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Rugby league history: The all-time great alphabet teams – Letter B

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Roar Guru
7th March, 2019

Following on from last time – The A Team were an entrée, we now move onto the main course – the B Team.

With three Immortals, eleven Hall of Fame representatives, including one who could only make the bench, and a host of strong international players who did not make cut, this team has every chance of claiming the Alphabet Cup.

Given the first three players below are the game’s greatest try scorer, one of its greatest goalkickers and “the Bradman of League”, there should be no problem scoring points. And here they are:

1. Keith Barnes (Goalkicker)
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame, Order of Australia Medal, NSW Sports Hall of Fame. Balmain Tigers Team of the Century (Captain).
Years active: 1955 – 1968.
Clubs: Balmain.
All games 266 (15 tries, 2,125 points)
Representative Career: Tests – 17. NSW – 12.
Nickname: Golden Boots.

Keith Barnes is a Balmain legend, widely considered to be one of the greatest custodians and goal kickers of all time.

Born in Wales and moving to Australia at 15, Barnes played 17 tests for Australia including 12 as captain. In his first international in the 1957 World Cup he broke his cheekbone but stayed on the field to kick five goals.

He captained the Australian team from his second test, including on the 1959 Kangaroo Tour. On that tour he kicked 101 goals in all matches.

Barnes also captain-coached Australia in the 1960 World Cup. This included captaining Australia in two unofficial ‘Tests’ against Italy. In 1961 Barnes kicked 10 goals in a test against France, setting a new Australian points scoring record.

Barnes scored over 1,500 points for Balmain in a 194-game career. He played in three grand finals for the club but came up against the legendary St George team on all three occasions. Barnes was a celebrated goal kicker, earning the nickname “Golden Boots” by regularly potting goals from beyond the half way line.


He held the all-time competition point scoring record from 1966 to 1973.

Barnes is unlucky not to be captaining this team but since the captain wasn’t renowned for lasting the full 80 minutes, he’s sure to be in charge at some stage.

Don Furner: “for distance, accuracy and ability to handle pressure, he was the best kicker I have ever seen.”

2. Brian Bevan
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame, British Rugby League Hall of Fame, ARL Team of The Century, NSW Sports Hall of Fame. Has also been on a British postage stamp and has a statue at Warrington’s home ground. Nominated for Rugby League Immortal status 2018.
Years active: 1942 – 1964.
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs, Warrington (UK), Blackpool Borough (UK).
All games: 696 (796 tries, 35 goals).
Representative Career: Other Nationalities representative 16, Australasia 1, British Empire 1, English League 2.

The most unlikely looking superstar in Rugby League history, there is one number that encapsulates the phenomenon that was Brian Bevan: 796. 796 tries in 696 games.

That is 275 tries more than his nearest all time rival (the great British winger Billy Boston). To put that in further perspective the Australian record is 212 (Ken Irvine). No one has ever come close to Brian Bevan.

After leaving Australia for England early in his career he was at first knocked back by Leeds in possibly the worst recruitment decision of all time before signing on with Warrington. And then the records started tumbling.

In his first season he topped the competition try scoring charts by a margin of 14 tries. He broke the club career try-scoring record of 215 tries after only four seasons. He scored seven tries in a match twice and scored over 100 hat tricks in his career.


He also represented teams such as Other Nationalities (foreign players in the English competition) and his record there was just as good.

26 tries in 16 appearances against England, France and Wales, including four in a match against England. For younger readers you may not understand how strong European Rugby League was at the time compared to Down Under.

When Bevan played for Other Nationalities they won 12 from 16 games. During the same period the Australian Rugby League Team’s record against England and France stood at eight wins and fifteen losses.

Bevan is one of only two players to be in both the British and Australian Rugby League Halls of Fame.

Arthur Clues: “There are wingers and then there are great wingers, then way out beyond them is Brian Bevan. At any code of rugby there’s never been a better than Brian, nor ever will be. Mind you, for a superstar athlete there’s never been one less athletic: bald as a coot, no tooth in his head, a skeleton in braces.

