The greatest rugby game ever played?

Thursday 15 December 2011, 14:00

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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The Welsh rugby team has been involved in some magnificent matches over the years and the performance of the side in the recent 2011 Rugby World Cup gave heart to supporters and enthusiasts everywhere. But no game has ever quite been able to match the 1905 clash with the All Blacks of New Zealand.

The touring All Blacks arrived in Britain in September that year, much to the delight of rugby fans everywhere. These days, with the advent of efficient air travel, we are used to short tours - rugby sides come, play one or two games and then shoot off again. Not so in 1905. In those days travel was by steamer and once touring sides arrived in Britain they were here for several months.

The All Blacks, like touring sides for decades to come, played club sides across the country in a series of matches that were designed to create enthusiasm and allow everyone who wanted to see the visitors in action.

And, of course, there were test matches against each of the home nations. The British rugby world at the time was nothing if not complacent and was about to be given a serious shock. Although nobody had expected much of these New Zealanders, they amazed all the rugby pundits - and their opponents - by ploughing an unbeaten furrow through the field of British sport.

England was hammered by five tries to nil - a try in those days being worth three points - and the papers began to claim that these southern hemisphere giants were gifted with almost supernatural powers. Players like Bob Deans, the captain Dave Gallaher and full back Billy Wallace were already being considered the greatest men ever to step onto a rugby field.

Although Wales was in the middle of its first golden decade - winning the Triple Crown on no fewer than seven occasions between 1900 and 1910 - such was the awesome power of the All Blacks that nobody gave Wales much of a chance when the time came for them to take on the tourists.

The much-anticipated game took place on 16 December 1905. Tickets had not been issued and as kick off approached it was estimated that well over 45,000 people had crowded into Cardiff Arms Park in the city centre.

For the first time the words and tune to the anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau rang out across the ground. It had been composed by James James, with words by his father Evan, and was sung in repost to the now-famous All Black Haka, the Maori war cry that the New Zealanders undoubtedly used to intimidate the opposition. Even the All Blacks were impressed by the singing of the crowd - something that continued throughout the match.

The game was played under a low, thick mist that made viewing difficult for the spectators. But right from the kick off it was clear that this was a clash of titans. The Welsh forwards stood up to and matched the mighty All Black pack, harrying the tourists and not allowing them to get into their usual dominant stride.

After half an hour of torrid and often brutal confrontation, a switch in direction, thanks to a reverse pass by Welsh scrum half Owen, saw the All Blacks suddenly wrong-footed. Winger Teddy Morgan was able to swerve around his marker and score in the corner. Although the conversion failed, Wales went in to the half time break with a three nil lead.

The second half saw sustained All Black pressure, as they tried desperately to retain their unbeaten record. Time and time again the New Zealanders battered themselves at the Welsh line but solid and courageous tackling kept them out. Then came the moment of controversy that has remained a talking point in rugby circles ever since.

A superb break by Billy Wallace saw him clean through the Welsh defence with only the full back to beat. Wallace drew his man and passed to Bob Deans. Deans raced 30 yards and a try seemed inevitable but the Welsh centre, Rhys Gabe, and wing Teddy Morgan managed to drag him down just short of the line. A scrum was awarded and Wales held on to record a memorable victory.

Although nothing was made of it at the time - the incident was not alluded to in the post-match discussions and celebrations - Bob Deans, when asked by reporters of the Daily Mail, later claimed that he had grounded the ball over the line but had been pulled back by the Welsh players before the referee arrived at the spot.

The controversy raged for the rest of the tour, the New Zealanders being convinced that Deans had scored, the Welsh players - apart from Teddy Morgan - equally sure that he had not.

Rhys Gabe, the first tackler, commented in a radio broadcast in the 1950s that he originally thought Deans had scored but that he then felt the All Black player try to "wriggle forward", over the line and knew that he had been brought down just short.

The arguments continue to rage, even today, and no discussion between players of either nation is complete without some mention of what the New Zealanders call "the disallowed try."

The Welsh victory deprived the All Blacks of a clean sweep on their 1905 tour but, more importantly, it was the first of many great encounters between two of the proudest rugby playing nations in the world. It can, arguably, claim to be the greatest rugby match of all time.

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    Comment number 1.

    They certainly got their own back in the 1970's when, with minutes to go, one of the All Blacks threw himself out of a line-out, and they scored from the resulting penalty. If memory serves me right it was just about the last kick of the game, and the Blacks won by one point.

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    Comment number 2.

    I remember the incident very well - in the words of Max Boyce "I was there." Wales had outplayed the All Blacks and it was a desperate ruse in the final moments of the game. It wasn't even subtle. Viewed now, on film, no Welsh player laid a hand on the All Black second row - was it Andy Haden? - so I have little sympathy for them regarding the 1905 result.

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    Comment number 3.

    Ha! So it's the All Blacks who founded the inextinguishable rugby grudge?! We would never had learned to be so bitter and resentful of heart-breaking international rugby incidents if it weren't for this early example.

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    Comment number 4.

    Hi Craig. I don't know if was the All Blacks who started it all - but as a nation we Welsh seem to harbour something of a complex. I hesitate to call it an inferiority complex but the feeling that we're always going to be "done down" seems to be part of our national characteristic (if you can have such a thing!). It often results in people misunderstanding the Welsh - we crow when we win, cry when we lose, they say. This is far too esoteric. Let's just say we won in 1905 and be proud of it.

 

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