FRANCE IN AUSTRALIA, 1955
France’s 1955 rugby league touring side to Australia and New Zealand
French manager, Antoine Blain receives the symbolic gift of a Kangaroo from Queensland Rugby League president, Vic Jensen during the historic 1951 tour
IN MAY, 1955 the second French Rugby League side to visit these shores arrived in Perth.
After the amazing feats of the inaugural French touring side in 1951, there was an air of expectancy in Australian league circles.
But there were also the doubters, particularly as legendary fullback, Puig Aubert was a late scratching through injury.
Following on from my 1958 Great Britain Rugby League tour diary by Tom Mitchell, here is my week by week account of the ’55 Frenchmen through the eyes of manager, Antoine Blain.
I must emphasis that is not the actual Blain diary, but one I imagine he would have kept, based on media, eyewitness accounts and several French books covering the era.
Winger, Fernand Cantoni scored four tries in our 46-17 win over Wide Bay at Albert Park, Gympie, while Gilbert Benausse continued his fine kicking form, landing eight goals from 10 shots. He has now kicked 54 goals from 64 attempts in eight matches in Queensland.
Benausse played fullback instead of his Test position of five eighth.
Halfback, Roger Guilham played only his second game on tour and his accurate passes and crisp handling were a delight to behold.
Vernados, Cavanagh, Prickett were the best for the local side.
I was forced to enter the field of play during the match against Ipswich as players from both sides exchanged kicks and punches and others were rushing on to help their teammates.
My appearance in the middle of the melee, which took place right in front of the official seats, restored order and the game was able to continue.
There were faults on both sides, but Gary Parcell seemed intent on making a reputation for himself with his illegal tackling and punching, which I am glad to say, earned the ire of referee, Neville Kelly.
Our skipper, Jacques Merquey was subjected to a lot of late tackling, but he was still able to let his football do the talking.
Berthomieu was our best forward, and was given good support by Jammes and Pambrun in our deserved 19-10 win. We scored three tries to two with Cantoni crossing twice.
I was impressed by Ipswich skipper, Bernie Drew and fellow forward, Don Meehan, who took a lot of punishment from our men.
Ipswich also had some fine cover defenders, notably five eighth, Barry Brennan and centres, Les Duncan and Tom Doyle.
While we are flying the flag for France Rugby League in Australia, another French side is touring Yugoslavia, hoping to spread the gospel of the 13 man code.
There are 10 matches scheduled in Yugoslavia where is a lot of enthusiasm for our game.
Rugby league has come a long way in France since the end of the World War II when we had to start from scratch after the pro-Nazi Vichy Government, with the backing of rugby union officials, banned our sport and seized all our assets.
We have 363 schoolboy sides playing in regular competitions, a great nursery for our game.
Today we suffered a heart breaking 17-15 loss to Newcastle in front of a crowd of 23,000 at the Newcastle International Sports Centre.
Newcastle led 14-0 at halftime, but we had clawed back to lead 15-14 when loose passing saw local winger, Lester Batey score a try against the run of play.
The referee, a Mr McIlhatton from Cowra, did neither side any favours with his interpretations, particularly at the play-the-ball.
We have returned to Sydney and have emerged victorious (28-26) from a tough match against New South Wales Colts.
The win was good for morale against a side containing many promising young players, among them Terry Fearnley.
Another defeat, this time to a New South Wales side captained by the great Clive Churchill, who scored 19 points in the home team’s 37-23 win at the SCG.
Once again the referee – this time Mr Jack O’Brien – did us no favours penalising France 19-8.
It seemed Mr O’Brien took a disliking to our fullback, Jean Dop, and they engaged in a verbal duel. Jean became so rattled he argued with teammates and our coaching staff.
We fielded only five of our top players, and we remain confident about our chances in the deciding Third Test.
Winger, Raymond Contrastin put up his hand for Test selection, scoring three great tries.
The attendance of 30,769 augurs well for a big crowd at the Test.
Our final hit-out before the Test was a tough 11-8 win over Western Division at Parkes, the local men keen to indulge in fisticuffs as much as football.
Our forwards took umbrage at some of the tackling, and it is fair to say they became a little ‘excited’.
