|Event||1972–73 New Zealand rugby union tour|
|Date||27 January 1973|
|Venue||National Stadium, Cardiff|
|Referee||Georges Domercq (France)|
Barbarians v New Zealand was a 1973 rugby union match between the Barbarians and New Zealand. It was played as part of the 1972–73 New Zealand tour of Britain, Ireland, France and North America. The game is considered to be one of the best rugby union matches ever played; it featured what has been described as "the greatest try ever", scored by Gareth Edwards. The Barbarians won the game 23–11. It was also the first time New Zealand lost to the Barbarians.
The Barbarians kicked off towards the River Taff end, and the opening exchanges were dominated by back and forth kicks, with J.P.R. Williams and Mike Gibson giving the Barbarians good field position inside the New Zealand half. After the Barbarians failed to recover possession at their own ensuing lineout, New Zealand winger Bryan Williams kicked deep into Barbarian territory, with Phil Bennett recovering possession and starting the move that would later become known as "The Greatest Try Ever Scored", eventually scored by Gareth Edwards in the left corner. Phil Bennett's conversion attempt fell short, giving the Barbarians an early 4-0 lead inside four minutes.
However, after such a promising start, the Barbarians then spent much of the ensuing 20 minutes defending. The All-Blacks came storming back into the game and created several scoring changes over the next 10 minutes. After winning a turnover inside the Barbarians 22 following an errant pass from Barbarian prop-forward Ray McLoughlin, fly-half Bob Burgess narrowly missed a drop-goal attempt. A few minutes later, only great covering defence from J.P.R. Williams stopped an almost certain try after Bruce Robertson had put a grubber-kick through for his winger Grant Batty to chase. New Zealand scrum-half Sid Going was then penalised for a not-straight put-in to a scrum 5 yards out from the Barbarians' line, killing the good momentum their forwards had built up in the preceding passages of play.
The Barbarians then enjoyed their own stretch of attacking chances, with Mike Gibson pouncing on a New Zealand knock-on in midfield to set up a counter-attack that was only thwarted by a timely interception by Bruce Robertson. A few minutes later, Gareth Edwards scythed through the All-Black line after a tap-penalty, giving the Barbarians an excellent attacking platform a few yards from the New Zealand line, only for hooker John Pullin to be penalised for having his foot up early in the scrum. David Duckham then almost got around New Zealand's defence on the right wing with his first touch of the ball all match, but Bob Burgess produced an excellent covering tackle to cut out the danger. Commentator Cliff Morgan commented here that the action was "unceasing" - barely 15 minutes had been played.
Momentum then swung back New Zealand's way and they pinned the Barbarians deep inside their half. Barbarian debutant Tom David stopping a promising attacking move, taking an excellent catch near his own line after Bryan Williams's up-and-under, before J.P.R. Williams made a potentially try-saving tackle on Grant Batty who had brilliantly recovered another Bruce Robertson grubber-kick. A desperate clearing kick from [[Phil Bennett] and Derek Quinnell winning two New Zealand lineouts in two minutes ensured that their 4-point cushion was maintained, before David Duckham, starting inside his own 25-yard line, evaded three All-Black defenders with successive side-steps to release Tom David, Fergus Slattery and Willie-John McBride in succession, until New Zealand flaker Alistair Scown thwarted a certain try for John Bevan with a last-ditch tackle. Within minutes of this, however, the All-Blacks were once again back on the offensive, with Grant Batty evading Mike Gibson and J.P.R. Williams on the left-wing, but his chip-and-chase was thwarted by Phil Bennett covering across to clear the danger.
