'The most controversial rugby match ever'
December 16, 1905
The Wales team line-up before their match against the New Zealanders
© PA Photos
Debate still rages about what the World Rugby Museum calls 'The most controversial rugby match ever', which Wales won by one try to nothing back in 1905. Many acknowledge that Wales were the better team on the day, but a disallowed New Zealand try that would have drawn the match continues to stir emotions on both sides.
The 1905-06 New Zealand tour of The British Isles was already into its fifth month, the tourists had won all 27 matches played and the term 'All Blacks' had been coined. With Scotland, Ireland and England already beaten by both Wales and New Zealand during 1905, this was the first unofficial world championship.
A huge crowd descended on Cardiff Arms Park, 47,000 filling the ground beyond its official capacity, with many more locked out over an hour before kick-off. After the All Black haka, Welsh wing Teddy Morgan led his team and the crowd singing Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (Land of Our Fathers), the first occasion a national anthem was sung before a sporting fixture.
The Times had predicted 'inevitable defeat for Wales' citing captain Gwyn Nicholls' loss of pace and a general inferiority among the forwards. Wales, however, had studied their opponents scrummaging technique and found a way to neutralise it by having three men in the front row to New Zealand's two. Scottish referee John Dallas repeatedly penalised the visitors until they decided to stop contesting the scrums, giving Wales possession every time. Outside the set-piece, however, the game was dominated by the forwards' battle and the fine kicking of Welsh full-back Bert Winfield.
Teddy Morgan scored the only try before half-time when a rare passing move ended with a 25 yard run in to the corner.
New Zealand's half-backs struggled throughout, fly-half Simon Mynott dropping so many passes that scrum-half Frederick Roberts took to running the ball himself after the break. With such a limited game, New Zealand did well to prevent Wales scoring again, several try scoring opportunities and drop-goal attempts failing.
The key moment came when New Zealand thought they scored, but the referee denied them, awarding a scrum to Wales five yards from the line. Bob Deans had been tackled on the try line after taking a pass from Bill Wallace, who had broken through the Welsh defence. Deans' telegram to The Daily Mail the following day stated, "Grounded ball six inches over line, some of Welsh players admit try, Hunter and Glasgow can confirm was pulled back before referee arrived".
Teddy Morgan scored Wales' famous try against the Kiwis © PA Photos
Opinion remains divided on the Deans 'try' to this day. Years after the event, Teddy Morgan agreed that the try was scored, also claiming to have brought Deans down although other reports state that Rhys Gabe made the final tackle. Gabe recalled the incident 58 years later, "I knew it was touch and go whether I had managed to tackle him before he reached the line then, as I lay there gripping him firmly, I felt Deans trying to struggle away from me. Instinctively I clutched tighter. Then I realised why he wanted to wriggle on. He had not reached the line. He was just inches short. I pulled back with all my strength and then the whistle went."
New Zealand memories reveal a different picture, tour manager G.H.Dixon writing in his account of the tour, "Deans dived over and grounded the ball well over the chalk mark. He was at once dragged back. That this was an absolutely fair try there is overwhelming evidence, and it is most unfortunate that the referee should not have been on the spot to see what actually occurred."
Bill Wallace's memoirs give a detailed account of the incident, but attribute the final tackle to Morgan. He insisted the try was scored and claimed some of the Welsh players "quite openly stated that the result was wrong and that Deans scored a try that should at least have made the scores level."
The only aspect on which there is consensus is the late arrival on the scene of referee John Dewar Dallas. He, however, wrote after the game that he saw the incident quite clearly and that Deans was brought down six to 12 inches short of the goal line.
Further opportunities for the All Blacks to score were thwarted by stout Welsh defence and a forward pass. What seems certain is that New Zealand were below their best at the end of the tour and Wales earned their victory regardless of whether the Deans 'try' was good.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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