The potential exists for an explosive third Test match between
Australia and Great Britain next Saturday week.
Because of that, referee Francis Desplas should be thanked for his
attendance, packed back to the sunny climes of southern France and replaced in
the Test by someone stronger and more experienced.
In Tuesday night's Head Hunters' Picnic at Lang Park, Desplas showed he
was just not up to it. The job was too big.
A leading refereeing authority in Sydney yesterday described his display
as"a bloody disgrace".
"On the ability he showed I'd be absolutely stunned if he got a game in
any grade in Sydney," he declared.
I gave Desplas unqualified support in this column after his display in the
first Test in Sydney, believing that: (a) he had got the big decision right in
the Test; (b) the experience would make him a better referee next time and
(c)much of the criticism of him seemed to revolve around the fact that he
couldn't speak English - something that didn't necessarily disqualify him from
being a good referee.
But in a blood-and-guts Test at Lang Park, Desplas fell way short of what
was needed. He gave a timorous display that represented a considerable backward
step from his performance in Sydney.
The history of Australia v Great Britain Tests shows that third Tests
-when one team leads 2-0 - can be the most explosive of them all. The third
Tests of 1952, 1962 and 1963, for example, were bloodbaths.
The 1952 Test at Odsal Stadium as Australia fought for pride was described
by the British media as "shameful and nauseating". Australia finally won after
a game of mass punch-ups and individual assaults.
The drama of Ken Irvine's great conversion for an Australian win in the
third Test of 1962 at the SCG tended to obscure the fact that it was a brutal,
if thrilling, game. Three players were marched in that one - Mick Sullivan,
Derek Turner and Dud Beattie.
In 1963 the notorious Eric (sergeant-major) Clay controlled the third Test
at Headingley after Australia had already won the Ashes. It was a match of
skulduggery and incident, won by Great Britain 16-5, thereby blocking the clean
sweep. Three players were sent off (Barry Muir, Peter Dimond and Cliff Watson)
and brawls and ugly incidents pervaded the game.
Not until 1982, 74 years after the first Test between the old enemies, did
a team - Australia - manage to will all three Tests.
To lose with honour and not be humiliated 3-0 still means the world to
Malcolm Reilly's men will spill blood at the Sydney Football Stadium on
Saturday week. Their resoluteness and determination were beyond question last
Tuesday night, although in the areas of application and discipline they failed
The events of Tuesday, as high tackles whizzed through the balmy Brisbane
air, allied to the bitter lessons of history, suggest that Test match No 102
needs a strong referee if it is to be kept under control.
Francis Desplas showed last Tuesday that he is not, at this stage of his
career, the man. The best idea would seem to be to bring in Neville Kesha from
The Australian discipline under pressure in a tough and demanding Test was
Two superb English tries failed to disguise the fact that the tourists
were given a stinging lesson in how to play pressure Rugby League. Five times
they kicked out on the full in general play - a staggering statistic in football
at that level.
Attempts to blast Australia out of the game with questionable tactics were
also doomed to failure. This was best exemplified when Michael O'Connor coolly
slipped under Phil Ford's swinging arm and cruised away for the first try.
It was fitting, as Australia wrapped up the Ashes, that the two masterful
performances that held it all together came from the leaders of their respective
States, Wayne Pearce and Wally Lewis.
They were giants on Tuesday. A joint man-of-the-match award to acclaim
memorable performances would have been a wonderful postscript.
A tantalising question remains, however. How great a series would it have
been had Britain been at full strength? A beauty, no question.
Even without so many stars the 1988 British side has a mountain of
personality, notably through the aristocratic Ellery Hanley, halfback Andy
Gregory - one of the meanest, fiercest critters to come out here in a long time
- and Martin Offiah, whose try on Tuesday night was as swift and graceful a
piece of work as you could ever wish to see from a winger.
Frustration at the lack of success in an instant society was as much
behind the Laurie Freier blow-up at Western Suburbs as anything else.
As a Wests official said yesterday: "We know success is going to come
here, but it's like Sunday ... too far away."
Freier appears to have been sacked by the club last week, although it was
hard to find out the exact state of the nation yesterday because Freier has a
three-year contract and legal skirmishes may be in the offing.
At training on Tuesday night Freier was certainly at the coaching helm as
usual, telling his players he didn't want his problems with the club reflecting
on their performance against Penrith this Sunday. Then it was training as
The only change apparent so far is that Freier is no longer sole selector.
His nominated team in future, however long that future may be, will go to a
Wests' men talked yesterday of the frustration within the club at the lack
of success this year and of the communication problems that had developed
between the intense, single-minded Freier and officials.
The present agonies continue what is surely the most troubled run by any
club in the history of the competition.
The long view, however, remains full of promise. The club has a far better
administrative set-up than in the past, a successful Leagues club at Ashfield
which is guaranteeing generous payments to the football club and one at
Campbelltown which has turned a $250,000 loss last year into a small profit.
The area is bursting with youngsters who will one day play League for
Wests. But, as the man said, it all seems ... too far away.