Brian Bevan's statue

Former Warrington rugby league player Brian Bevan statue outside The Halliwell Jones Stadium on September 26, 2013 in Warrington, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

“We’d be in twin beds. Every time the alarm went off before dawn I’d poke out my hand in the dark to turn it off, and every time I’d find his false teeth chomping at my hand from the bedside table . . . that would be Brian’s signal to light up, and for the next two hours he’d lie there on his back chainsmoking, fag sticking up like a periscope, cough, splutter, cough, splutter.

“Then he’d finally rouse himself – to spend hours bandaging his knees – before going out that afternoon to make utter, bamboozled fools of some of the greatest rugby league players there’s ever been.”


3. Dave Brown
Honours: Rugby League Immortal, ARL Hall of Fame, NSWRL Team of the Century, Australian Sporting Hall of Fame, NSW Sports Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1930 – 1941.
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs, Warrington (UK).
All games: 264 (196 tries, 1,600 points).
Representative Career: Tests – 9. NSW – 21.
Nickname: The Bradman of League.

The nickname says it all really. Dave Brown set points scoring records that still stand to this day. I’ve heard arguments that this was against weak opposition, but if that is the case why didn’t others do it too?

Highlights included:
– 38 tries in one season from just 15 matches.
– 45 points in one match.
– 385 points in a season (club and representative).

As a result, Eastern Suburbs had a golden period. With Brown in the team they won three premierships in a row from 1935 to 1937 and were runners up a further four times.

The club lost only one match in 1935 and went through 1936 and 1937 undefeated. Brown was first named captain of the club when only 19 years old.

As a measure of his superiority during this period, in the 1936 semi final win over Canterbury, reports stated Brown “scored three tries but is obviously carrying an injury”.

In the representative arena Brown played nine Tests, captaining his country in six of them. In September 1935 at just 22 years and 117 days Brown was named as the youngest ever Australian captain. Brown only experienced one win against the English, losing each of the other five by a margin of four points or less.

In the Test he did win Brown contributed two tries and four goals, a record for Australia at the time. Brown smashed the Kangaroo tour point-scoring record in 1933–34 with 285 points from 32 matches, a tally that has never been approached.


Brown returned to Easts in 1940 after a stint in England but he suffered a broken collarbone followed by a serious leg injury and was missing as the Tricolours won another flag.

Brown played on for one more year in 1941 and was man of the match as Easts won their semi-final, before being well beaten in the final by St George.

Frank Hyde: “He was a master at backing up. If a ball was dropped he’d swoop on it like a shark homing in on a mackerel.”

4. Jack Beaton
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. Easts Team of the Century.
Years active: 1934 – 1938.
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs.
All games: 94 (47 tries, 433 points).
Representative Career: Tests – 10. NSW – 12.

Beaton was a brilliant utility backline player, equally at home at fullback or centre. He was a member of the legendary Eastern Suburbs team of the 1930s and during his club career he only ever played in a losing side four times.

He represented NSW on 12 occasions between 1934-39 and made his Test debut against England in 1936 before touring with the 1937-38 Kangaroos.

Beaton proved himself to be the premier centre in Australia with 7 Test appearances on tour against NZ, England and France as well as top-scoring with 124 points.

Beaton was an excellent goalkicker despite those duties usually falling to Dave Brown. He was the competition’s top point scorer in 1937.


In 1938 he retired at just 24 years old to pursue a business career. Jack Beaton’s rugby league career was brief, yet in just five extraordinary seasons he established himself as an all-time great.

5. Cecil Blinkhorn
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1914 – 1924.
Clubs: North Sydney, South Sydney.
All games: 166 (142 tries, 8 goals).
Representative Career: Tests – 4. NSW – 8

Blinkhorn was North’s leading try scorer for five seasons in a row from his debut, until leaving to join Souths for a season.

After returning to Norths for the princely sum of 20 pounds and a new suit, Blinkhorn was a member of the great North Sydney team of 1921-1922 that won two premierships in a row (undefeated in 1921 and winning the 1922 final 35 to 3), alongside legends such as Harold Horder and Duncan Thompson.

On returning to Souths in 1924 Blinkhorn played in their grand final team, losing to Balmain.

Blinkhorn was a sensation on the 1921/22 Kangaroo Tour, scoring 39 tries in 29 matches including two tries in the second test, which the Australians won. He also scored nine tries in one match against Bramley. This try scoring record still stands today.

