Peter Jackson's Six Nations stories: Keith Jarrett's 'wondrous' Wales debut

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Keith Jarrett's debut

They played the first one almost 140 years ago and, of all the fixtures in Test rugby, there is nothing like it.

Wales against England, neighbours with a capacity for generating grudges grand enough to make Donald Trump and Barack Obama seem the best of friends. Well, almost.

Wales against England has rarely failed to light blazing bonfires of controversy. Unforgettable tales of skill and skulduggery abound and yet of all the Wales versus England matches for me one stands out above the rest and not because it happened 50 years ago.

England came to the Arms Park on 15 April, 1967 needing a win to share the title with France. Wales had been wallowing in a winter of woe, beaten in all three matches, the country close to a collective nervous breakdown.

The way the selectors saw it, there was only one way to avert the impending national crisis. They picked an 18-year-old centre straight out of Monmouth School and added fuel to the fire by playing him out of position at full-back. His name was Keith Jarrett.

Now in sport there are dream debuts and then there are those so far-fetched, so implausible that they would have been beyond even the ultimate spinner of fairytales, Hans Christian Andersen.

Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett switched to rugby league in 1969, joining Barrow

Twelve days before the England match, the selectors pleaded with Newport to pick Jarrett at full-back for their game against Newbridge.

The black-and-ambers did so most reluctantly but not for long. They aborted the experiment at half-time and returned the bungling teenager to his normal position in the centre.

David Watkins, then captain of Newport and Wales, had seen enough - Jarrett would never make a decent full-back. "Keith cost us the game," he said. "He had a nightmare.''

Imagine then how Watkins felt when he learnt that Wales had picked Jarrett at full-back against England. The selectors got it in the neck but the chairman, the late Cliff Jones, a wise old bird, knew a winner when he saw one.

Jones summoned Jarrett to Rodney Parade that week for a crash course in how to be a full-back. "Keith I could meet you every day for the next five years and I still wouldn't be able to teach you how to become a full-back," he said.

"So all I'm going to tell you to do against England is this. When they have the ball stand between 30 to 40 yards behind Dai Watkins. Stand that far back and you will be running onto the ball instead of turning and going backwards."

It was as if Mr Jones had seen the future. For on that heavenly Saturday afternoon, everything Jarrett touched turned to gold. When the England centre Colin McFadyean kicked deep, Jarrett caught the ball in full flight and ran 60 yards for his try of tries without an English hand touching him.

Wales won 34-21, then a record score against England, and Jarrett's personal tally amounted to 19, simply unheard of for a teenage novice.

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Of all the stories told of that day, the one I like best concerns a bus driver.

Late that night when Keith was perhaps a little the worse for wear and looking for a bus back home to Newport, a driver stopped, explained that the last one had gone and told the hero of the day: "I'm going back to the depot so get in and I'll ask the supervisor if it's ok to take you to Newport."

Permission duly given, the driver was puzzled when the supervisor who'd noticed Jarrett smoking a cigarette, pointed to a double decker in the depot and said "take that."

"Why would I need that," said the driver. "There are only the two of us."

"Because Mr Jarrett here might want to go upstairs and have a smoke….that's why!"

You couldn't make it up but then exactly the same could be said of that afternoon and the wondrous Keith Jarrett.