A moment of infamy

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Taking everything into account, there is no doubt that the All Blacks of New Zealand are the greatest rugby team in the world. They may have had their occasional glitch or poor patch over the years but no other side has performed so consistently, so well, at the very highest level.

On the field the New Zealanders take no prisoners. They do not accept defeat lightly and have clearly never forgiven Wales for the "try that never was" in the Welsh victory of 1905.

In the years ahead it is fairly certain that the England rugby side will be made to pay for their resounding success – admittedly over a second string All Blacks side – last autumn.

And off the park there are still enough sparks flying around to ignite a bush fire whenever New Zealand come to town. That has never been better illustrated than in the strange case of Keith Murdoch during the 1972 All Blacks tour of Great Britain.

It had been a difficult period for the All Blacks. They had recently lost a Test Series against the British Lions and even on this tour, where the team arrived in Britain on something of a mission, clearly seeking revenge for the earlier defeat, Llanelli had recorded a famous victory over the tourists at Stradey park.

One of the pillars of the All Black pack – in his way as significant a figure as the legendary Colin Meads – was the six foot tall, 17 stone prop Keith Murdoch.

At the time he was one of the biggest and most aggressive players ever to pull on the black jersey. When New Zealand beat Wales 16-9 on 2 December 1972 it was Murdoch who scored the match-winning try. And then the trouble started.

Later that night, celebrating the victory in the Angel Hotel in the centre of Cardiff, Keith Murdoch went looking for more beer. The bar had closed but Murdoch was not in the mood to call it a day and head off to bed.

In the kitchen of the hotel a scuffle, involving several players and officials as well as hotel staff, broke out. Security guard Peter Grant was punched to the floor and Keith Murdoch was dragged away by his colleagues. The All Black was disciplined by the tour managers and just a few days later was put on a plane back to New Zealand.

The trouble was, he never got there. In Singapore he switched flights and vanished into the wastes of Australia's Northern Territories. Despite repeated attempts to contact him, Murdoch has consistently refused to speak to either New Zealand rugby officials or the press.

He lives something of a nomadic existence in Australia, working as a farmer and seasonal labourer. It is a hard, challenging life in environments where his reputation for aggressive behaviour has kept all but the most persistent of reporters away.

And that is something of a shame. There are always two sides to any story and it would be interesting to hear what Keith Murdoch made of the affair in the Angel Hotel, the incident that turned him into one of the great villains of world sport.

Now aged 60, it is unlikely that Keith Murdoch will ever talk about what actually went on that night. Never the most articulate of men, his silence – indeed, his aggressiveness regarding the affair – has helped to create an ever-growing myth and aura of mystery about the man.

It is an aura that is occasionally bolstered by reminiscence and by events – like the time he was called as a witness at the inquest of a man who had broken into his house. The housebreaker's body was later found in an abandoned mine shaft.

There was never any suggestion that Keith Murdoch was involved in the man's death but his refusal to speak to the press about the affair simply fuelled media speculation. Keith Murdoch, man of mystery, has not been heard of since.

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