ENGLAND captain, Shaun Edwards was accused of taunting Australian winger, John Hopoate with racial abuse at London’s Wembley Stadium, in the opening match of the 1995 Rugby League Centenary World Cup.
Hopoate, a noted sledger, was the man in the headlines after the match, which England won 20-16.
Edwards criticised Hopoate for something he said to England fullback, Kris Radlinski after the rookie fullback failed to take a Brad Fittler bomb, with Mark Coyne capitalising to score a try for the Kangaroos.
Radlinksi and second rower, Denis Betts told the Sydney Telegraph’s Peter Frilingos that other Australians were also sledging heavily.
Initially, Australian team manager, Geoff Carr brushed aside the claims, but later came out to defend his players, in particular Hopoate.
“We don’t deny there was sledging, but it was no different to any other game of football, at this level,” Carr said. “Hopoate might have said something after the (Coyne) try, but that doesn’t mean he has to be racially abused.
“My information is that Shaun Edwards called Hopoate a black bastard, after he fumbled the ball, which led to Jason Robinson’s try for England. We knew about those comments after the game, but chose to say nothing about them.
“But now that Edwards has gone out of his way to criticise Hopoate, it’s only fair we reveal the other side of the story. We don’t intend to take the matter any further, we just want to get the issue into perspective.”
Edwards, who had a black girlfriend, was horrified at the claims from the Australian camp, and went to his solicitor. He even threatened to quit international football, he was so disgusted.
Edwards said there was no need for Hopoate to go over the top like he did, when Radlinski stuffed up.
“Hopoate gave the young lad grief,” Edwards said. “I thought it was very unsporting. The names Hopoate came out with when he went up to the kid, were ridiculous.”
The Poms got their own back when Hopoate gifted Robinson his try, with England winger, John Bentley, a policeman, racing across the field to give the Manly-Warringah star a mouthful. (Bentley would go on to play for the British Lions in rugby union).
Betts said the Aussies had been calling him, Phil Clarke and Andy Platt ‘has-beens’.
Frilingos questioned whether Australia, coached by Bob Fulton, could bounce back, if they had to face England (coach, Phil Larder) again, in a Wembley final, particularly as Super League aligned stars were ignored by the national selectors. In other words, he did not think Australia had the depth, with only ARL loyal players considered.
To add to Australia’s woes, prop, Paul Harragon fractured a cheek bone and co-forward, David Gillespie tore a hamstring.
Australia’s ball control against England was poor, with a forced pass by Jim Dymock giving England centre, Paul Newlove an easy interception and a 45-metre run for a try.
England lock, Andy Farrell was man of the match, his 60 metre punt kicks usually finding open spaces and causing Australia all sorts of problems. Farrell also scored a classic try from the scrum base, carrying Steve Menzies and Geoff Toovey over the line for England’s first score.
Brad Fittler was Australia’s best, making 39 tackles and proving dangerous with the ball. Menzies scored two tries, but his game was blighted by handling errors.
In other first round matches, Fiji (coached by Australian, Graham Murray) defeated South Africa 52-6 at Keighley in Yorkshire; New Zealand defeated Tonga 25-24 at Warrington in Cheshire, and Wales defeated France 28-6 in Cardiff.
1 Brad Fittler playing against England at Wembley in 1995
2 Paul Harragon suffered a broken cheekbone at Wembley
3 England winger, Jason Robinson
4 England centre, Paul Newlove.