ANZAC day holds a special place in the heart of every Australian – that we already know. What the 2014 Topdeck ANZAC Cup taught all of the players lucky enough to pull on the Australian Spirit jumper against the French national team – spending several days in majestical Villers-Bretonneux in the process – is that its locals hold it just as dear.
The locals had hosted the Australian players, family and friends in their homes for three nights to further strengthen the ties between the two countries. Reflecting on the experience, many of the players considered it one of the most memorable experiences of their young lives. Tom Rischbieth, a player who has experienced AFL at the highest level, described it as “truly one of the best experiences of my life“. Matt Hook, the elder statesman of the team and a veteran of two ANZAC Cup showdowns, made his feelings on the experience clear: “I feel incredibly privileged to have taken part in such a special few days,” he said.
Images: Jacob McFadden & David Higgs
The local ABA (the association responsible for the on-ground organisation) again put in a tremendous amount of work, and its volunteers were recognised by both national teams via a town parade that took all involved in the occasion past the local school and through many of the streets to thank the town for the event. Now in its sixth year, the event is reliant on this group and the local council to ensure its longevity for generations to come.
The game got underway following the anthems of both teams and a minute’s silence. To say that the Australians were excited and focused is an understatement; it was easy to see in the players’ eyes that they were ready to represent Australia with all they had. The French had come with a slightly weakened team due to a couple of injuries and travel commitments, but once each player pulled on the national jumper they were more than ready.
The first quarter set the tone for the whole match and, with the ball coming into Australia’s forward line so efficiently, bustling Jack Lawson banged through goal after goal, kicking seven in the opening term alone. He proved just as difficult to stop in the second quarter, adding another four majors before a shuffle to defence cooled him off. France lost captain and onballer Alban Schieber with a knee injury in the first two minutes of play, not helping their cause. With a solid Australian backline and Sam Higgs (one of the three Higgs brothers) and Rischbieth everywhere in the middle, the French found it very difficult to get the ball forward with any consistency.
A head clash between Australians Hook and Ben Rogers in the third quarter highlighted the physicality of the match and left blood dripping from both. As it turns out, Hook’s companion and secret weapon was also a plastic surgeon, and both were stitched up post-game. France slammed on two goals in their best period of the match and started to grow in confidence with some great passages of play. Their ruckman Thomas Depondt battled hard all day long.
The last quarter saw Australia pile on more goals courtesy of some slick ball movement. Rangy ruckman-turned-forward Phil Clegget started to hold his marks and did not look like missing from any distance, while the Higgs brothers shared the ball between them.
While the Australians proved too strong on the day, the match was played in high spirits, with the crowd getting a great exhibition of high-class football skills.
“The national team will learn a lot from today and can take those lessons into the remainder of our preparations for IC14 in Australia this August,” France coach,Thomas Urban said.
Of his side Ben MacCormack, CEO of AFL Europe said: “The team is picked on their individual connection to the area and the ANZAC spirit. The level can be varied throughout the team. However, this year, it was an exceptional group.
“More pleasing was the respect, understanding and enthusiasm the whole group showed towards the event, commemoration and the people of Villers Bretonneux.”
“This is a very special event on the AFL Europe calendar and should be an event that every Australian attends at some stage in their life,” MacCormack concluded.
Whilst it is the spirit of the event that is most important the Australian’s where thrilled to even the series at 3-3 with this years victory.
Australia 10.5 (65) 22.7 (139) 30.11 (191) 39.14 (248)
France 0.0 (0) 0.2 (2) 2.3 (15) 2.7 (19)
Australia: Lawson 11, S. Higgs 7, Clegget 5, MacCormack 3, Price 3, P. Higgs 3, McGrath 2, Rischbieth 2, D. Higgs, Hook, Howard
France: Debet, Cassavetti
Australian Embassy – France, Best on ground:
Australia: Sam Higgs
France: Thomas Depondt
See you next year in VB for the 7th edition