South West Wales

Llanelli rugby dinner marks 1972 All Blacks defeat

The 40th anniversary of Llanelli's historic rugby victory over New Zealand will be toasted later at a dinner being held for 1,200 people.

The Scarlets beat the mighty All Blacks 9-3 at Stradey Park on 31 October 1972 in one of rugby's most famous upsets.

Members of the victorious Llanelli team will be among the guests at Parc y Scarlets along with New Zealander Bryan Williams who was on the losing side.

It is billed as one of the largest rugby dinners Wales has ever seen.

Forty years ago Llanelli were celebrating their centenary and arguably enjoying one of their greatest eras.

Coach Carwyn James had guided the Lions to a famous series win over New Zealand in the previous year and there was an air of expectation ahead of the clash at Stradey Park.

More than 20,000 supporters packed into the ground and factories closed early to allow workers to watch the game.

Following the victory it is said the pubs ran dry.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the historic game, the Scarlets have invited a host of British and Irish Lions legends, including club president Phil Bennett and Delme Thomas, Llanelli's captain that day.

Image copyright Alan T Richards
Image caption More than 20,000 people can say 'I was there' on the celebrated day

Thomas, known affectionately as the "King of Stradey Park", said: "I have never experienced anything in my life like the day we beat the All Blacks in 1972.

"It was a wonderful occasion and the place was absolutely electric."

Roy Bergiers scored the try that set the team on the road to their most famous victory after a penalty kick hit the post.

He said: "I put my hands up and hit it. I think I tripped over the line through the gap and then there was the ball and I just pounced on it.

"You don't realise you are part of history until years and years later and, to be honest, the way the structure of rugby has gone a Welsh club side would never ever have the opportunity of beating the All Blacks again."

That view is shared by journalist Alun Gibbard, who has written a book about the match.

He said: "I was discussing the game with George North, today's superstar, and he said a few years ago when he was a teenager, not that long ago, he heard that Llanelli had beaten New Zealand.

"He said his instant reaction was 'oh, brilliant, well done them' and immediately he thought 'why were Llanelli playing the All Blacks?"

One of the best known poems about the game came from the entertainer Max Boyce.

He said: "I wanted to express the way I felt about that remarkable day. It almost had - and I maybe over-romanticising it now - religious overtones.

"The light in the sky was like something out of Quo Vadis and The Robe. Llanelli that day were meant to win, there was no other result possible."

The Welsh Rugby Union will be represented by its president Dennis Gethin while First Minister Carwyn Jones will also attend, along with members of the New Zealand Rugby Union.

A centrepiece recreation of Stradey Park's pitch will be a focal point for the dinner, while guests will be entertained by one of Welsh rugby's most loyal fans, Max Boyce.

'Physical game'

A silent auction will also be held to raise funds for local charities chosen by the 1972 Llanelli team via the Ray Gravell and Friends Charitable Trust.

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Media captionLlanelli players and Max Boyce share their memories with Gilbert John

Gravell, who died in 2007, was a member of the victorious side.

Among the lots are two Llanelli jerseys from the game which have been recently signed by the 1972 team.

The Scarlets' head of regional development and recruitment, Gareth Jenkins, who played against the All Blacks and went on to coach Llanelli and Wales, said: "It was the most physical game I've ever played in.

"We'd never experienced anything like it at the time as younger players.

"The whole town closed for a half-day. It was a great time to remember, it was a great time to be around and a great time to play rugby."

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