1954 Rugby League World Cup

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1954 (1954) World Cup  ()
Number of teams 4
Host country  France
Winner  Great Britain (1st title)

Matches played 7
Attendance 138,329 (19,761 per match)
Points scored 231 (33 per match)
Top scorer United Kingdom Jimmy Ledgard (29)
Top try scorer United Kingdom Gordon Brown (6)

The first Rugby League World Cup was held in France in 1954[1] and was officially known as the "Rugby World Cup".[2] Four nations competed in the tournament: Australia, France, Great Britain and New Zealand. A group stage was held first, with Great Britain topping the table as a result of points difference. They went on to defeat France (who finished second in the table, level on points) in the final, which was held at the Parc des Princes, Paris, in front of around 30,000 spectators.[3]

The prime motivators behind the idea of holding a rugby league world cup were the French, who were short of money following the seizing of their assets by the rugby union in World War II. The first rugby league World Cup was an unqualified success. It was played in uniformly good spirit, provided an excellent standard of play and was a fitting celebration of France's 20th anniversary as a rugby league-playing nation. The trophy, which was donated by the French, was worth eight million francs.[4]


The World Cup was a French initiative. Led by Paul Barrière, who donated the World Cup trophy himself,[5] they had been campaigning for such a tournament since before World War II. Teams from America, Australia, Britain and New Zealand were invited to join hosts, France for the first World Cup in 1953.[6] However the tournament was not held till 1954, with all teams except America participating.

The uncertainty of the ultimate outcome was of particular interest. In the early 1950s all four competing nations were quite capable of beating each other – no test series in the period was a foregone conclusion.

If there was a favourite it was Australia who had just won back the Ashes. However, in 1953 they had lost series to both the French and the Kiwis, while Great Britain had defeated New Zealand on the second half of their 1954 Australasian tour.

The form book merely provided a conundrum which was made more confusing when the British were forced, through injuries and players making themselves unavailable, to select a raw and largely untried squad which was given little credibility by the cynics.

The captains for this historic event were Puig-Aubert (France), Cyril Eastlake (New Zealand), Clive Churchill (Australia) and Dave Valentine (Britain). The referees were Warrington's Charlie Appleton and Rene Guidicelli (Perpignan).



For Australian players, the World Cup tournament took place in 1954's post-season. Their coach was Vic Hey[7]


Great Britain[edit]

For British players, the World Cup tournament took place during the 1954-55 Northern Rugby Football League season. Their coach was Mr G Shaw.

New Zealand[edit]

  • Manager: Tom McKenzie (West Coast)
  • Coach: Jim Amos (Canterbury)
Name Region Position
Doug Anderson Auckland FB
Jimmy Edwards Auckland Back
Neville Denton Auckland Back
Jim Austin Auckland Back
Ron McKay Taranaki Back
Cyril Eastlake (c) Auckland Back
Bill Sorensen Auckland SO
George Menzies West Coast SO
Len Eriksen Auckland HB
Lory Blanchard Canterbury HK
John Bond Canterbury PR
Cliff Johnson Auckland PR
Bill McLennan West Coast PR
Jock Butterfield Canterbury SR
George McDonald Waikato SR
John Yates Auckland SR
Alister Atkinson (vc) Canterbury LF
Ian Grey Auckland LF


First round[edit]

30 October
France  22–13  New Zealand
Parc des Princes, Paris
Attendance: 13,240
Referee: Charlie F. Appleton

France's niggling tactics in their win against New Zealand in the tournament's opening match drew criticism from the media and the Kiwis coach, Jim Amos.[8] New Zealand winger Jimmy Edwards had the distinction of being the first scorer in World Cup history with a try after only five minutes. Puig-Aubert landed the first goal.

31 October
Australia  13–28  Great Britain
Stade de Gerland, Lyon
Attendance: 10,250

The British team proved too strong for Australia in both sides' first World Cup game.[9]
Great Britain: Ledgard, Rose, Jackson, Sullivan, Kitchen, Brown, Helme, Valentine, Robinson, Watts, Coverdale, Smith, Thoreley.
Australia: Clive Churchill, Noel Pidding, Watson, Wells, Moir, Banks, Holman, Diversi, O'Shea, Provan, Duncan Hall, Keaney, Davies.