Our hooker, Rene Moulis had a bitter contest with his rival, Ian Walsh and they had their own private war, in and out of the scrums. Walsh looks a fine prospect, but he will have to control his temper.
We heard some of the locals refer to him as ‘Abdul’.
The match finished with our fullback, Jean Dop, writhing in agony on the ground after he was kicked in the shin.
We have chosen our side and the Australian press has expressed surprise that Jacques Fabre from Avignonhas made the pack, given he has played only six matches tour.
They have labelled him the ‘chief tourist’ of our party, a disparaging label, we think.
He was very impressive against NSW, and we know he will get the job done.
Australian critics also expect the muddy pitch of the SCG to favour the home side. We shall see.
Ipswich’s Jack Casey, the first Queenslander to be appointed to control a Test in Sydney, is the Test referee. At 29 he is the youngest man to referee a Test in Australia. At least we know he can keep up with our fast play.
I cannot express what intense emotions I endured during the last five minutes of the Test match as we hung on for an 8-5 series clinching win.
Clive Churchill and his players were vigorously attacking our line, but with keenness undiminished, France repulsed all attacks.
There, I believe lies the secret of the French victory.
Since the beginning of the tour, our defence has made immense progress.
Our forward line withstood 24 minutes of attack from the opposing three quarter line. Yet despite the vigour of their attacks, the Australians could not penetrate the defence.
At the end the crowd of 62,458 made so much noise, referee Casey did not hear the final bell and played continued for several rucks.
Our best forward was Gabriel Berthomieu from Albi, who was the equal of Brousse and Ponsinet from the 1951 tour.
Squat and powerfully built, Gabriel chopped through the rucks in attack and in defence repeatedly speared Australians into the mud.
Australian forward, Brian Davies was not far behind Gabriel in excellence and their hooker, Ken Kearney won the scrums 20-11.
Eight points to five was not a humiliating defeat. The score could have been reversed and we would not have felt disgraced. I cannot remember having seen an international match played in such fine spirit.
We are very proud, but we do not forget the responsibilities it entails. We shall have a further reputation to defend and we shall defend it with zeal.
We go to New Zealand now full of confidence and with many happy memories from Australia.
What a grand day for France, surely one of the most momentous in the history of any sport in our country.
Most in the crowd of 47,000 at the Brisbane Cricket Ground were certain Australia would prevail and win the series after the home side led 28-16 late in the contest.
But our brave men scored 13 points in six minutes to keep the series alive.
It was a grand triumph of will power.
When a quarter of an hour before the finish, and Australia had a 12 points lead, I could not imagine our players would have sufficient resources to overcome this formidable handicap.
However, I was trusting in a French victory.
Already I was preparing to congratulate Australian coach, Vic Hey and coach, Clive Churchill.
Then the miracle happened.
We owe our victory to the efforts of Merquey, Rey and Ducasse, who inspired our forwards, and to the combination of the halves, Teisseire and Benausse.
Jack Reardon from The Courier-Mail described Merquey as the smartest and fastest centre seen in Australia since England’s Ernest Ward in 1950.
Merquey scored two tries, one in which he left Australian fullback, Clive Churchill stranded by his beautiful swerve.
Lock, Mick Crocker scored two tries for Australia in the first half, and along with fellow forwards, Brian Davies and henry Holloway, proved a handful for at least 70 minutes, before wilting a little.
Five eighth, Graham Laird from Toowoomba also scored two tries on debut.
A trio of French stars (from left) Andrew Carrere, Claude Tesseire and Gilbert Benausse.
Our last assignment before the Test – a match against Northern New South Wales at Casino on the Richmond River.
The country around here is some of the most beautiful we have seen in Australia, and the welcome from the locals was warm indeed.
We received a motor bike police escort to Queen Elizabeth Park, and the match was played on a superb surface.
North Coast fielded former international, Johnny Graves in their backline and he kicked six goals in their 18-17 win over our ‘second’ team. I understand that before the match Graves backed himself to the tune of 15 pounds to score at least 10 points.
I was forced to give my players a pep talk at halftime in the match against North Queensland in Townsville, after the first 40 minutes featured many fisticuffs.