Blinkhorn was apparently blessed with a wicked fend. Legend has it that after one tour match in England as he was heading from the ground he was cornered by one of the large English forwards.

Fearing the worst, he was surprised when the forward simply felt his arm and remarked something along the lines of “I don’t know how such a skinny arm could knock me on my backside”, before wishing him well.


6. Bob Banks
Honours: Toowoomba and South West Team of the Century. North QLD Team of the Century, Newcastle Team of the Century.
Years active: 1950 – 1962.
Clubs: Tumut (NSW), Eastern Suburbs, QLD Country.
Representative Career: Tests – 15. QLD – 27.

There were three top contenders for this position but in the end, I gave it to Bob Banks.

Trent Barrett was in consideration as the 2000 Dally M Player of the year, but a closer look at his rep career shows some bench appearances, some weaker opposition.

The other serious contender was Tony Brown, five eighth in the Newtown Team of the Century.

However, Banks was the QLD five eighth and captain when they won two interstate series in a row in 1959 and 1960 (their first for 8 years and last before State of Origin) against a NSW team with Brown as five eighth.

After a season with Eastern Suburbs in Sydney, Bob Banks played out much of his career in regional Queensland, including Tully (captaining them to win the Foley Shield in 1963), Toowoomba and Cunnamulla.

A brilliant on-field organiser, Banks played in three Ashes series including touring with the 1956/57 Kangaroos where he played in all six tests on tour.

He also played in the first ever Rugby League World Cup in 1954. In all he had nine wins from 15 games in international football in a tough era. He also was selected as vice-captain in tests.


While being known as an organiser, Banks could turn it on as well. In the second test against England in 1956, with scores level and 18 minutes to go, Banks “scooped up the ball at his feet, short-kicked, regathered and sidestepped past three defenders before touching down under the posts”.

7. Joe ‘Chimpy’ Bush
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1928 – 1936.
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs, Leeds (UK), Balmain.
All games: 229 (57 tries, 175 points).
Representative Career: Tests – 6. NSW – 7.
Nickname: Chimpy.

Joe ‘Chimpy’ Busch was the alleged scorer of the most famous no-try in Ashes history. But he was much more than that. A Kangaroo tourist in 1929/30, as late as 1992 he was still ranked in the top 20 players of all time (by Rugby League Week).

Busch was first spotted by Easts when playing for Harwood Island against Grafton. In his first trial match the centre was asked to play half back because the club’s regular half Norman Pope decided to go to the races that day.

Busch had never put a ball in a scrum before but not only did he win a contract, he took Pope’s first grade spot.


Busch was a such a talent that he was selected for NSW and then Australia in 1928 after playing only a handful of games for Eastern Suburbs.

After only three seasons for Easts, he moved to England to play for Leeds in the UK competition (as many Australians did in those days), where he played five seasons before returning to finish his career with Balmain.

He never won a NSWRL premiership, finishing runner up once with each of his clubs.

But on to that try.

From the Hall of Fame website: “In the final minutes of a tense affair in which neither side had scored, Busch dashed 30 metres down the sideline after a scrum win and crashed over in the corner, with English lock Frank Butters making a desperate attempt to stop him. Referee Robinson was about to award the try when a touch judge ran onto the field claiming Busch had touched the corner post while diving over. Robinson reportedly told the Australians, ”Fair try, Australia, but I am over-ruled.”

The try would have won the Ashes and the outcry was so fierce that an unprecedented fourth test was played to resolve the matter (which England won). Busch was adamant that he had scored up until the day he died. And we complain about refereeing controversies now! That corner of the ground at Swinton is still known as “Busch’s Corner”.

Busch possessed electric speed and had a habit of scoring tries down the blind side from a scrum win. For example, he set up two tries in the first eight minutes of the first test of the 1929 Ashes with blind side rushes.

For many years after, fans would talk about a try Busch scored in an interstate match, where he took the ball from a scrum, and shot down the blind-side with Souths, and Australian winger, Benny Wearing, in support.


As the Queensland defence closed in, Busch held the ball back from Wearing – he dummied to him five times before scoring a brilliant individual try.

