25th November: Lockyer leads Aussies to glory

Richard de la Riviere looks back at what happened in Rugby League over the years on this day: 25th November.

One of the most entertaining international Rugby League finals was decided in golden-point extra time on this day in 2006, as the newly crowned Golden Boot winner, Darren Lockyer, scored an 87th-minute try to win back the Tri-Nations crown for Australia.

The match-up was a repeat of the final from 12 months earlier, when New Zealand had inflicted Australia’s first tournament defeat since 1978 by beating them 24-0 at Elland Road in Leeds.

Australia had won through to the 2006 final by winning three of their four group matches, losing only to Great Britain in Sydney.

But the Kiwis had beaten the Lions twice, and although they had two points deducted from the first of those wins, they made it through to the final with a superior points difference, thanks largely to a crushing 34-4 win over Britain in Wellington.

The Kangaroos got off to a great start in the final at Sydney, with Johnathan Thurston kicking an early penalty and Brent Tate scoring a ninth-minute try, which Thurston converted.

But the Kiwis weathered the early onslaught and hit back with a try of their own in the 28th minute, when Frank Pritchard took Brent Webb’s overhead pass to score.

The Aussies went into half-time 10-6 up, but their lead didn’t last long as Iosia Soliola, the 20-year-old giant centre, took Nigel Vagana’s pass and beat Thurston to the line.

Thurston nosed the green and golds back in front with a penalty, but Stacey Jones cancelled it out with ten minutes to go.

Jones and Webb failed with drop-goal attempts, as did Thurston at the other end as the game headed into extra-time, the first international final to do so since the 1972 World Cup.

The score remained unchanged in the first five-minute ‘half’, but Lockyer backed up Thurston’s break to crown a dream year that had already seen him captain Brisbane Broncos to Grand Final glory and Queensland to State of Origin success.

France thrashes England in Marseille

France continued their glorious 1951 by thrashing England in the European Championship on 25 November.

Captained by the great fullback Puig-Aubert, France had returned home from an amazing tour of Australia, where they had beaten Clive Churchill’s Kangaroos by two Tests to one with an incredible crowd of 67,009 in attendance at the deciding Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

When they got back, there was the small matter of the European Championship to consider – a tournament inaugurated in 1935 – which they competed for annually with England, Wales and Other Nationalities.

Each side played each other once, with the six games taking place sporadically between September and April. France were the holders, after having won the 1950-51 tournament.

England got the 1951-52 campaign underway by beating Wales 35-11 in front of 20,918 at St Helens, before France were pipped 17-14 by the Other Nationalities at Hull with 18,000 in attendance.

For the third game, 31,810 people turned up at Marseille to watch France hammer the English 42-13 with four players – Vincent Cantoni, Raymond Contrastin, Joseph Crespo and Jacques Merquey – scoring doubles.

Martin Martin and Francois Rinaldi also crossed, with Puig-Aubert kicking five goals and a drop-goal.

For the beleaguered English, Frank Castle scored two with Billy Blan also touching down. Jim Ledgard kicked a couple of goals.

France went on to beat Wales and, with other results falling their way, they retained the crown the following April.

Young Lions shine at Castleford

Great Britain’s Under-21 side opened up their two-match series with France with a 24-8 win in Castleford in front of 1,754 spectators on this day in 1984.

Captained by Lee Crooks, who was sin-binned for his part in a first-half brawl, the British fielded a number of other current or future Test stars including Shaun Edwards at fullback, Garry Schofield at centre, Roy Powell in the second row and Gary Divorty at loose forward.

The French, who included a number of over-age players, were captained by the St Estève centre Serge Bret. Britain had reverted to the Under-21s from the usual 24s, although France had neglected to do likewise, because of the current demands on their younger players.

Winger Gaston Berteloite scored the first try for France after Edwards had failed to deal with a high kick, before Schofield created a try for Hull Kingston Rovers winger Garry Clark, with whom he had toured Australia and New Zealand on the recent British Lions tour.

David Creasser’s conversion and a couple of penalties saw the sides turn around with the hosts 10-4 ahead. But Frank Romano touched down another kick to narrow the gap early in the second half.

But Great Britain re-exerted their authority when Shaun Allen put Andy Currier in the corner, which Creasser converted, and they put the icing on the cake when Mark Conway, the Leeds scrum-half, broke from a scrum base and dummied his way over the line.