Former English & Sharks hard man passed away the other day…
The death of the great Cliff Watson gives me an opportunity to share my favourite story about him.
In 2013 the NRL Museum hosted a reunion of players from Manly and Cronulla that had appeared in the 1973 Grand Final.
Cliff was one of those present so I asked him who the toughest player he had ever opposed was, expecting an answer of John O’Neill, Arthur Beetson or maybe some other Australian, or a compatriot like Derek “Rocky” Turner or Jim Mills. He floored me with his answer – the Frenchman Marcel Bescos (pictured).
I wasn’t familiar with Bescos but a cursory review of his career shows that he played 20 Tests between 1959-66 and was captain when Cliff opposed him in 1966.
Cliff had just come back into the Great Britain team after an extended absence of a couple of years after making his debut in 1963. Keen to make his mark he used the first scrum to make his presence felt with a vigorous packing of the scrum that went close to being a headbutt and then a little facial massage for his opponent. No response.
Second scrum he did the same and threw in a short, sharp right for good measure. Again, no response or retaliation. “I’ve got this bloke”, Cliff thought to himself.
When the third scrum packed down and Cliff’s hand came towards Bescos, the Frenchman pushed it down and said “No more, monsieur”. But no-one told a young Cliff Watson to stop, least of all an opposing front rower wearing a French jersey so he gave him another for good measure.
In hindsight, nearly 50 years after the event, he reckoned he may have made a mistake. He had woken the beast in Bescos and for the rest of the afternoon the French frontrower made Cliff’s life a misery, employing all the dark arts in scrums and tackles and ragdolling Cliff at every opportunity all across the park.
At the end of the game they shook hands, France had won and Cliff said he walked off a sadder and wiser man. As he completed the tale, Cliff reflected that the event may have been responsible for some of the arthritic pain former front rowers feel when they sleep restlessly.
I hope the re-telling does justice to Cliff – it certainly shows his love of the game. And as for Marcel Bescos, any bloke who could get the better of Cliff Watson deserves the utmost respect!