I told my players I would not stand for them getting into any more trouble, and that any player who became involved in the fighting would be left out of the team for the return Test in Brisbane.
I could not blame some of my players for battling to control their tempers, as some of the North Queensland tactics were beyond contempt.
Their centre, Tony Ford, stood off-side most of the game to mark Rey, and at one stage crashed Rey down with a pile driving tackle when he was 15 yards from play.
The referee from Rockhampton, Mr. Gilbert, did not please either side, or the crowd.
Three of our players – Voron, Teisseire and Ducasse finished with two tries each, with Teisseire playing at halfback in only his second match on tour.
Five eighth, Gilbert Benausse was again in brilliant kicking form, and landed nine goals from 11 shots, to take his tally to 40 goals from 47 attempts in six matches, while the local man, Albert Roberts kicked seven goals.
Tonight it was tropical Cairns, not Cannes on the Mediterranean which played host to Frenchmen, and we did our country proud with a 66-21 win over Far North Queensland in front of a crowd of just under 6,000.
This time Benausse kicked 12 goals from 15 shots.
Our winger, Fernand Cantoni was lucky to escape serious injury when he fell on a wooden flag post on the sidelines, after a 40 yard dash in the 29-14 win over Central West at Barcaldine.
Our man was heavily tackled by his opposing winger, Lehane, and as he crashed to the ground, the back of his head struck the flagpole, which ripped skin off his neck. It could have been much worse.
Our other winger, Maurice Voron (Lyon) showed great dash to score two tries, with Jacques Merquey giving his usual immaculate servce.
Captained by Danny O’Connell, who played for Qld against the American All Stars in 1953, the men from the Outback put up a brave show, and I was impressed by former Brisbane forward, Fred Proberts, who was in the thick of things.
The crowd of 2,000 was exceptional, given the remote location.
Our Australian masseur, Bill ‘Husky’ Moore, has had to work overtime to prepare some players for today’s match against a strong Central Qld side in Rockhampton.
His magic hands must have done some good, because we scored 15 points in the last six minutes to crush the local side 40-24.
Our five eighth, Gilbert Benausse from Carcassonne, kicked eight goals from nine attempts and has now landed 15 goals from his last 16 shots.
Centre, Frances Levy (Catalans) and winger, Victor Larroude scored two tries each, as did Central Qld players, Tom Ryan and Cyril Connell, pleasing the record home crowd of 8,500.
We have a journalist from The Courier-Mail, Tom Linneth following our progress in Queensland.
He has been fascinated by the sight of Jean Dop sometimes wearing a cricket cap, a red and blue quartered piece which was a gift to him from Australian wicket keeper, Bill Oldfield.
Vive La France. We have made Australia sit up and take notice with a 23-17 win over Queensland at the Gabba with our captain, Jacques Merquey showing the footwork of a ballet dancer and the handling skills of a juggler to bamboozle the opposition.
Credit must also be given to our forwards who grimly defended against the crashing runs of Brian Davies and Duncan Hall.
Our lock, Christian Duple from Bordeaux was magnificent, and in one magic moment raced 50 metres to tackle Qld five eighth, Graham Laird a metre short of the tryline.
Queensland’s powerful team had me trembling during the entire 80 minutes. I would say if France had lost, its team would not have deserved any censure.
Certainly I rejoiced. My players needed the win for their morale.
Against Queensland France was victorious because our forwards did not fail in their task, which is to hold their adversaries.
Brisbane seems to be favourable to us. We beat Brisbane, and now we’ve beaten Queensland. In France we have a proverb, which says: “Never two without three.”
That means we should win the Second Test in order to have our third victory in Brisbane. I hope so.
We are back to square one following a humiliating 35-6 loss to Toowoomba in drizzling rain in this beautiful city in the mountains.
The ‘Galloping Clydesdales’ as Toowoomba are known, scored seven tries to our two, with their new State lock, Ian ‘Ripper’ Doyle simply magnificent.
Both our tries were scored by winger, Andre’ Carrere, who hails from the Villeneuve-sur-Lot club, the first in France to switch from rugby union to league in 1934.
We had too many players who did not appear to have their heart in the game, and for this I apologise to those in the crowd of 7,302.
