Published in Thirteen, 2005
The 1954 World Cup
France, Great Britain, Australia & New Zealand
The First-Ever World Cup
As Great Britain lined up to face Australia at Wigan in the 2004 Tri-Nations, they were looking to end a run of seven-straight losses against the Green-and-Golds.
Also in the stadium were a team of British champions, for the 1954 World Cup winners were introduced to the crowd, led by their captain Dave Valentine.
Valentine’s side had toured France to compete in the code’s first ever World Cup, playing each of the other three nations in a group stage, with the two leading sides contesting the final at Paris’s Parc des Princes Stadium.
Valentine had already won 11 Test caps and had been part of Ashes winning series in both 1948 and 1952. He had also just returned from a 22 match Lions Tour to Australia, which had lost the Ashes 2-1, five months earlier. So, revenge was on the cards for the British team and in the second game of the tournament, the Kangaroos were soundly beaten by Great Britain, 28-13 in Lyons. The day before, France had opened the tournament by beating New Zealand 22-13 in Paris.
The two early winners would eventually meet in the final as the Kiwis went home not having won a game and the only win the Australians mustered was against New Zealand. Only points difference split the British and French, with Britain leading the group, after they drew 13-13 in Toulouse in front 37,471 fans, which remains a French record.
The name from the French side that stands out is Puig-Aubert, the genius fullback who belied his figure and his chain smoking to be remembered as a rugby league great. He scored the tournament’s first points against New Zealand and was the star attraction of the World Cup held in his homeland.
Eventually, Aubert had to settle for a losers’ medal as Britain won the final 16-12 with tries to Brown (two), Rose and twice Lance Todd winner Gerry Helme with wingers Cantoni and Contrastin scoring the home tries in front of over 30,000 spectators in Paris.
France 12 (Cantoni, Constrastin tries. Puig-Aubert 3 goals)
Great Britain 16 (Brown 2, Rose, Helme tries. Ledgard 2 goals)
France: Puig-Aubert (c), Contrastin, Merquey, Teissiere, Cantoni, Jiminez, Crespo, Krawzyck, Audobert, Rinaldi, Pambrun, Save, Verdier.
Great Britain: Ledgard, Rose, Jackson, Naughton, Sullivan, Brown, Helme, Thorley, Smith, Coverdale, Watts, Robinson, Valentine (c).