WITH the ejection of Australia from the FIFA World Cup in Dubai at the hands of Argentina in Saturday’s round of 16 clash bringing to an end Edinburgh-born Jason Cummings’ unlikely tilt at glory, now seems like a good time to turn the clock back to 1954 when two outstanding Scots reached the global pinnacle in their own chosen sport.
When Great Britain triumphed in the inaugural Rugby League World Cup 72 years ago, their inspiring captain was Dave Valentine from Hawick, while winger Davie Rose who scored a try in every game including the Final, was from Jedburgh.
Rose, a former Jed-Forest captain, was a late replacement for original selection, the renowned Billy Boston, and later joked: “Well, I couldna’ let a Hawick man be the only Scotsman in the team”.
The two Borderers had excellent if relatively brief Union pedigrees, both having played for Scotland, Valentine – who remains the only Scot ever to lift a World Cup in any football code above his head – winning two caps at wing forward in 1947 and Rose seven between 1951 and 1953.
At that time transfer of allegiance from the amateur Union code to the professional League version could be a delicate business with its backwash capable of causing more than mere ripples off the pitch. That was particularly true in the Borders which had proved a fertile recruiting ground for northern League clubs. Only seven weeks after lifting the World Cup in Paris and seven years after playing for the club, when Valentine was back in Hawick socialising in the clubrooms after the New Year’s Day match against Heriot’s F.P., he was asked by a committee member to leave. Afterwards he commented: “I felt it was carrying the professional outcast business to extremes.”
That attitude thankfully was short lived and it was gratifying to see him selected as part of ‘The Greatest Ever Hawick XV’ in 2013, a notable accolade after having played only 28 games for the Greens before going south in 1947.
For his part, Rose was fortunate in that he did not experience any negative reactions when back in ‘Jeddart’ watching his old club.
Valentine was the eldest of three sporting brothers, Alex the middle one and Rob the youngest. Alex was also a Scottish rugby cap winning three in 1953 and a British international athlete whose event was hammer throwing at which he set a British record. Rob played almost 60 games for Hawick and was a regular for the South in the back-row. After representing them against the All Blacks at Mansfield Park in 1963, he joined Huddersfield Rugby League club, following in brother Dave’s footsteps. In League he won one cap for Great Britain which surely would have been more had it not been for injury. Their father, known as ‘Paddy’, was a well known figure at the Hawick club acting as trainer, masseur and groundsman at different times.
Dave began his rugby career playing for Pringle’s Mill team, a semi-junior side, before debuting for the ‘Greens’ just after the War. A talented all=round sportsman, he excelled at sprinting, won boxing championships while in the Forces and later enjoyed success as a professional wrestler. He won his first Scotland cap in February 1947 aged 20 against Ireland at wing forward and his second against England at Twickenham a month later. There, because of injury to one of the Scottish wingers, Valentine temporarily had to mark English flyer Cyril Holmes, an Empire Games sprint champion, and won plaudits for his performance. The Hawick man also represented the Barbarians three times on their Easter Tour that year and after playing for the South against Australia at Melrose in October signed for Huddersfield where he remains one of their all time iconic players.
Rose initially played for junior side Jed Thistle whom he captained in 1948, and debuted for Jed-Forrest aged 17 in 1949 against Langholm. A fast, powerful and elusive winger he had sprinted with some success in the Borders Games and reckoned he was a ‘near evens man’. Aged only 19 he made his Scotland debut against France in Paris, he celebrated the occasion by scoring two tries. Six further caps followed, his final one coming in February 1953 against Wales. France seemed to agree with him as he also scored against them in Paris in his penultimate international.
Rose also represented the Barbarians in their Easter Tour that year before signing for Huddersfield a few months later, moving to Leeds just before the 1954 World Cup. A great admirer of Valentine, he credited him with playing the major part in their 1954 success: “I knew Dave Valentine for years, he was a great friend of mine. A very impressive man, an astute leader who was very good with the players and at developing team spirit”.
Back in 1954, things were very different when only four countries competed in the inaugural World Cup – Britain, Australia, France and New Zealand – while sixteen took part in the most recent edition just over a month ago. Today the home nations participate separately whereas in earlier years they did so together as Great Britain.
The idea of a World Cup originated with the French, partly to celebrate the 20th anniversary of League in France and partly to boost Federation funds with their President Paul Barriere donating a magnificent trophy. The tournament was initially in ‘round-robin’ format in cities throughout France with the top two teams qualifying for the Final at Parc des Princes in Paris.
Favourites beforehand were hosts France who in the previous two years had beaten a very strong Australia side, while Great Britain were considered ‘no-hopers’. That pessimistic perception arose because the side had not long returned from a three month arduous tour of Australasia as a result of which many players were reluctant to commit to a further five weeks in France and the financial incentive was also considered insufficient.
The whole operation was organised on a shoestring, no trainer or coach went with the team, and not even a pre-departure team photoshoot took place. Valentine was in effect captain, coach and trainer with only two training sessions held before the journey by bus and ferry to Paris.
Even on arrival the party had no training kit with them and Rose recalled how: “Dave Valentine rolled up a couple of old jerseys to use as balls for training”.
Then it was back on the coach and on the road to play preliminary matches in Lyon, Toulouse and Bordeaux against respectively Australia, France and New Zealand. In Lyon the Aussies were beaten 28-13 despite their blatantly provocative tactics, a draw with France was secured in front of a partisan 37,000 crowd in Toulouse while in Bordeaux the Kiwis were defeated 26-6 with Davie Rose gracing each game with a try.
Of their travels Valentine later recalled: “We seemed to be sitting in that bus for days and eating like horses but had to have bacon and eggs for breakfast, none of that coffee and rolls business.” All was now set for the Final two days later in Paris against the hosts as the ‘no-hopers’ defied all the odds.
Much of the credit for that had to go to captain supreme Valentine. A formidable player with an impressive range of attributes, he was also a true leader of men. After starring in Britain’s earlier tour of Australasia, the press there commented: “Val’ leaves them all for dead – a champion player and sportsman.”
In an interview in late 2020, shortly before his death, Rose, referring to his friend and skipper, recalled admiringly: “Nothing daunted Dave Valentine” and with a twinkle in his eye added: “Like Hawick, he was always the winner!”
As for himself, Rose said: “I took a bit of stopping once I got going.” When asked about his speed he replied: “Aye, I could pull the choke out!”.
That ability got Britain off to a good start in the Final with the Jethart man notching the opening try as the outsiders went on to beat the favourites 16-12 before chairing Valentine off the pitch and collecting the winning £25 bonus and commemorative penknife!
Before kick off the captain had inspired teammates by leading them in a rousing rendition of Scottish folksong, ‘Macpherson’s Rant’. Shades of Billy Steele years later leading his fellow Lions singing ‘Flower of Scotland’ in South Africa 20 years later.
Current Scotland League players may not impress to the same extent as in 1954 but memories of Messrs. Valentine and Rose are honoured in annual ‘Player of the Year’ awards by Rugby League Scotland in their names.