Second round[edit]

7 November
France  13–13  Great Britain
Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse
Attendance: 37,471

The game gripped the attention of the rugby league public as never before with a record crowd of 37,471 attending at Toulouse. That record crowd has still not been beaten in France. The draw resulted in Great Britain and France sharing the lead in the tournament.[10]

7 November
Australia  34–15  New Zealand
Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Attendance: 20,000

Australia's victory in this match put them in third position on the ladder and New Zealand last.[11]

Third round[edit]

11 November
Great Britain  26–6  New Zealand
Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux
Attendance: 14,000
11 November
France  15–5  Australia
Stade Marcel Saupin, Nantes
Attendance: 13,000

Australia and France were playing for the chance to meet Great Britain in the final. Mistakes cost the Australians the match, so France advanced to the decider.[12]

League standings[edit]

Team Played Won Drew Lost For Against Difference Points
 Great Britain 3 2 1 0 67 32 +35 5
 France 3 2 1 0 50 31 +19 5
 Australia 3 1 0 2 52 58 −6 2
 New Zealand 3 0 0 3 34 82 −48 0


13 November 1954
France  12–16  Great Britain
2 Tries:

3 Goals:
Puig Aubert
(Report) 4 Tries:
Brown (2)
2 Goals:
Parc des Princes, Paris[13]
Attendance: 30,368[14]
Referee/s: Charles F Appleton (Great Britain)
Man of the Match: Don Robinson[15]
France  Posit.  Great Britain
Puig Aubert (c) Fullback Jimmy Ledgard
Vincent Cantoni Wing David Rose
Claude Teissiere Centre Phil Jackson
Jacques Merquey Centre Albert Naughton
Raymond Contrastin Wing Mick Sullivan
Antoine Jiminez Stand-off Gordon Brown
Joseph Crespo Scrum-half Gerry Helme
Joseph Krawzyck Prop John Thorley
Jean Audobert Hooker Sam Smith
François Rinaldi Prop Bob Coverdale
A. Save Second-row Basil Watts
Jean Pambrun Second-row Don Robinson
Gilbert Verdier Loose forward Dave Valentine (c)
Jean Duhau
Rene Duffort
Coach G. Shaw

The BBC broadcast the whole match live in the UK via the Television Continental Exchange – a rare novelty for the time. France opened the scoring with a penalty Puig-Aubert kick from 45 yards out and played well early in the match, leading early in the second half thanks to a brilliant try from Cantoni.[15] However Great Britain didn't waver, with credit for the win given to a starring role by centre Phil Jackson[16] and the play of their forward pack, as well as the tough match France had played against Australia in Nantes two days earlier.[17] Great Britain defeated France 16–12 and became the first team to lift the World Cup.[18]

Valentine holding the World Cup.



  1. ^ 1954 World Cup at rugbyleagueplanet.com
  2. ^ SPARC, 2009: 28
  3. ^ 1954 World Cup at rugbyleagueproject.org
  4. ^ RLIF. "Past Winners: 1954". Rugby League International Federation. Archived from the original on 12 October 2008. Retrieved 25 October 2008. [dead link]
  5. ^ 1954 World Cup at 188-rugby-league.co.uk
  6. ^ AAP (19 January 1953). "World Cup Suggestion". The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). p. 7. Retrieved 25 December 2009. 
  7. ^ AAP (24 October 1954). "R.L. Cup team fit but tired". The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). p. 8. Retrieved 25 December 2009. 
  8. ^ AAP (1 November 1954). "Coach Critical". The Sydney Morning Herald. (p. 11). Retrieved 6 October 2009. 
  9. ^ AAP (1 November 1954). "Australians down 28–13 in World Cup". The Sydney Morning Herald. (p. 11). Retrieved 25 December 2009. 
  10. ^ "FRANCE AND BRITAIN TIE; Share Rugby Cup Lead After 13–13 Draw in Toulouse". The New York Times. 8 November 1954. p. 27. Retrieved 6 October 2009. 
  11. ^ AAP (9 November 1954). "Kangaroos need win". The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). p. 5. Retrieved 25 December 2009. 
  12. ^ "Australia beaten in World Cup series". The Canberra Times. 13 November 1954. p. 4. Retrieved 6 October 2009. 
  13. ^ Various. "France vs. Great Britain". Rugby League Project. Retrieved 25 October 2008. 
  14. ^ 1954 World Cup at rlif.co.uk
  15. ^ a b "On this Day - November 13 down the years". espn.co.uk. ESPN. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 
  16. ^ Paddy McAteer (22 December 2010) "Whole World in their Hands" North West Evening Mail
  17. ^ AAP (15 November 1954). "World Cup to England". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 6. Retrieved 6 October 2009. 
  18. ^ "The History of Rugby League". Rugby League Information. napit.co.uk. Retrieved 2 January 2014.