, Patrick Carrias. The British front row is Dennis Hartley, Kevin Ashcroft and Cliff Watson.