Published in Thirteen in 2005
The second Ashes test 1932
Australia v Great Britain
Brisbane, 18th June 1932
The Battle of Brisbane
The scene was set when Australian coach Harry Sunderland walked into the English dressing rooms before the match and promptly gave them instructions on the rules regarding the play-the-ball! Sunderland was desperate: his side had collapsed in the first Test, and the tour threatened to be a financial disaster if they didn’t shape up. To make matters worse, they were without star lock Wally Prigg, who, among a host of other candidates, was out with injury. In desperation, he played two players in positions where they had never played before: Souths second rower Frank O’Connor at lock and Queenslander Dan Dempsey at hooker.
The Australians got off to a brilliant start when Dempsey collected a dropped ball, and sent it wide to Fred Laws, who put the scrum half from Queensland Hec Gee over after only a minutes play. The Brisbane crowd responded to the all Queensland try, which was converted by young five eighth Eric Weissel. This fired up the Australians even further. Giant English prop Joe Thompson, who used to brag that he had played over 260 consecutive games of football without missing a minute, was knocked out in the first scrum, and carried off!
The fiery start paid off again, as Gee set up a blind side chance for Wilson, who scored wide out. After eight minutes Australia were up 8-0. Another goal by Weissel saw them increase their lead to 10-0 by half time. But the Lions were returning the rough stuff with interest, and they were causing problems for their more inexperienced opponents.
England’s big centre pairing of Stanley Brogden and Arthur Atkins were monstering 19 year old Eastern Suburbs centre Ernie Norman, in his debut test. He left the field three times in the match, and returned each time for more. Joe Thompson had recovered, and returned to the fray. Hec Gee had a torn lip stiched before returning, and Frank O’Connor had a large gash opened up above his eye, coutesy of a wayward English boot. Englishmen Martin Hodgson and Les White both suffered gashes to their heads, and played on after stitches. However, the Lions tactics were slowly turning the tables for them. Stan Smith scored soon after the break, and Pollard crossed soon after. Despite both tries being unconverted, the Lions had narrowed the gap to 10-6, and threatened to go on with it.
It was the final 15 minutes of this fierce tussle that earns its place in history. Hec Gee had been carried off on a stretcher, and Norman was being increasingly bashed up out wide, prompting a prolonged visit to the sideline. With the Englismen storming home, Dan Dempsey broke his arm, but played on despite attempts by ambulancemen to bring him off. When they eventually did so, he wept on the sidelines due to the fact he wasn’t allowed back on! Australia were down to 10 men, when Brogden took off for the line. Frank O’Connor somehow managed to steal the ball from him, and despite the Lions claiming a try in the ensuing scramble, referee Simpson ruled a 25-yard drop-out instead.
With the drama of Dempsey’s broken arm, Gee’s concussion and Norman’s bashing reducing the side to 10 men, and the gathering momentum of the British attack, Australia could sustain no more injuries. However, Eric Weissel broke his ankle, and hobbled over to the wing, and refused to leave the field.
At this point Australia could muster only three forwards for a scrum close to their line! Norman went back on to lend a hand, but Gee was still not ready. This didn’t deter Harry Sunderland, however who ordered him back on. Still dazed, Gee staggered back onto the field.
The English had possession, but the 12-man Australian side, inspired by their plight and the courage of Weissel, proceeded to pull off a defensive miracle. They gradually pushed the Englishmen back upfield, thus frustrating the English ball players. A heavy tackle on English half Adams by Joe Pearce shook the ball loose, and into the arms of the wounded Weissel. With a broken ankle, he took off in an unbelievable hobbling run, with six Englishmen in hot pursuit. Weissel led them an incredible 75 yards upfield. Eventually, the English defence caught up with him and tackled him only three yards from the uprights. In massive pain, Weissel played the ball, and keeled over in agony. Hec Gee, still groggy from concussion, staggered into dummy half, grabbed the ball, and crashed over with four minutes remaining. With Weissel still on the ground, Joe Pearce converted, and Australia won 15-6.
Eric Weissel never played competition football in Sydney or Brisbane. He played his football in Wagga Wagga, in southern NSW. It is fitting that the major rugby league ground in the area that has produced so many great rugby league legends, like Raudonikis, Mortimer, Brentnall, Sterling and Daley should be called ‘Eric Weissel Oval’.
Australia 15 (H Gee 2, G Wilson tries, E Weissel 2, J Pearce goals)
England 6 (S Smith, D Pollard tries)
AUSTRALIA: McMillan, Pearce, Norman, LawsG Wilson, Weissell, Gee, O’Connor, Pearce, Heidke, Steinhort (c), Dempsey.
ENGLAND: Sullivan (c), Ellaby, Brogden, Atkinson, Smith, Pollard, Adams, Feetham, Silcock, Horton, Hodgson, White, Thompson.