32 Australian representatives embarked from various cities around the globe to Villers-Bretonneux, France, competing against the French National Australian Rules teams in the 13th contest of the Anzac Cup.
The weekend started through an AusKick style clinic, with many local kids coming out for a kick of the footy with players from both countries. The smiles on the faces of all involved told the whole story and whilst communication was tough at times, the willingness of the French to support the Australian players ensured a wonderful afternoon of fun and laughter was spread across the Stade Timmerman turf in the heart of town. Jumper presentations soon followed, with Emily Rohr and Jack Rowland receiving the honour of captaining the Australian Women’s and Men’s side respectively. Congratulations must go out to those two players who both showed wonderful initiative and commitment to the weekend months out, which continued on during the early duties on Saturday morning and across the following days. Nicholas Boché was awarded captain of the French Coq’s, whilst Camille Portal would take the leadership position in the Gauloises side.
Sunday soon arrived, beginning with a march through the town with rain starting to fall. It didn’t seem like the weather would be as kind to us as it was for the Champions League – this prediction ringing true as the day went on. The Women’s game kicked off proceedings, and it was clear it was going to be a hotly contested match from the outset. The French Gauloises made a strong start having kicked two straight to Australia’s four points at quarter time. After coach Justin Clarke’s ask for higher intensity, he got exactly what he wanted, making it a one-point game at half time after a fantastic goal from the Aussie skipper Emily Rohr. After another tough battle in the third quarter, under some heavy rain, it was three points to the way of the Spirit heading into the final 12 minutes. Goals were flowing and both sides continued to take their opportunities. After scrambling to a 17-point lead midway through the fourth, France pinned the margin back to 11. However, it was too little too late for the Gauloises, and the away side Australian Spirit, were able to take home the Anzac cup in 2023. To all the players credit, the game was played in fantastic spirit in conditions that suited to nobody.
Next up was the Men’s clash and the French Coq’s were eager to make amends for last year’s two point defeat. This is exactly what transpired, and the Coq’s kicked five goals to one in the first. Belief was present in the Aussie camp, and a much better second quarter only saw a 24-point deficit heading into the main break. French captain Nicolas Boché was constantly in and around the footy, with his on-field leadership also a key part in the Coq’s dominance. After half-time, the trend of French dominance continued, and the game soon fell out of the Australian’s hands. With a 10 goal to one quarter, the Coq’s lead extended to 79 at 3QT. The home side clearly had unfinished business going on from the 2022 memories, inspiring them to a 160-50 victory over the travelling side. There was plenty of disappointment in the Australian Spirit side, who knew they were capable of a better showing. In saying this, the strength and character showed by the entire Coq’s side was wonderful viewing for the locals who had turned out to watch, and to beat that side would’ve been no easy feat from the beginning.
Monday was spent travelling the fields and towns which had seen battle during World War 1. It was a sobering experience for all as we walked the trenches and cemeteries that marked the region. It was a stark reminder of the true reason why these Australian representatives had travelled to Villers-Bretonneux. The day was spent learning about the history of those who had come before us, and all in attendance were filled with pride at how well our Australian soldiers are continued to be valued by the locals.
The Dawn Service at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux was the final part of the trip. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event for most, with each player having personal connections to the Anzac spirit making the ceremony even more special. After the moving service, players were given the chance to walk through the Sir John Monash Centre, which finished off the emotional weekend.
We would like to express a massive thank-you to our French liaison and President of the ABA, Xavier Graux, Bugle Player Sergeant Danny Dielkens, the French national women’s and men’s Aussie rules sides, the members of the Australian Spirit squads, our umpires and the many volunteers who assisted across the four days. Without you all involved, the weekend doesn’t go ahead, and we are incredibly grateful for your time. The strength between the Australian and French in Villers-Bretonneux continues to grow year on year, and we look forward to seeing how the event transpires in 2024.
- Sam Briggs, AFL Europe