The annual ANZAC Cup in Villers-Bretonneux sees the Australian Spirit take on France in a unique Australian Football match to commemorate those who have fought for the two nations in World War One.
It’s a big occasion for all involved, and the hosts certainly gain just as much from the experience as their opponents, with coach Andrew Unsworth saying, “as an overall experience, it is undoubtedly the most important”.
While many players from the Australian squad travel from all over the world, the French team is made up of players from around the country’s different leagues. For many of them, it’s one of, if not their most important match of the year and Captain of the men’s team, Sylvain Maylie, agrees with that sentiment.
“We don’t have many games during the year as a French team, so all games are important for us, but this one is different. It’s Australia against France. We want to show the Australians that we know how to play Australian Football and that we can beat them,” Sylvain said.
Naturally, the visiting side brings a strong line-up but in recent years, the French have certainly been able to match their opposition, just falling short at the final hurdle.
This year could be the chance for France to win their first ever women’s game, or potentially their first men’s game since 2013.
“The annual ANZAC Cup game has evolved over the years and so has the French team. In recent years, we have seen a rapid improvement in the game style and therefore game results from a French perspective,” said Andrew. “We can expect this improvement to continue and a more attacking brand of footy from the local team. Having said that, the Australian profiles look particularly dangerous so we will need to limit their time and space.”
There is plenty of experience in the French squad, as a number of the men’s players return this year, including previous winners of the Player of the Tournament in Thibaut Picard, Herve Desjardin, Pierre Leschales and Vincent Monnier.
In last year’s men’s game, the French side challenged the Australian’s deep into the final quarter before a couple of late bursts saw Australia come out on top by 17 points. In the women’s, the Australian’s were a bit more dominant, winning by 53 points on the back of some strong defence. However, with a strong lead up to the game, the French women are confident of their chances at recording their first ANZAC Cup win.
“Unfortunately, our players will not be able to pay their respects at the dawn service this year due to the timing. But it is still a great opportunity to interact with the fantastic VB community as well as recognise those who fought to defend France and reflect on the sacrifices that they made for us,” Andrew said.
This 11thedition of the ANZAC Cup is set to be another memorable event to remember those who sacrificed so much during World War One.
“It’s not just a game. What is more important to me is that by participating, we are supporting Australians and commemorate ANZAC Day. French people should remember that Australian soldiers were here for us during the First World War. We must have lasting gratitude for them”, said Sylvian. “Each year, it’s an emotional walk, an emotional game, an emotional day together in Villers-Bretonneux… I invite all French people to participate in the ceremonies taking place.”
For anyone visiting Villers-Bretonneux over the next few days, it will be an experience that will stay with them forever and for those pulling on the French and Australian guernseys, an unforgettable occasion as they represent their countries in a game of Australian Football.