8. Arthur Beetson (Captain)
Honours: Rugby League Immortal, ARL Team of the Century, QRL Team of the Century, ARL Hall of Fame, Order of Australia Medal, NSWRL Player of the Year 1974, Australian Sport Hall of Fame, QLD Sports Hall of Fame Legend, NSW Sports Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1964 – 1981.
Clubs: Redcliffe (QLD), Balmain, Hull Kingston Rovers (UK), Eastern Suburbs, Parramatta.
All games: 438 (51 tries, 155 points).
Representative Career: Tests – 29. NSW – 18. QLD – 3.
Nickname: Big Artie, Half-a-game Artie.

Leading this strong team around is the greatest front rower the Australian game has ever seen. An icon of the game, the late Arthur Beetson was the first Indigenous player in any sport to lead his national side.

A winner of three premierships with Balmain and Eastern Suburbs, he is also the enduring symbol of State of Origin.

As a front rower, Beetson had unparalleled offloading ability and surprising agility for a big man (he started his playing days as a centre for Redcliffe). He had the ability to split games wide open and was an inspirational leader.

Artie Beetson and Wally Lewis

A couple of league’s best players, Artie and the King, were Immortalised by RLW. (AAP Image/Gillian Ballard)

After winning the BRL premiership with Redcliffe, Beetson was lured to Sydney by Balmain. He was picked for Australia in the third and deciding test against Great Britain that same year.

He only played the first half (hence the nickname, but it was due to being out for several weeks with a knee injury), but during that time set up two tries that laid the foundation for an Australian victory, the first time Australia had retained the Ashes on home soil.


Beetson went on to play in the 1968, 1972 and 1977 World Cups and tour with the 1973 Kangaroos, but he was also overlooked for the 1967 Kangaroo Tour and 1970 World Cup.

After linking with Jack Gibson at Eastern suburbs Beetson found the consistency he had previously been missing and became the undisputed premier forward in the game. His leadership and forward play contributed to a golden period for Easts, winning consecutive premierships in 1974-1975. Beetson was again left out of an Australian team to tour NZ in 1977.

He was re-instated by the ARL Chairman, but when Beetson found out he stood himself down from the tour.

As his career wound down Beetson was named QLD captain for the inaugural State of Origin and inspired his team to a win that established the competition’s credentials.

He played a further two games for QLD (played along residential lines) in 1981 after moving north to finish his career with Redcliffe.

Jim Challinor, British coach 1972 World Cup: ”He is the world’s greatest forward and no matter how you try to counter him, he keeps getting the ball away,”

A giant of the game.

9. Danny Buderus
Honours: Nominated for ARL Hall of Fame 2018. Dally M Player of the Year 2004. Dally M Hooker of the Year 2002, 2004 and 2005.
Years active: 1997 – 2013.
Clubs: Newcastle, Leeds (UK).
Club games: 339 (76 tries, 1 goal).
Representative Career: Tests – 24. NSW – 21.
Nickname: Bedsy. Roy & HG nickname: Butterball.


Danny Buderus was one of NSW’s greatest hookers of the modern era, winning a premiership with Newcastle in 2001 before becoming their most capped player.

Buderus was an integral part of the great NSW team during a period of success in the early 2000’s, before running into the QLD juggernaut in the latter part of his career.

NSW won three series in a row from 2003 to 2005. Buderus took over the captaincy from Andrew Johns in 2004 and was captain for the next 15 games.

After winning the 2001 premiership with the Knights Buderus was selected to represent Australia and he remained the first-choice hooker until 2006. During that time Buderus led his country on two occasions.

Buderus left Newcastle in 2009 and played three seasons with Leeds in the UK, winning the 2010 Challenge Cup and a premiership in 2011. He returned to Newcastle to play two more seasons before retirement.

Steve Walters: “I don’t think I’m being modest, but I don’t think I ever played as well as he’s playing.”

Brad Fittler NSW coach

Previous winning New South Wales State of Origin captains (L-R) Laurie Daley, Geoff Toovey, Brad Fittler, Danny Buderus, Andrew Johns and Paul Gallen line up during a jersey presentation to the winning New South Wales State of Origin captains at The Star on March 9, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

10. Roy Bull
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame, NSWRL Team of the Century. NSW Player of the Year 1955.
Years active: 1947 – 1959.
Clubs: Manly.
All games: 282 (36 tries).
Representative Career: Tests – 23. NSW – 26.


