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Rugby at the 1924 Olympics

Author: Roger Heywood Published: 12th October 2009 10:14
Just three teams entered the Olympic Rugby Competition at the Paris Games of 1924 - the host nation France, USA and Romania.


postcard Stade de Colombes- Venue for the the VIIIth Olympiad in Paris 1924.

Tournament Summary

Each country played two games. Both France and USA beat Romania, who were awarded the bronze medal. France won 59-3, scoring 13 tries including four by the fine Stade Francais winger Adolphe Jaureguy. The USA then defeated Romania 37-0. The final was played at Colombes stadium, Paris on 18 May 1924 and the USA took the gold with a 17-3 victory before 30,000 spectators. The Americans, from Stanford University, scored five tries, (Farrish(2), Patrick, Rogers and Manelli), with a conversion by Doe. Gallau scored the lone French try. The match finished in uproar, when Gideon Nelson, one of the American reserves, was flattened by a walking stick. The American anthem was jeered, and the unedifying scenes contributed to the departure of rugby from the Olympics.

A Troubled Games for Rugby

The Olympic games of 1924 opened on May 4th with a match between France and Romania. Playing its first fifteen, the French notched a 59 to 3 victory over the smaller eastern European team. After the match, another round of trouble started over the referee for the France - USA match. An earlier selection of British Admiral Percy Royds was deemed unacceptable by US team manager Sam Goodman. The dispute degraded into the French no longer providing any practice fields for the team, so the Americans found themselves a park. Fanning the flames, the French press published an article by a Paris City Counselor questioning the amateur status of the American players. The Americans invited the Frenchman to come down to the pitch to discuss the matter. To make matters worse, an argument started over the French Olympic Committee's ruling that the American side could not film their match against Romania that weekend. A French company had been awarded sole rights to filming the Olympics, and an American request to film the match was flatly denied. A meeting on the 8th did not resolve the issue, so Sam Goodman told the French organizers that the US might pull out of the Games.

Adding fuel to the fire, the American players' clothes were robbed during that day's training session. Even though a French attendant had been posted, the team lost about $4,000 worth of cash and possessions. The US captain and his teammates were not very happy, and because of their treatment in the press, the American side was now being cursed and spat upon on in the streets of Paris. The American expatriate community in Paris was even staying well clear of them.

The next day, the French agreed to allow the Romanian match to be filmed for historical and educational purposes. A selection featuring only six of the US starting fifteen was also announced for the match. On Sunday, May 11th , the US pounded Romania 37 to 0 at Colombes Stadium. With Norman at flyhalf, Richard "Tricky Dick" Hyland at center, and Jack Patrick at flanker, the US ran rampant through the Romanians, scoring nine tries. Fullback Charlie Doe had a good day kicking, scoring 13 points.

Final Score :  USA 37 - Romania 0

With the impressive win, though, a difficult situation was brewing. Each time the Americans touched the ball, the French crowd of about 6,000 booed and hissed. Conversely, they cheered and screamed each time the Romanians gained any possession, even though the Americans never let the Romanians within kicking distance of their own goal, and won every lineout and all but one scrum. And though everyone felt that the Americans would play a harsh, physical match, both the American and French sporting press noted the lack of violence and the skilled nature of US play, coupled with their size and fitness. Some of the French press even conceded that the fans had been unfair at the match. Still the odds were set at 5 to 1 against the US with a 20 point spread in the upcoming match with France. Two days later, the issue over the final's referee was settled when Sam Freethy of Wales was selected. That day, the team also moved from their hotel to the newly constructed Olympic housing. It seems that the hotel's proprietor became upset the night before due to "a little college cheering and rollicking" by the American players.

The Final

May 18th started as another hot day in an unseasonably warm string of spring days in Paris. A crowd of between 35,000 and 40,000 people gathered for the rugby final and the awarding of the first medal of the 1924 Olympic Games. As the team entered the stadium from a tunnel, they noted that the Olympic officials had elected to install a tall wire fence around the stadium to restrain the crowd. The American side wore white uniforms, blue belts, and white stockings hooped with red and blue. An American shield was sewed to the front of their jumpers. Wearing white shorts and blue stockings, the French took the field in their famous blue jumper badged with a cock. The American captain was Colby "Babe" Slater, and his French counterpart was Rene Lasserre. The US chose 45 minute halves, betting that their fitness and stamina would outlast the French. Sam Freethy agreed to 90 minutes over French protests and started the match.

Immediately the French wanted to turn loose their dangerous backs. Early phases of play sent the ball wide in an effort to put Adolphe Jauguery into space. After a few minutes he was away with the ball, the French crowd roaring in anticipation. Charlie Doe, in cover defense, was able to get a hand on the speedster and cause him to slow enough to be nailed by both American wingers, "Lefty" Rogers and George Dixon. Another quick French possession again brought the ball to Jauguery, but he was well marked by Rogers, who dealt him another crushing tackle to silence the crowd. The third touch of the ball was Adolphe's last. Alan Valentine found the small winger in the open field and levelled him. The crowd erupted into anger as Jauguery was taken from the pitch unconscious and bleeding.

Deprived of their best player, and demoralised by his injury, the French team never recovered their early attacking approach and were gradually  worn down by the superior fitness of the US team and their better strength and teamwork in the forward exchanges.

Final Score:  USA 17 - France 3



Based on a report at www.wesclark.com


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