Rugby's Greatest Try

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Gareth Edwards's try in January 1973 was the greatest ever scored. Cerys Matthews uses archive interviews and contemporary reports to tell the remarkable story of the try itself, and what it still tells us about the spirit and heart of Wales. Often referred to as simply 'that try', the world acknowledges it to be the greatest ever, and it's the standard against which every other great try is compared.

New Zealand had just completed an unbeaten tour of the home nations, and their final challenge was against an invitational Barbarians side at Cardiff. The game was brought alive within 2 minutes as Gareth Edwards dramatically dived in the corner to complete an electrifying move of counter-attacking rugby. It sent the crowd into rugby heaven, and never fails to delight even now.

But this try symbolised much more than the sport itself, for it was also a poetic expression of the Welsh identity. In a game of brute force, here was a glimpse of grace and beauty - something that was entirely in keeping with the lyricism that could be found at the heart of industrial Wales. In this programme, singer Cerys Matthews will reveal why this try is so celebrated to this day in Wales and will unearth the untold story behind it.

With its origins in industrial south Wales, rugby was adopted in the 19th century as an integral part of the Welsh working-class culture, with workers from heavy industries well suited to the tougher aspects of the game. But Welsh rugby also prided itself on a certain 'Welsh way' of playing with an emphasis on attractive, innovative and free-flowing rugby. This poeticism on the field of play reflected a wider tradition within these communities of expressing oneself through poetry, song and literature.

But to truly appreciate the importance of this try, we need to understand the role played by coach Carwyn James. A miner's son from socialist west Wales, Carwyn was a sensitive, politically active and cultured man, a revolutionary rugby coach, a lecturer and later a broadcaster. He had a passion for drama, literature and poetry and was even fluent in Russian. He drew extensively on this hinterland as a way better to understand a game which, in Wales, has its roots firmly established in its culture and tradition. He was, however, an outspoken outsider who never coached the national side.

The All Blacks had lost their first ever test series against the British & Irish Lions in 1971, and were unexpectedly defeated by Llanelli in '72 - both teams coached by Carwyn James. Twelve Lions were playing for the Barbarians in Cardiff in '73 and Carwyn, the unofficial coach, managed to evoke the spirit of '71. The try was classic Carwyn James and archetypal of the 'Welsh way' - counter attacking and full of expression, and stirred them on to an historic win.

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58 minutes

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Sun 1 Nov 2015 03:00

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