Roy Bull is a Manly-Warringah legend, playing in the club’s first season in 1947 and becoming their first home-grown international representative.

In all he played in three grand finals for the club during the 1950’s. On retirement he held the record for most appearances for Manly.

An expert scrummager and tight forward, Bull had a tremendous work ethic and power. He was selected for two Kangaroo Tours and was a fixture in the national side from 1949 to 1957.
Roy also won an Australian surfboat title at Manly beach in 1947.

Ken Arthurson: “Whilst the game has changed immensely since Roy retired, even today he would still be Australia’s star forward. Manly has had many people who have given a lifetime to the Sea Eagles but Roy Bull was the very foundation on which the club was built.”

11. Frank Burge
Honours: Rugby League Immortal. ARL Team of the Century, NSWRL Team of the Century, ARL Hall of Fame, NSW Sports Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1911 – 1927.
Clubs: Glebe, St George.
All games: 242 (256 tries, 113 goals).
Representative Career: Tests – 13. NSW – 6.
Nickname: Chunky.

As if there weren’t already enough points in this team along comes the third of the B Team Immortals, Frank Burge. After Dally Messenger, Frank Burge was the first superstar of the sport.

Despite playing his career in the forwards for weaker teams Burge became a try-scoring phenomena. In all Burge scored 160 tries in 186 games across club, interstate and international rugby league.

Nearly 100 years later, he still holds the record for most tries in a premiership match – eight. He also scored six tries in a representative fixture for Metropolis against NZ Maori.


In an era when backs scored most of the tries Burge topped the premierships try scoring charts in three different years, including breaking the all time record in 1918 with 24 tries in 14 games.

He held the record for most career tries for a forward (146) until broken by Steven Menzies in 2004. He also scored 33 tries in 23 matches on the 1921/22 Kangaroo Tour, a record for a touring forward that still stands.

A child prodigy, Burge played first grade rugby union at 14 year old and first played for Glebe at 16 (one of only five players to ever do so).

He was selected for NSW at 18. He was playing for his country by 20. He went on to play in every Test match for his country between 1914 and 1922.

Burge never won a NSW premiership finishing runner up twice with Glebe and once as captain coach of St George in only their seventh season in the competition.

Glebe are an unlucky club. They finished first in 1911, but the League played finals and Glebe lost. The club’s best players had gone on the Kangaroo Tour, but Dally Messenger had stayed behind and played for Easts.

The league then abolished finals between 1912 and 1924 when Glebe would have made the finals ten times in fourteen seasons. And then they were gone voted out 13-12 on Armistice Day 1929.

Burge joined St George in 1927 and despite being in the twilight of his career, the club went from last the previous year to runners up. The Dragons lost only one match all season when Burge was available, unfortunately that was the grand final, falling 20-11 to Souths.


12. Harry Bath
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. Warrington RLFC Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1940 – 1959.
Clubs: Souths Brisbane (QLD), Balmain, Barrow (UK), Warrington (UK), St George.
All games: 541 (137 tries, 2,617 points).
Representative Career: Other Nationalities: 10, NSW: 4, QLD: 4.
Nickname: Old Fox.

Harry Bath is possibly the greatest forward never to play for his country having spent the prime of his career forging a stellar career in England for Warrington. However, either side of that Bath still found the time to win a premiership in every single year he competed in the NSW competition – two for Balmain and three for St George.

After starting his career in Brisbane as a 16-year old Bath moved to Balmain and made an immediate impact, winning premierships in 1946 and 1947 as part of a golden era for the club. By the age of 21 he had played for both QLD and NSW. He suffered untimely injuries in both 1946 and 1947 when test selection appeared a certainty.

Like many players of his time Bath moved to England and starred for Warrington, including captaining them to Challenge Cup victories in 1950 and 1954. He gained wide acclaim in Great Britain as a talented ball player and prolific goal kicker.