We had received a warm welcome to Toowoomba the night before at an official dinner, where the toast was proposed by Toowoomba coach, the legendary Duncan Thompson, who was wounded on the Western front in France in World War 1, fighting for freedom, and defending France.
Duncan announced this would be his last year as coach of the Clydesdales.
Back in France, our form has caused much consternation, both in our federation and at Government level.
Our president, Paul Barriere has been forced to make a public statement in Toulouse, emphasising that standards in Australia have improved since our last tour in 1951, and we have so many new players.
We also have had many injuries, and today we have discovered that Guy Delaye will not play again on tour because he has a fractured spine.
Tonight we had too much pace and class for Brisbane at the Exhibition Grounds, restricting the home side to just one try in our 21-11 win.
Our men relished the dry, hard ground which brought back memories of southern France. The crowd of 30,000 was a record for a match involving Brisbane against a touring side, and we were pleased to provide plenty of entertainment, with our winger from Bordeaux, Raymond Contrastin scoring two tries.
Brisbane led 8-6 at halftime as a result of fine goal kicking by Norm Pope, who landed four goals from as many attempts.
Centre, Roger Rey did an excellent job containing Brisbane’s giant Test centre, Alex Watson, and our forwards at least broken even with the likes of Brisbane internationals, Duncan Hall and Brian Davies.
Referee, Jack Casey did not do us any favours by disallowing a try for obstruction in the first half, when it was desperately difficult to see any offence.
We finished the match with 12 men, losing prop, Joseph Vanel from Lyon with concussion.
We acknowledge that Brisbane were forced to make some late changes, losing the likes of international second rower, Kel O’Shea to injury (replaced by Norm McFadden), but the home side still fielded a formidable outfit.
Bordeaux winger, Raymond Contrastin
Australia thoroughly deserved their 20-8 victory at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but we believe we can square the series in Brisbane.
Our hooker, Rene Moulis shaded Australia’s dual international, Ken Kearney 18-17 in the scrums, but our forward rivals, led by Duncan Hall and Roy Bull, were too strong in the rucks.
Dropped passes at crucial stages proved costly for our side, but we still scored two brilliant tries – a sign of better things to come, we hope. I am sure the crowd of 67,748 was entertained
Keith Holman’s try for Australia was against the run of play, when we looked certain to score.
Our first try was simply brilliant, and came from a break made by centre, Roger Rey from Lyon, a late inclusion for Teisseire. Roger cut between Australian centres, Harry Wells and Alex Watson and sent Merquey away at top speed. Jacques passed inside and winger, Ducasse gathered the ball on the bounce, and had too much pace for the cover defence.
Our prop, Guy Delaye fractured his hip and was admitted to hospital, leaving us with 12 men for much of the match.
I thought referee, Darcy Lawler allowed the Australians to stand off-side too often, but I acknowledge the better team won.
The Courier-Mail’s Jack Reardon has described the Australian pack as the best in years, and has tipped the forwards to pave the way for victory.
Reardon described Duncan Hall as the greatest forward in his time, and we are not ones to argue with such an assessment.
We believe our forwards can at least hold the Australians, and that our backline will be smart enough to cement victory.
Reardon watched our boys train this week and commented that the handling was equal to the artistry of the 1951 team.
The Test was declared a sell-out ages ago.
The challenge awaits us.
The Australian media have doubted the wisdom of bringing ‘midget’ centre, Claude Teisseire to these shores, but I can assure you, we will have the last laugh.
Claude may be small in stature, but he has dancing feet, and a keen eye for his support players.
Respected league journalist, Tom Goodman refers to Claude as ‘Tom Thumb’, but we prefer to call him ‘Tom Terrific’.
Claude played all three home Tests against the 1952-53 Kangaroos, and he held his own against the likes of Noel Hazzard, Col Geelan and Harry Wells.
We have chosen Claude and of course, Jacques Merquey, as centres for the First Test at the SCG, against the Vic Hey coached Aussies.
We know we have the talent, but results are what count and today’s 16-9 loss to Southern Division in Wollongong has the potential to damage morale ahead of next weekend’s First Test in Sydney.
