The touring Kangaroos won the Rugby League Ashes against Great Britain in Leeds, but then crashed to a First Test defeat at the hands the French in Carcassonne.
Australian captain, Bob Fulton’s tactical kicking was a highlight of the Kangaroos’ 23-6 win over Britain at Headingly in the Third Test, with the crowd of 29,627 warmly applauding the veteran five eighth, despite their disappointment over the home side’s loss in the series decider.
Fulton’s halves partner, Tom Raudonikis had one of the best games of his career, scoring the only try by an Australian back. Hooker, George Peponis; prop, Geoff Gerrard and second rower, Les Boyd were the other try scorers.
Dual Welsh rugby international, John Bevan and the mercurial Roger Millward, were Britain’s try scorers, with skipper, Millward the best player for the home side.
Tagged ‘Dad’s Army’, Britain had won the Second Test in Bradford, but their veterans could not repeat the dose in the decider.
A number of British critics rated the 1978 ‘Roos the fastest and fittest side to tour the northern hemisphere, with the aging home stars unable to keep up.
Australian team co-manager, Jim Caldwell from Queensland was full of praise for coach, Frank Stanton.
“It was a mighty effort, from a marvellous coach,” said Caldwell. Stanton had coached New South Wales to a three-nil series win over Queensland and also took Manly-Warringah to a Sydney Premiership.
Australia opened the French section of their tour with a 26-15 win over Catalans, in Perpignan, scoring six tries to three. Australia led only 6-5 at halftime. Centre, Mick Cronin scored a try and kicked four goals to take his tally to over 100 points on tour.
The local organisers played the British National Anthem instead of the Australian anthem, much to the amusement of the tourists.
A wild brawl was a feature of the first half, with the Australians driving their French rivals 20 metres backwards, as punches and kicks were exchanged. “Ron Hilditch could be seen in the middle of things, boots, elbows and fists flying,” said Caldwell.
Four days later Australia crashed to a 13-10 loss to France in the First Test in Carcassonne, with French centre, Michel Naudo scoring a hotly disputed try just before fulltime, to claim victory for the home side. Television replays showed Naudo had his feet over the dead ball line when he pressed the ball. But there was no video review in 1978.
French referee, Andre Breysse caned the Australians 20-7 in penalties, with winger, Jose Moya kicking five penalty goals. Cronin and fullback, Graham Eadie scored tries for Australia, with Cronin converting his own try and then landing a penalty.
Unlike the British, the French were young, fast and fit with the forwards tackling like demons.
Australia defeated Provence Littoral 29-7 at Avignon in the next match, with Eadie and indigenous winger, Larry Corowa each scoring two tries. The game was scheduled to start at 8.30 p.m., but didn’t get underway until 9.10. It was windy and so cold, Corowa and fellow winger, Ian Schubert played in their tracksuits.
Boyd and French rival Thiery Valdon stood toe-to-toe for around two minutes punching, kicking, butting and wrestling each other, with referee, Gilbert Calloil ignoring the confrontation. One Provence player tried unsuccessfully to separate Boyd and Valdon, and, with a shrug of the shoulders, went back to the football.
Footnote: Australia had three games remaining on the French leg of their tour – against France Espoirs (Colts) in Albi; Midi Pyrenees at Villeneuve-sur-Lot and the Second Test in Toulouse. More in a future Flashback.