Bath played for Other Nationalities against England, Wales and France 12 times before returning to Australia, where Balmain rejected him as being too old!

It says a lot about Harry Bath’s quality that on his return from England he forced his way into the champion St George side and played a key part in possibly the most dominant part of that great era, with the club winning the 1957 to 1959 grand finals by a combined total of 71 to 18.

He was the competition’s leading point scorer in 1957 and 1958 and scored 16 points in the 1957 grand final, still a record. He was also sent off in the 1959 decider for fighting with Rex Mossop. Bath holds the records for most points in a season by a front rower and a second rower.

Bath: “I think it was my game, I was never any good at school because I was always playing bloody football.”


13. Sam Burgess
Honours: RLIF Player of the year 2014.
Years active: 2006 – ????.
Clubs: Bradford Bulls (UK), South Sydney.
Club games (to 2018): 251 (54 tries).
Representative Career: Tests: 25 (UK).
Nickname: Burg.

Sam Burgess

Sam Burgess of the Rabbitohs. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

Same Burgess, the South Sydney wrecking ball, is the first current player to make the cut and the first Englishman, due to his career with South Sydney. Burgess was the heart, soul and drive behind South’s 2014 drought breaking premiership and has been regarded as possibly the premier lock forward in the game (pre JT13).

After four seasons with Bradford Bulls Burgess joined the Rabbitohs in 2010 and made an immediate impact, culminating in his courageous 2014 grand final performance. After breaking his cheekbone in the opening minutes Burgess played out the game in his usual powerful style, reminiscent of the great clubman John Sattler.

His place in South Sydney folklore was set.

Burgess has played 25 Tests for England and Great Britain. He also found time to briefly play Rugby Union and became a dual international before returning to League, where he remains a force for Souths.

Sam Burgess

Sam Burgess’ 2014 grand final performance showed just how tough he is. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

14. Trent Barrett (Illawarra, St George-Illawarra, Wigan (UK), Cronulla) – 1996 – 2010 – Tests: 15, NSW: 11.


Five-eighth – Talented running half. 2000 Dally M Player of the Year.

15. Kerry Boustead (Eastern Suburbs, Manly, Hull KR (UK), North Sydney) – 1977 – 1990 – Tests: 25, QLD: 9, NSW: 6.

Winger – ARL Hall of Fame, QLD Sport Hall of Fame. A quick-stepper who first represented Australia from North QLD.

16. Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne) – 2010 – ???? – Tests: 24 (NZ).

Prop – Kiwi former captain and premier Prop in the game in 2016.

17. Les Boyd (Western Suburbs, Manly, Warrington (UK)) – 1976 – 1989 – Tests: 17, NSW: 8.
Second row – Explosive runner and Fibro enforcer.

Honourable mentions
There were so many players who would have walked into other teams, but just missed out including Luke Bailey (Prop – four Tests), Matt Bowen (Fullback – one Test), Sam Backo (Prop – six Tests – unlucky to miss out), Gary Belcher (Fullback – 15 Tests and three-time Dally M Fullback of the year), Martin Bella (Prop – nine Tests), Tim Brasher (Fullback – 14 tests), Darius Boyd (Fullback/Wing – 23 Tests), Dud Beattie (Prop – 15 Tests), Tony Brown (Five-eighth – ten Tests, Newtown Team of the Century), Greg Bird (Second row – 17 Tests – also unlucky), John Brass (Centre – 6 Tests).

And there you have the B Team. A real contender. Whoever beats them will have to be something very special.


Next time we hit the Cs, with an Immortal captain and back row to die for.

As an aside, one of the honourable mentions, Dud Beattie, played in a tough old era.

Here is one story told by his QLD and Australia teammate Gary Parcell about an Ashes series:
“Against Wakefield Turner (Derek Turner, English forward) kept hitting Barry Muir, whether he had got rid of the ball or not. So Muir said to me and Dud, ‘Come and give him a bit of a touch-up.’ We got him and cut him across the eye.

When we lined up for the Test match I said to him, ‘What happened Derek? Did you fall off a motorbike?’ Eric Ashton (the Great Britain captain) said, ‘Steady fellas. They’re playing God Save the Queen.’

And Dud said, ‘The Queen’s not going to save you now’.”