A few minutes later, Bennett would covert a penalty for the Barbarians after Alex Wyllie had been penalised for side-entry at a ruck, giving the Barbarians a 7-0 lead with about 9 minutes of the first-half remaining, and it was during these 9 minutes that the Barbarians took control of the game. After a clearing kick by Sid Going, David Duckham produced the second of his two first-half swashbuckling runs, this time beating five All-Black defenders - including a dummy on Ian Hurst that even fooled the cameraman - setting up a superb move that ended with flanker Fergus Slattery throwing an outrageous one-handed, over-the-head American Football style pass to John Dawes who scored a try in the corner, only for Slattery's pass to be adjudged as having gone forward. However, from the ensuing scrum five yards from the New Zealand line, pressure from Gareth Edwards forced Sid Going to fumble the ball, which allowed Slattery to scoop up the loose ball and go over for the Barbarians' second try of the half; Bennett's conversion made the score 13-0. In the final minute of the first half, a poor pass from Sid Going to Bob Burgess led to the All-Black fly-half throwing an interception to Derek Quinnell. The ball was spread wide to John Bevan, who managed to shrug off tackles from Bryan Williams, Ian Hurst and Joe Karam to score a try in the left corner. Bennett's missed conversion from the touchline gave the Barbarians a 17-0 advantage at half-time.
Refusing to go down without a fight, the All-Blacks started the second half strongly, with Hamish Macdonald brilliantly claiming Joe Karam's kickoff, and Bob Burgess launching a nasty up-and-under that J.P.R. Williams failed to claim on his own line, but New Zealand captain Ian Kirkpatrick couldn't gather the rebound cleanly and knocked-on over the line. A few plays later, Fergus Slattery was penalised for offside at a maul, but Joe Karam missed the difficult penalty attempt from the right hand side of the pitch. Peter Whiting then also knocked on after a promising attacking move set up by a burst upfield from Kirkpatrick, but Gareth Edwards was penalised for a not-straight put-in at the ensuing scrum, giving Joe Karam a much easier attempt at goal, which he made to cut the deficit to 17-3. J.P.R. Williams then once again displayed his defensive prowess by stopping Bryan Williams in a one-on-one situation that would have otherwise resulted in a certain try for the All-Blacks, but the Barbarians were powerless to stop Bryan Williams breaking through the line a few moments later and feeding winger Grant Batty for New Zealand's first try of the match. Joe Karam missed the conversion, but the All-Blacks were nonetheless very much back in contention, trailing 17-7 with barely 8 minutes of the second-half gone.
A missed penalty goal attempt by Phil Bennett aside, New Zealand controlled much of the possession and territory for the next 15 minutes or so, but the Barbarian's stout defence and a few handling errors meant that the All-Blacks couldn't capitalise. Half-way through the second half, Sid Going finally succumbed to an ankle injury he had been nursing for most of the half and was replaced by Lin Colling. More good defence from the Barbarians led to Phil Bennett attempting a long-range penalty from just inside his own half that only just missed to the left of the posts. A flurry of kicking exchanges eventually led to Grant Batty taking issue to a late tackle on him by Tom David that was not penalised by referee Georges Domercq, and the two players engaged in a tussle on the touch-line; Batty's involvement and behaviour, though understandable, resulted in him being booed by the partisan crowd every time he touched the ball for the rest of the match. Indeed, these boos intensified a few minutes later when Batty was penalised for shoving David Duckham after the whistle had gone.
However, these two incidents seemed to reignite the game. A somewhat speculative cross-field kick by Ian Hurst was picked up by Grant Batty, who then not only evaded the tackle of John Dawes but also brilliantly chipped ahead over the head of J.P.R. Williams which he recovered to score his second try of the match; even though the crowd noise was filled with boos for Batty, they nonetheless acknowledged the skill with an appreciative round of applause. Joe Karam however, once again, could not add the conversion, but New Zealand had successfully cut the deficit to just 6 points, now trailing 17-11 with just over 10 minutes to go.
However, the Barbarians then produced one of the highlights of the game to seal victory; commentator Bill McLaren would later describe it in his 1991 documentary "Bill's Best Bits" as being on par with "The Greatest Try Ever Scored", and a passage of play that made you 'gasp in wonder'. Beginning from a lineout just outside New Zealand's 25, the ball was kept in play for over 90 seconds (a very rare feat for rugby matches of that era) and all 15 Barbarian players touched the ball at least one in the passage of play. Featuring a remarkable reverse pass by Gareth Edwards, two sniping runs a-piece by David Duckham and Mike Gibson, a try-saving tackle by Joe Karam and interception by substitute scrum-half Lin Colling, Fergus Slattery's accurate pass put J.P.R. Williams in space who then side-stepped Joe Karam to score in the corner. Phil Bennett brilliantly slotted the conversion from the right touchline, receiving a cheer almost as load as the one that greeted the try, to give the Barbarians a virtually unassailable lead of 23-11 with only a few minutes to go.
