Published in Thirteen, 2005
The 1972 World Cup
Clive Sullivan’s greatest moment
Two years after Great Britain had lost the 1970 World Cup Final, dubbed the Battle of Leeds, to Australia, they were back in rugby league’s showpiece occasion in Paris, only this time it was a surprise they had made the final.
New Zealand went into the tournament, held in France, as favourites having won a Test series by two games to one in England in 1971, a year in which they had also beaten Australia, in surprisingly easy fashion, 24-3 in Auckland.
However, the Kiwis were beaten by France in the opening game 20-9 in front of over 20,000 fans whilst, the following day in Perpignan, Great Britain scored a victory that would become highly significant later in the tournament by beating Australia 27-21.
Great Britain went on to beat their French hosts 13-4 with Terry Clawson scoring twice and, in their final group game, they annihiliated New Zealand by the incredible scoreline of 53-19 to top the group with maximum points as well as a healthy points difference.
Australia then beat a disappointing French side 31-9 in Toulouse to finish second and take their place in the final on 2 November at Lyons in front of a crowd of just over 4,000 as the French public showed their displeasure at not seeing their nation compete.
The final is best remembered for Clive Sullivan’s try and Eddie Waring’s commentary as the Welshman sprinted the length of the field. Britain’s other try scorer was Mick Stephenson whose try, along with Clawson’s nerveless goal, took the game to extra time.
In Australia, the game is remembered for Graeme Langland’s disallowed try as much as Sullivan’s genius. Langlands chased a Dennis Ward chip kick and scored a try that referee George Jameau disallowed for offside. Television replays indicated it should have stood and, had it done so, Australia would have led 10-0. Their tries were scored by Arthur Beetson and John O’Neill.
Extra-time yielded no further points and the World Cup came to Britain, courtesy of the fact they had topped the group stages of the competition.
Great Britain World Cup squad: Atkinson, Challinor, Charlton, Clawson, Dixon, Hesketh, Holmes, Irving, Jeanes, Karalius, Lockwood, Lowe, Nash, Nicholls, O’Neill, Redfearn, Stephenson, Sullivan, Topliss & Walsh.