Gareth Edwards etched his name into rugby folklore with that try 40 years ago
“Kirkpatrick to Williams. This is great stuff. Phil Bennett covering, chased by Alistair Scown. Brilliant. Oh, that’s brilliant. John Williams... Pullin, John Dawes. Great dummy. David, Tom David, the half-way line. Brilliant by Quinnell. This is Gareth Edwards. A dramatic start. What a score! Oh that fellow Edwards. Who can touch a man like that.”
Cliff Morgan’s description of Gareth Edwards’ try for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 1973 only adds to the magic of the moment which has been heralded around the world as the best try ever scored in the game’s history.
Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of a momentous game on January 27, 1973 at Cardiff Arms Park that still resonates around the rugby world all these years later.
They will gather in London next week to pay homage once again to the men who played their part in rugby history.
Among them Fergus Slattery, Ireland’s legendary openside flanker, who was one of four Irishmen in the Barbarians team that day, alongside Ray McLoughlin, Willie John McBride and Mike Gibson.
“It was not meant to be so creative but in the end, it was almost a faultless display,” said Slattery, now 63.
“During the game you were too busy doing your job to appreciate what a special match it was but you could feel something was different. There was electricity in the air.
“You could tell it was a special occasion even during the build up. The Barbarians are normally thrown together but this time the team was based predominantly on the British and Irish Lions team that beat the All Blacks two years earlier in 1971.
“Gerald Davies and Mervyn Davies pulled out on the Thursday so John Bevan and Tommy David stepped up at the last minute. John Dawes, the captain in ’71, asked for Carwyn James to be brought in, which was not the normal thing to do. So it virtually became a fifth Test from that Lions tour.
“We all had a bit more freedom to play but every player treated this game seriously because it was the All Blacks. It was an international class Barbarians team. It was a full-house in Cardiff and there was history.”
James, who has masterminded the Lions success in New Zealand, was prevented from formally heading any training sessions by the Barbarians. So when Dawes called a team meeting in his room at the Royal Hotel for 11am, James “just happened” to still be there having been invited by Dawes for coffee at 10.45am.
“It was a great boost for us, and there were 12 of the 1971 Lions party in the Baa-baas side, but he didn’t take any training sessions. What he did was talk to us,” Dawes said. “He told Phil Bennett to go out and prove on a world stage what a good player he was and, above all, to run at the All Blacks at the first opportunity because they wouldn’t be expecting it.”
Those words were still ringing in Bennett’s ears when he took off, from deep inside his own half, to instigate what would swiftly become one of rugby’s greatest moments.
In 142 years of international rugby, only one score is called that try and this match, that ended in the Barbarians beating the All Blacks 23-11, will be forever remembered for Gareth Edwards’ remarkable opening score after just minutes.
Bennett, JPR Williams, John Pullin, Dawes, Tommy David, Derek Quinnell and Edwards combined with wondrous effect.
“The ball was deep into our corner, we’d just recovered it and I was jogging back, breathless,” Edwards recalled, “‘Thank God,’ I was thinking, ‘Phil Bennett will put it into touch, we’ll stop and we’ll take it from there’.
“Just as I’m gratefully slowing down, Phil does the complete opposite and starts to run, dodging Alistair Scown’s tackle, which made him keep going in the same direction because Ian Kirkpatrick was waiting to kill him if he’d gone the other way.
“Then he slung the ball to JPR who almost had his head taken off — but thank God the ref played advantage. I was whinging to myself, thinking: ‘What are they up to now?’
“I turned and started chasing the pack, by which time Tommy David and Derek Quinnell had made spectacular handling movements which gave me the chance to catch up.
“I was thinking, ‘please, please, give it to me’ and then I had the ball and I was running round Joe Karam, the full-back, and making the long dash to the line hoping my hamstrings wouldn’t quit.
“It was an incredible moment and the noise in the stadium will live with me forever.”
Defeat for the second time on Welsh soil following a loss to Llanelli, proved an anti-climax to a controversial tour for the All Blacks.
Kirkpatrick’s team did not lose a Test but were criticised for being dour and had Keith Murdoch sent home after some late night antics in the wake of the victory over Wales. Yet while Bennett appeared to be the inspiration for that try, captain Kirkpatrick admitted he was to blame for letting one of the most famous games of all-time get off to a flying start.
“Sid Going always blames me for that try because I was the first one to miss Phil Bennett when he started sidestepping in his 22,” said the former flanker.
“By the time I turned around Bennett had gone past Scown and the Barbarians were on their way. I’ve spent the past 40 years trying to forget the bloody game but they keep flying me 12,000 miles to celebrate their victory.”
He added: “Let’s face it, we came up against British and Irish rugby at its very best. Between 1971-’76 the game was at its peak over here with players right up there with the greatest of all-time.
“The big mistake we made was trying to enter into the Baa-Baas style of play. Their counter-attacking that day was something we hadn’t experienced before on that tour. It was also the first time we did the Haka before a game on tour. The New Zealand government had asked us not to but the Baa-Baas specifically asked us to perform it for the crowd before the game. We did a bit of practice but it wasn’t very good. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we then got hit with that Edwards try after only three minutes.”
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