However, the All-Blacks came roaring back with an attack of their own, with Ian Hurst putting Bruce Robertson through. Robertson tried to emulate Batty's chip over the head of J.P.R. Williams, but Williams read Robertson's idea and charged the kick down, likely saving yet another try in the process. Although the All-Blacks continued to pressure for the remaining minutes and during injury-time, all their forays into the Barbarians 25 were snuffed out by more good Barbarians defence. The Barbarians too managed to launch a couple of their own attacks, with John Bevan twice running out of defence brilliantly, the second of which ended when he chose to grubber-kick ahead, not noticing that J.P.R. Williams was free on his left shoulder who would have certainly scored were he to have passed. Grant Batty would also conjure one last attacking chance for his side, escaping down the left flank, but his inside pass was dropped by Bruce Robertson. One final attacking move for the Barbarians was brought to an end after Mike Gibson lost his footing after a cut back inside and knocked on, after which the final whistle sounded, and the resultant cheers from the crowd was instantly followed by a mass pitch invasion from all sides. Barbarians captain John Dawes was lifted onto the shoulders of the crowd, as was scrum-half Gareth Edwards in recognition of his remarkable try scored in the opening minutes of the match.
In a remarkable piece of commentary, Cliff Morgan said at the final whistle:
And there we are. This has been a great occasion. Let me not say a word now, as we listen to this crowd and we watch some of the greatest players of the decade; indeed, of all time.
After the players had started making their way down the tunnel, he would add:
And what this crowd has seen today has been not strictly a treat of running rugby; it's also been thoughtful rugby. It's been the type of play that John Dawes, Carwyn James and company played against [the All-Blacks] when the last Lions played there. It's been a pleasure to watch, and those of us who have seen it here, and those millions all over the world who have been with us, have really been very privileged people indeed.
In the second minute of the game New Zealand winger Bryan Williams kicked the ball over the head of Phil Bennett, who ran back to pick it up near his goal line. With nearly the entire length of the field between him and the New Zealand goal line, Bennett started upfield by sidestepping and evading three tackles, in turn passing the ball to J. P. R. Williams, who managed to offload the ball after Bryan Williams had tackled him around the neck. Still deep in the Barbarians' end of the field, the ball then passed through four pairs of Barbarian hands (Pullin, Dawes, David and Quinnell) heading upfield before Edwards, slipping between two team-mates and seemingly intercepting the last pass, finished with a diving try in the left-hand corner, 22 seconds after Bennett picked up the ball.
Barbarians coach Carwyn James is credited with man management to stimulate Bennett to make sidestepping runs that day.
The commentary itself is sometimes described as the greatest ever, although it very nearly didn't happen because until just 2 hours before the match Bill McLaren was due to commentate; but he was recovering from 'flu so Cliff Morgan was called in at the last minute. Morgan commentated the try:
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. To David, Tom David, the half-way line! Brilliant by Quinnell! This is Gareth Edwards! A dramatic start! What a score! Oh, that fellow Edwards!
A moment later, at the restart, he added,
If the greatest writer of the written word would have written that story, no one would have believed it. That really was something.
Often known simply as "that try", the try is frequently mentioned as the greatest ever scored or one of the greatest. In a UK poll conducted by Channel 4 in 2002, Edwards's try was voted number 20 in the list of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments. The 40th anniversary of the try sparked renewed interest.
The game is one I will never forget and those of us who played in it will never be allowed to forget. It is a match that will live with me forever. People tend only to remember the first four minutes of the game because of the try, but what they forgot is the great deal of good rugby played afterwards, much of which came from the All Blacks. After the success of the 1971 Lions tour, which captured the imagination of the whole country, it was an opportunity to bring a lot of that side together again.
|27 January 1973|
|Edwards (4 – 1t) |
Slattery (4 – 1t)
Bevan (4 – 1t)
Williams (4 – 1t)
Bennett (7 – 2c, 1pg)
|Report||(8 – 2t) Batty |
(3 – 1pg) Karam
|National Stadium, Cardiff|
Referee: G. Domercq (FFR)