The greatest try of them all
January 27, 1973
Gareth Edwards wings the ball out against the All Blacks
© Getty Images
"If the greatest writer of the written word would have written that story, no-one would have believed it!" was Cliff Morgan's silky summing up of what is often described as the greatest try of them all. That was only four minutes into a game that thrilled spectators to the end and maintains its lustre almost 40 years on. Gareth Edwards' famous try ignited a fabled occasion and the All Blacks ended their seventh tour of the British Isles with defeat in Cardiff, just as the Original All Blacks had in 1905.
The Barbarians may be an invitation club playing, in the eyes of some, meaningless exhibition matches, but with a team including 12 of the victorious 1971 Lions pitched against a full strength All Blacks side hell-bent on re-affirming their domination of world rugby, this game created anticipation and excitement as much as any from the amateur days.
Phil Bennett joined the pride of Lions and the Barbarians maintained their tradition of picking one uncapped player, Bob Wilkinson of Cambridge University. Another uncapped player, Llanelli flanker Tom David, replaced flu-ridden Mervyn Davies on the morning of the match.
For the first time on the tour, the All Blacks performed their haka before the match, though film footage suggests that some of them were unfamiliar with the words and movements. It was a tame offering by modern standards. Nevertheless, the crowd were stirred up and so too were the players on both sides.
Eighty minutes of breathless, captivating rugby followed. The Times correspondent Peter West wrote, "I never hope to see a better first half, nor a better first try, nor more thrilling running than that of [David] Duckham, who repeatedly cut the opposition to ribbons with a devastating combination of pace, strength and sidestep." For Duckham, the England wing, this was a rare chance to show his talent and pace. England wings in the 1970s were starved of ball to the point that they could almost have sat in the stands.
Few who saw it will ever forget the opening try or Cliff Morgan's BBC commentary: "Kirkpatrick to Williams. This is great stuff. Phil Bennett covering, chased by Alistair Scown. Brilliant, oh that's brilliant. John Williams, Bryan Williams. Pullin, John Dawes, great dummy. David, Tom David. The halfway line, brilliant by Quinnell. This is Gareth Edwards, a dramatic start. What a score!"
Bennett's fielding of a kick deep in the Barbarians' 25 was followed by a turn, a jink and a couple of audacious sidesteps, for it was not just Alistair Scown, but Kirkpatrick, Ian Hurst and Peter Whiting who were about to flatten him. He outwitted them all and passed left to John Williams (later known as 'JPR' when his namesake 'JJ' emerged and clearer definition was required). New Zealand wing Bryan Williams' mention is a reminder of his head-high tackle on JPR, which would have stopped the game in modern times, but JPR got the ball away to hooker John Pullin who swiftly passed to Dawes.
Dawes made 20 yards and shaped to pass to John Bevan on his left, but didn't. Instead he fed inside to Tom David, who quickly sent a terrible pass a yard in front of Derek Quinnell's ankles. Quinnell scooped it up brilliantly in his left hand, transferred to his right hand and flung left to Edwards who scorched 35 yards up the left touchline to score in the corner. "I have never run so fast on a rugby pitch," Edwards later recalled. "I had been tracking back and then suddenly play came sweeping past me so I had to start sprinting flat-out just to offer some support. I was absolutely at full pelt when I called to Derek. 4-0, a rugby legend created.
With the crowd at fever-pitch and the referee liberally allowing advantage to be played, both teams produced rich entertainment rarely seen in more recent times. There were handling errors and scrappy moments, but generally skill levels were high and the pace of the game never dropped off.
Wave after wave of threatening moves came; Duckham, Mike Gibson, Dawes and Bevan providing the fancy stuff while Fergus Slattery, David and Quinnell shone in the loose among the forwards. Slattery scored the second try after Edwards spoiled an All Black heel at the scrum, and Bevan the third try when Quinnell had pounced on a loose ball from Sid Going. Bennett having kicked a penalty and converted Slattery's try, Barbarians led 17-0 at half-time.
Joe Karam's penalty for a crooked feed at the scrum by Edwards got New Zealand on the scoreboard. Grant Batty, on New Zealand's left wing was sprightly throughout, sometimes a little too prickly with opponents, but scored two fabulous tries in the second half, taking his tour tally to 17.
The Barbarians' last try came from another searing midfield burst by Duckham. The ball went through six pairs of hands before Williams plunged over, to an ecstatic reception. The referee allowed ample injury time, as if he wanted to see more. When finally he ended the game, the crowd ran on and carried Edwards from the field on their shoulders.
The Barbarians had won a famous victory but this game was a triumph for both teams and a great day for the game of rugby union. Ernie Todd, New Zealand's manager paid tribute, "The Barbarians took the prime fleece and we ended up with the crutchings. We salute them for their champagne football."
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