I still have confidence in our ability, but, as I say, results determine success.
Today the conditions were miserable – frequent showers and a cold, driving wind. There were 52 scrums, far too many.
Tempers flared on occasion, and that is to be expected, given the circumstances.
Now we must keep a cool head preparing with the battle with the Kangaroos.
- France rugby league forward, Jean Pambrun in action for Catalans XIII
Beaten again at the SCG, but thunderous applause from the crowd of 50,448 was music to my ears.
New South Wales won 29-24, but the loss of our hooker, Rene Moulis with 14 minutes left, when we led 22-18, was a turning point, in a fluctuating match, which was not one for the feint hearted.
It was a big match for NSW with the great Clive Churchill making his 100th representative appearance.
Both teams threw the ball around in the true spirit of ‘rugby 13’, and we lost nothing in comparison to our rivals in what was a grand spectacle.
I do not wish to lessen the merit of the NSW victory under the coaching of my old friend, Vic Hey.
But I think if the match had ended in a draw none of the spectators would have regretted it.
At times our players brought back memories of the tour of 1951.
Thanks to the hard work of coaches, Rene Duffort and Jean Duhau our team had been transformed in a week.
Andrew Ducase and Maurice Voron were exciting on the wings and lock, Christian Duple gave an intelligent display in the middle as well as kicking accurately, landing six goals from eight shots.
But the star of the match was our centre, Jacques Merquey and I was flattered to hear what former Australian selector and 1929-30 Test halfback, Joe ‘Chimpy’ Busch had to say about him.
Busch said: “What a beauty. He (Merquey) is the most brilliant centre the game has seen since (Queenslander) Tommy Gorman was in his prime as captain on my tour.”
It is our intention to lobby the International Board for changes to the current ruck rules, which allow the dummy half to stand a yard behind the man playing the ball, and all other players almost in line with the dummy half.
We contend the current rules allow spotting and prevent open play.
At present the best movements come from broken play.
In our last domestic season we experimented with new concepts which ensure the forwards are further apart, and also insist that the dummy half passes the ball every time.
I know New Zealand and Britain have tried different things, but Australia seems happy with the status quo.
We will see what the International Board has to say in August.
Today we have had a much needed victory – 29-27 over Riverina at Narrandera, an area where rugby league and Australian rules seem to enjoy equal popularity.
I am sure the crowd of 9,000 enjoyed the contest, which was allowed to flow by referee, Jerry Lane.
Narrandera is a nice town on the Murrumbidgee River and the locals made us feel right at home.
We have been left in no doubt about the task at hand after falling to Combined Sydney 25-0 on a muddy SCG before 39,445 spectators.
The scene of our Test triumphs on the 1951 tour was one of devastation today and I must confess I cannot blame Australian fans if they believe we will be cannon fodder in this series.
But I was encouraged by some of what I saw, particularly from new players, Claude Tesseirre in the centres and Jean Pambrun in the forwards, and I believe they can match the deeds of our 1951 stars, Gaston Gomes and Eli Brousse.
And we also showed we can play ‘clean’ football after criticism of our ‘fiery’ tactics.
Still, referee, Jack O’Brien did us no favours and heavily penalised us for technical things, mainly for not playing the ball correctly.
What is it about the Australians’ obsession with the perfect play-the-ball? Surely the main aim is to get the ball back and to get on with the game, so we do not become like rugby union.
I liked the look of Sydney centre, Greg Hawick and halfback, Col O’Donohue, although I don’t think O’Donohue is as good as Keith Holman. Forwards, Ken Kearney and Roy Bull seemed right at home in the mud.
I have decided to hand the captaincy to centre, Jacques Merquey, because he is more calm than Jean Dop, who I will let concentrate on his football.
Our players are relishing the chance to play on the big stage of the SCG against a Combined Sydney side.
We have bought shin pads for our forwards who are displaying many cuts and bruises after the Canberra clash.
I know Australians are saddened by the absence of Puig Aubert from this tour, but his replacement, Gilbert Benausse is a fine player and just as accomplished as a goal kicker.
A hair dresser, Gilbert plays for the Carcassonne club.
I have read the riot act (appropriately) to our men, demanding they play clean football, to maintain good will with the knowledgeable Australian crowds.
