1966 France Tour

'We've never yet lost on French soil' - Jack Simpkins by Geoff Frankcom

On the evening of the 9th April 1966, 22 players and an assortment of 8 committee and supporters took off from Bristol Airport to fly to the South of France to play 2 matches. They flew in a DC3, a 2-engine prop that carried a maximum of 32 passengers and cruised at a speed of 150 mph. What with the average weight of a rugby player being slightly above the national average and the addition of George Brown’s in-flight rations, courtesy of the Rockery, not to mention the team baggage, the aircraft was close to its maximum all-up weight. Soon after reaching top-of-climb (probably about 10,000 ft!) the captain emerged from his cockpit and requested some of the heavier members of the party (Messrs Heindorff, Orledge and Parsons)  to move forward and swap places with lighter brethren, as he was having difficulty maintaining straight and level flight. Because of the extra weight and headwinds, en-route refuelling stops were made at Jersey and Lyon, resulting in a late arrival at Nice at midnight. The tour itinerary indicated ( Midnight ‘ and so to bed’) but, when on tour!!!!

Next morning the party left at 9am by coach to travel some 150 miles to play Chateaurenard, near Avignon, a second division club. For most of the team this was the third match within the space of 4 days, Bath having played Harlequins on the Thursday and Liverpool on the Saturday! The match was duly won by 15 points to 3. On returning to Nice, the party split up to enjoy the local night-life; meanwhile, Fred Hicks decided he didn’t want to leave France and threw his passport into the Med! most of the next morning was spent at the British Consul’s office trying to obtain a temporary passport.

That afternoon Bath finally met their Waterloo in the guise of a Nice team considerably strengthened by the inclusion of four current French internationals, namely, Rupert, Gruarin, Maso and Lagrange. the final score was 17-9 in favour of the French team, no disgrace, it being Bath’s fourth game in five days. Today’s professionals complain about a five-day turnaround between games!Bath’s scores came from a drop goal by David Dolman (30 metres according to the French reporter, 45 yards according to the kicker!) and two tries from Philip Hall, who was reported as being an alumnus of Paris University!! Two incidents during the match are worthy of recall. At one stage the referee, a certain Monsieur Merlin, fell to the ground suffering from an attack of cramp and had to be replaced by the touch judge – not a referee! During the second half, the French started to bring on a string of substitutes, much to the alarm of Jack Simpkins and John Roberts who, clad in their bowler hats ( in true Bath touring tradition), ran onto the field to protest, as substitutes were not permitted in England and it was agreed that in matches between teams of the two countries, this ruling would prevail. Thus ended Jack Simpkins proud boast of ‘gentlemen, may I remind you that we have never lost on French soil’.   Nothing lasts for ever!

This page was added on 08/12/2015.

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