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‘Brazen All Blacks cheated Wales out of a deserved victory’

30 Oct 2021 5 minute read
That controversial line-out, Wales v All Blacks, 1978

David Owens

When Wales take on the All Blacks at the Principality Stadium today, there’s unlikely to be the same sort of controversy that dogged their infamous clash 43 years earlier – in a match that is rightly viewed as the most notorious both sides have ever played.

Then Wales were cheated of a famous win by a cynical act of deception by the All Blacks, which still rankles to this day.

It’s especially painful for Wales legend Steve Fenwick, the former centre who would play for Wales in both rugby union and rugby league, one of the stars of the game against the All Blacks.

A key member of the Welsh team that won two Grand Slams and four Triple Crowns in the late 1970s, he confesses his greatest rugby regret is losing to New Zealand in 1978 when the controversial last-gasp penalty robbed his side of a deserved victory.

Steve Fenwick’s autobiography (Credit: St David’s Press)

Writing in his newly published autobiography ‘Dragons and Lions – My Life in Rugby’, the former Welsh captain recalls how, with just a couple of minutes to play, Wales were leading 12-10 and heading to their first victory over the All Blacks since 1953.

Unfortunately the opposition found a way to win. Controversially it came in the form of a lineout ruse delivered by New Zealand players Andy Haden and Frank Oliver, purposefully enacted to deceive the referee.

“Haden theatrically dived out of the line as if he’d been hit by a sniper, quickly followed by Frank Oliver,” recalls Fenwick.

The dive worked a charm, leading to a penalty for the All Blacks, which was converted to give them a narrow 13-12 victory.

Fenwick believes the pre-planned actions were a disgrace, and a shock to see for the first time such blatant cheating in international rugby.

More pertinently, he reckons that this was the end of amateurism and the start of professionalism in rugby union.

“I firmly believe that Frank, who we all now know had discussed a last-minute act of skulduggery with Haden, indulged in football tactics by over exaggerating the contact with (Wales forward) Geoff Wheel which triggered the referee into giving a penalty.

“He conned the referee plain and simple,” adds Fenwick. “It could be said that the incident illustrated the clash of old-school amateurism in the form of (referee) Roger Quittenton, who was too naive to ever imagine a rugby player making such a blatant attempt to mislead him, and the win-at-all-costs ‘professionalism’ of the All Blacks. It was a disgrace. It was an incredibly frustrating ending to a fabulous game of rugby.”

Steve Fenwick in action for Wales (Credit: WRU)

With two well-matched sides, the game was a very close-run contest and it went right down to the wire.

“Don’t get me wrong, New Zealand rarely fielded a poor side and that team of 1978 was a class outfit, but we believed that we were the better team and deserved the victory,” says Fenwick.

“We were champions of the northern hemisphere having won the Grand Slam a few months earlier. The changing room was silent for quite a while as we gathered our thoughts.

“We felt as if we’d been kicked in the guts, denied our first win against the All Blacks since 1953 and, worst of all, there was nothing we could do about it. It was just so brazen.”

Bad atmosphere

At the after-match dinner that evening, the Welsh players were still simmering at being cheated out of a famous win.

“When we sat down opposite the New Zealand players, there was definitely a bad atmosphere as we dined face-to-face with our opponents, until Geoff Wheel cut through the tension when he loudly requested in front of all the players, ‘Andy, could you dive over here with the salt, and you Frank, can you dive over here with the pepper!’

“It melted the ice-cool atmosphere and brought laughter from both sets of players. Losing to New Zealand in that manner is still a huge regret in my rugby career, even after all these years, we were so close, yet they found a way to win.”

Steve Fenwick in action for Wales (Credit: WRU)

All these years later the defeat still hurts.

“The fact that the players (Haden and Oliver) later wrote about the incident in a book and openly admitted their plan to dive out of the line is still hard to stomach. We just had to take it on the chin,” says the former centre who won 30 caps for his country, amassing 152 points.

“We assumed there’d be another opportunity to avenge the defeat before too long, but it turned out to be the closest Wales would get to beating the All Blacks wasn’t until 2004 when we again lost by a single point (25-26).

“For me, 1978 was the best chance I’d ever had to beat New Zealand wearing a Wales jersey.”

Dragons and Lions – My Life in Rugby is out now. Published by St. David’s Press in paperback, priced at £13.99. It is also available as an eBook priced £9.99.

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Huw Davies
Huw Davies
2 years ago

Wales hasn’t beaten the All Blacks in my lifetime. I had cancer followed by a heart attack in 1995. 1998 South Africa 96 Wales 13. I genuinely thought I’d go to my grave knowing Wales had never beaten the Springboks! I laughed when caretaker coach, Dennis John, said that he’d expect to beat the Boks the next time. The WRU appointed Graham Henry and gave him whatever he asked. 1999 Wales 29 South Africa 19. I still wonder whether Dennis John might have done the same if the WRU had given him the same facilities. Amazing how quickly rugby form… Read more »

Ed Jones
Ed Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Huw Davies

Huw, we will both see Wales qualify to play in the (football) World Cup and Wales beat the All Blacks, we must believe! Glad you are still here (from a fellow survivor, 😀👍🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿), take care.
(I still remember weeping after that 1978 game, so cruel)

Huw Davies
Huw Davies
2 years ago
Reply to  Ed Jones

Diolch yn fawr! Nearly conceded a new record number of points yesterday. I thought those days had gone but the All Blacks just keep going! For some reason I remember Barry John saying it was nearly all psychological against the All Blacks. I’m pretty sure he said something like ‘If we played them in Aberaeron and they were called something else and we weren’t called Wales we’d beat them most times’. Perhaps he was right! England can beat them and we always feel we have a decent chance against England but somehow that All Black stone wall keeps being rebuilt,… Read more »

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
2 years ago

We all know how good the All Blacks were & are, that’s not in dispute, but that game will be forever a stain on their spotless record.

arthur owen
2 years ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

One doubts it is the only stain on their record.Furthermore was not William Webb Ellis(note Welsh surname) cheating when he picked up the ball and ran in 1823.

stuart stanton
stuart stanton
2 years ago

How much did the Blacks slip in the refs backside pocket yesterday? Same in League, top sides invariably get the advantage, Catalans suffered same as Wales in Grand Final, their solution to demand Aussie officials, maybe that might have balanced it up yesterday.

Malcolm rj
Malcolm rj
2 years ago
Reply to  stuart stanton

You only need to look at the history of the all black at home only one player ever given the red card all thier playes must be angels ha ha say no more

1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm rj

The All Blacks wanted to claim a coveted Grand Slam in 1978, but having scraped past Ireland they were in grave danger of losing to Wales.

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