Earlier in the day I met with members of the Australian Board of Control, who expressed their concerns following the scenes in Canberra.
Board of Control secretary, Harrold Matthews agreed home sides were equally to blame for some of the unfortunate incidents to date
I have witnessed some ugly incidents involving spectators in France, but nothing to compare with scenes at Manuka Oval in Canberra on this day, when several hundred people rioted during our match against Monaro Division.
Several of our players were punched as these so called ‘fans’ jumped the fence, and it took the local police seven minutes to quell the disturbance.
Admittedly the match itself was a poor advertisement for rugby league, and the referee, Mr. Harold Gillard from Newcastle, lost control. It is a pity Australia’s Governor General, Sir William Slim and several members of the diplomatic corp, had to witness such events.
Mr Gillard dismissed Monaro prop, Clive Moon from Cooma, as well as our hooker, Rene Moulis.
But the incident which led to the riot came after our fullback and skipper, Jean Dop was tackled near our goal line and remained on the ground, injured.
A Monaro player seized Dop by the jersey and dumped him down, incensing our men, particularly prop, Guy Delaye who handed out his own punishment.
After the match a judiciary committee suspended Moon and Moulis for seven days.
Monaro deserved their 11-3 victory, and I know people will question our credentials for the tough matches ahead. But some of our best players only arrived in Sydney yesterday after completing club commitments at home.
We will be strong, and I see the people of Queensland have faith, given reserved seating for the Second Test at the Gabba are sold out already.
Today we easily accounted for Victoria 44-2 in Melbourne, and now we look forward to much stronger opposition, and bigger crowds, in New South Wales and Queensland. There were only 2,500 spectators here today, and coming on top of barely 1,400 in Adelaide, this has done nothing for our tour coffers.
<Next. France move to the traditional league states>
RIOT IN CANBERRA
It is my sad duty to report that we have had a player sent off, in just the second match of the tour, against South Australia at Norwood Oval, a ground we are told is home to the ‘Redlegs’ Australian rules side.
Guy Delaye, who upset people in Perth, caused more offence here in our 12 tries to two, 48-10 victory, with our opponents suggesting he was guilty of mischief in a tackle which saw local forward, Roy Hansen taken from the field injured.
Then followed a scrum and Guy and Tony Brain from South Australia engaged in fisticuffs, with both men sent from the field by referee, Mr Burns, who heavily penalised our side.
There was a suggestion from the local press that Guy has ‘molested’ Mr Burns outside the dressing rooms after the game, slapping him in the face and spitting at him. But I think there was merely a difference of opinion, and no harm was done.
Some local officials thought otherwise, and it is true I engaged in some spirited discussion with these gentlemen.
Coaches, Rene Duffort and Jean Duhau know there is plenty of work to do, but there is amazing potential in this side after we beat Western Australia 31-6 at Belmont Park, scoring nine tries, three of them by lock, Armand Save, a butcher who switched to league from Stadoceste Rugby Union.
Our speed and attacking prowess was restricted by the rough playing surface, but the crowd of 15,000 seemed to enjoy the spectacle.
There were times they expressed their displeasure at fiery play, but that is rugby league, and we make no apologies.
We will not take a backward step as our hooker, Rene Moulis showed with his aggression in the scrums. Rene is a carpenter from Carcassonne, and is as tough as nails.
I thought our best was Jean Dop, who at 31 still has plenty of speed and agility. He has to be quick on his feet as a bar manager in Marseilles.
Sydney journalist, Tom Goodman told me some of the local forwards had complained to him about the tactics of our 17 stone second rower, Guy Delaye, who left his mark, literally it seems.
Guy is a truck driver from Lyon, who likes his food as much as his football, and food is at its best in Lyon.
We have arrived in Perth and it is strange to see four goal posts on many large ovals instead of the rugby posts we are accustomed to in France.
Our players are excited about the challenges ahead, despite a demanding club and representative schedule in Europe.
We understand that Western Australia is not a rugby league stronghold, but there are many players from New South Wales and Queensland who have moved here to live.
France’s 1955 tour captain, Jacques Merquey in action against New Zealand in Bordeaux