Gareth Edwards worried if he had the legs to round off rugby’s ‘greatest try’
It is widely-acclaimed as rugby union’s greatest try – but Sir Gareth Edwards’ solitary hope on the dash for glory 50 years ago was that his hamstrings remained intact.
Edwards also recalls his final instruction to Barbarians team-mate Derek Quinnell – in Welsh – before the number eight delivered a scoring pass in the penultimate act that created one of sport’s greatest moments.
Then there was Edwards’ cursing – most of it not for public consumption – of the great Phil Bennett for not kicking the ball into touch.
Bennett opted instead for a breathtaking bout of side-stepping wizardry deep inside his own half that left would-be New Zealand tacklers clutching fresh air and launched a try-scoring move that featured seven players, all accompanied by Cliff Morgan’s wondrous BBC commentary.
“Kirkpatrick to Williams. This is great stuff. Phil Bennett covering. Chased by Alistair Scown. Brilliant! Oh, that’s brilliant! John Williams, Bryan Williams. Pullin. John Dawes, great dummy. To David, Tom David, the halfway line! Brilliant by Quinnell! This is Gareth Edwards! A dramatic start! What a score!” was how Morgan famously called it.
Edwards and six of his colleagues from that January afternoon in Cardiff half a century ago – Quinnell, Willie John McBride, JPR Williams, Mike Gibson, John Bevan and Tommy David – will assemble for a celebration 50-year lunch on Friday, joined by more than 1,000 guests.
Memories and anecdotes will prevail of a wondrous game that saw the Barbarians beat New Zealand 23-11 in front of 51,000 people at the National Ground, Cardiff Arms Park.
Twelve of the Barbarians side had toured New Zealand in 1971 when the British and Irish Lions claimed an historic Test series triumph over the All Blacks, and what many people had billed as an unofficial fifth Test did not disappoint.
Events inside the first five minutes ensured it would hold a permanent place in sporting folklore.
“We were hoping that we could show glimpses of the rugby we played in New Zealand in 1971 and show it to a home crowd,” Edwards told the PA news agency.
“The game was a mess to start with – plenty of wayward kicking – and when Phil scampered back I thought ‘thank God, he’s a big reader of the game, he will put his foot on the ball and then kick it into touch’ and we could get our second wind.
“But, of course, he did the complete opposite, and thankfully he did. Not only did we score the try, it set the scene for the game.
“My words before he started dodging and weaving were not for public consumption! It was the complete opposite to what I thought Phil was going to do.
“By this time I was in no-man’s land, and I was thinking I had better put my hand up here to show the referee I wasn’t interfering with play, then the boys went past me and started vanishing into the distance.
“Fortunately, the move started to take more shape, and it gave me an opportunity to work out what was in front of me, but the last thing I was thinking of was that I was going to score a try in the corner. I can tell you that for nothing.
“I just thought as a good scrum-half to ‘get there’ and don’t let people complain you are too slow or past it. In trying to get there, and with all the inter-passing, it was set up for something to happen.”
By this point, the ball had gone from Bennett to JPR Williams, John Pullin, John Dawes and Tommy David, before Quinnell and then Edwards applied the glorious finale.
“I shouted to Derek in Welsh ‘throw it here’ and thankfully his Welsh was good enough to understand what I meant,” Edwards added.
“Derek passed, then I was thinking as I went up the touchline at a rate of knots ‘please God, don’t let my hamstring go now’!
“It all went in a flash, and of course, none of us had access to it – nobody could pull out their phone and have a look at the try after the match.
“But looking back, all of us, we can’t believe how many times that move could have gone wrong! Thankfully, it didn’t.”
Despite exhaustive searches, no photographs of the try exist, and to mark Edwards’ 75th birthday last year, a painting by Welsh artist Elin Sian Blake was commissioned that captures him touching down.
Edwards’ career achievements are the stuff of legend – 53 consecutive Wales appearances, 10 Tests across three Lions tours, including starting all four on each of the victorious 1971 and 1974 trips to New Zealand and South Africa – but the ’73 Barbarians classic holds particularly affectionate memories.
“Wherever I go in the world, people want to talk about it,” he said.
“In the 1990s, I was fishing in the middle of nowhere in Russia, and I was staying in a village where the mayor, who was a former nuclear submarine commander, took me back to his house, brought out a DVD, shoved it in the telly and up came that try!”
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