Another fantastic ANZAC Cup took place on Saturday afternoon thanks to Major Partner National Australia Bank. The 11th edition of the tournament saw two fast, contested matches highlight the quality of both sides and the connection between the two countries.
After arriving on Wednesday to be part of the ANZAC Day commemorations and spend time in Villers-Bretonneux, the Australian Spirit team played the French Gauloises in the women’s at 12 pm before the French Coqs battled the Australian Spirit in the men’s at 2 pm.
With the women’s game beginning proceedings, the French Gauloises got off to a fast start, leading the Australian Spirit 2.3.15 to 1.2.8 at half time.
Once the third quarter got underway, it was clear that the fitness of both teams was going to have an influence on who would win. The Australian Spirit started to gain control in the midfield and opened the game up as they managed to get back into the lead heading into the final stages of the match.
France wasn’t going to finish without a fight though, and two quick goals late in the final term meant there were a few nerves in the Australian camp. However, the Spirit held on in what was a great example of attacking and physical football to win by six points, 6.7.43 to 5.7.37.
Australia’s Best On Ground player, Heather Muir, said the team were very proud with the hard-fought win against an impressive French side.
“All of the events leading up to Saturday’s match, including the dawn service, memorial visits, and time spent with the locals, put into perspective the significance of the event. It was an exciting and moving experience to play our national game in France, in a place with such a remarkable history of mateship between the countries. The French national side was very impressive, and we were very proud to come away with a narrow and hard-fought win,” she said.
In the men’s game, the French Coqs started off on the front foot like their female counterparts, kicking seven goals in the first half.
At half-time, the Coqs saw themselves in front by 40-points, 7.7.49 to the Australian Spirit 1.3.9.
The third and fourth quarters was more even, but the Australian Spirit couldn’t break through a strong French defence as both sides kicked three goals each for the remainder of the match. Despite their best efforts, the Australian side couldn’t get any momentum, with the French being more dominant with their ball movement around the ground.
Thanks largely to their fast start to the game, the French Coqs played a perfect style of football for the conditions as they won their first ANZAC Cup since 2013, winning by 42 points, 10.15.75 to the Australian Spirit 4.9.33.
French Coqs coach Andrew Unsworth was thrilled with how his side played on the big stage, and with a busy year ahead, this was an important statement made by the French.
“I’m really happy for our boys. They’ve been playing some great footy over the last two years or so without consistently hitting the scoreboard. It’s a great reward for our core group and for the young guys playing their first ANZAC Cup, who were all strong contributors,” he said.
“They were thrilled to beat a team of that calibre. The spirit team were highly skilled, tall and great in the contest, but we put them under intense pressure and were able to hurt them on the rebound. This gives us great confidence coming into a busy year with Euro Cup and Championship to come.”
With one win for each country, the presentations saw both teams come together to commemorate the occasion and remember the ANZAC’s involvement Villers-Bretonneux in World War One.
For all those playing, it was a great opportunity to represent their country, and French Coqs player Julien Dagois was one of them.
“It’s always a good experience to play in the ANZAC Cup, especially to win today. This is my fourth ANZAC game and it’s the first time we’ve won so I’m pretty happy about that. It’s exciting to play while you are representing your country especially against Australia because we know [ANZAC Day] is very important for Australians and New Zealanders,” said Dagois.
Before the football action took place, the two sides joined each other on Saturday morning for a march around Villers-Bretonneux to see the town and for the locals to see the two teams side-by-side.
Due to this year’s ANZAC schedule, the majority of the French squad travelled up on Saturday morning, but the Australian Squad arrived on Wednesday for the ANZAC Day Dawn Service on Thursday 25th April.
Up bright and early, the Australian Spirit were joined by family and AFL Europe staff for the Dawn Service at the Villers-Bretonneux Australian National Memorial for the ceremony to remember all those ANZAC’s who have served or are serving, including the 11,000 servicemen remembered on the memorial wall who have no known grave.
Katrina Stopinski was one of the umpires for the games on Saturday and also attended the Dawn Service as part of the Australian contingent. It was an incredible experience for Kat, especially with her family history as two of her great uncles fought on French soil over 100 years ago.
“Attending the dawn service at the Australian War Memorial was an incredible experience. The service beautifully told the story of many Australian soldiers who now lay to rest on French soil. I am very humbled to have been given the opportunity to attend and pay my respects to the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” said Stopinski.
Later on Thursday, the Australian Spirit visited the Australian Corps Memorial in Le Hamel which tells the story of various battles on the Somme and has views to illustrate the layout of the land which the ANZAC’s would have had to deal with in extreme conditions.
Following that, the team held a training session at Stadium Timmerman before heading back to their host families for the night.
Friday was another day spent seeing the sites around Villers-Bretonneux, with the team going to the exhibition at the Sir John Monash Centre to gain an even more in-depth story of where and when the war took place, what happened and individual stories of who was involved.
In the afternoon, the Australian Spirit welcomed over 150 young students from the local Victoria School for an AusKick session, which involved learning how to kick, handball, mark and kicking at goal.
Having coached football at a junior level back in Australia, teaching skills is not a new concept to Emily McKie, and even with the language barrier, it was a successful session for all involved.
“It was great seeing the kids enjoy it, and even though we didn’t know the language, we were still able to run good, fun activities by demonstration with some dodgy google translate skills. It really reinforced the softer skills of coaching, such as demonstration, body language and attitude,” said McKie.
Following that, the players were presented with their green and gold Australia guernseys, another proud moment for many during this experience.
“It was an amazing honour and privilege to have Captained the Australian Spirit team against the French National side in commemoration of the ANZACs. An incredibly humbling experience and one I will cherish forever. Thank you to AFL Europe, the ABA Association and National Australia Bank for making this all possible!” said Australian Spirit Captain Ben Carter when asked about his time in Villers-Bretonneux.
The few days spent in Villers-Bretonneux was then rounded off on the game day with two fantastic games of football, highlighting the skills involved and demonstrating teamwork that was shown by the ANZAC’s on the battlefields over 100 years ago.
“Looking back my four days in Villers Bretonneux were a whirlwind, but such an amazing opportunity. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect ahead of the trip, but the hospitality we received from the local community, the way we gelled as a team and the impact the dawn service and memorials had on me far outweighed any expectations,” said Australian Captain Nicole Young.
Talking post-match on Saturday, Australian Spirit player Ki Currie summed up what many players felt during their time in Villers-Bretonneux.
“What an experience… To have the opportunity to represent my country and my family, I’m extremely blessed and it’s going to be an experience I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life. To share that with 26 other Australian’s, we are going to be mates for a long, long time,” said Currie.
Special thanks to the National Australia Bank for their continued support as Major Partner of the ANZAC Cup.