Published in Thirteen, 2005
The 1970 World Cup Final
Great Britain v Australia
Leeds, November 8th 1970
“We beat them at Leeds in the group stages as well as beating France and New Zealand so we were confident but in the final we got our tactics wrong. We tried to physically knock them down but we should have played more football. John Atkinson had that altercation with Father John Cootes after the final whistle. Tactically we didn’t play to our best. Maybe there was some complacency due to the Ashes win and the group stage games.” – British loose forward Malcolm Reilly
The Battle of Leeds
The 1970 World Cup Final is marked down in history as one of the most brutal games of rugby league ever played, played out in front of enthralled, but shocked, television audiences in England and Australia.
Great Britain had dominated the tournament, topping the group with three wins from three. Australia, France and New Zealand had managed a win each but the Australians had scraped into the final on points difference, based on their 47-11 annihilation of New Zealand with Souths fullback Eric Simms contributing 23 points. The group results and the final table were:
Australia 47 – 11 New Zealand (Wigan)
Great Britain 11 – 4 Australia (Leeds)
France 15 – 16 New Zealand (Hull)
Great Britain 6 – 0 France (Castleford)
Great Britain 27 – 17 New Zealand (Swinton)
Australia 15 – 17 France (Bradford)
Great Britain 6pts
New Zealand 2pts
On form and bearing in mind their recent Ashes success down under, Great Britain were clear favourites to win the final and be crowned World Champions but it wasn’t so simple.
Australia’s John Cootes registered the game’s first try with two British goals in reply leaving the half time score as 5-4 to the tourists. Cootes was the first Roman Catholic priest to play international rugby league having studied for his priesthood in Rome while playing rugby union.
Lionel Williamson scored the Kangaroos’ second try in the second half and John Atkinson posted the home side’s only try of the game, but the second period wasn’t remembered for the tries but for the fighting that shocked the supporters and television viewers leading to the game being referred to as the Battle of Leeds. The Australian props John O’Neill and Bob O’Reilly were targeted but captain Ron Coote ordered his players not to retaliate. Syd Hynes and Billy Smith were sent off close to the end and with other fighting having occured, John Atkinson went on to headbutt Simms after the hooter. Fred Lindop, his touchjudges as well as the police had to stop the brawing.
Great Britain 7 (J Atkinson try; R Dutton goal; S Hynes field goal)
Australia 12 (John Cootes, Lionel Williamson tries; Eric Simms 2 goals; Eric Simms field goal)
Great Britain: Dutton, Smith, Hynes, Myler (c), Atkinson, Shoebottom, Hepworth, Hartley, Fisher, Watson, Thompson, Laughton, Reilly. Subs: Hesketh, Haigh.
Australia: Simms, Williamson, Cootes, Sait, Harris, Fulton, Smith, O’Neill, Turner, O’Reilly, McCarthy, Costello, Coote (c). Subs: Branighan, Walters.