‘THAT TRY’ refers to Gareth Edwards’s famous touchdown at Cardiff Arms Park for the Barbarians against the New Zealand All Blacks in January 1973, which has gone down in Welsh rugby history as the greatest try ever scored.
As part of their tour to North America and Europe in 1972–73, the New Zealand national rugby union team played the invitational Barbarians at the National Stadium in their last match in Great Britain. It is considered to be one of the best rugby union matches ever played, and featured what has been described as “the greatest try ever”, scored by Edwards in the first few minutes. The Barbarians won the game 23–11. It was the first time New Zealand lost to the Barbarians.
The Barbarians selected a strong team for the match; 12 of the starting line-up had been part of the British Lions’ touring party to New Zealand in 1971. In keeping with Barbarians tradition, English lock Bob Wilkinson and Welsh flanker Tommy David were uncapped for their countries, while Llanelli RFC’s Phil Bennett was the heir apparent to the now-retired Barry John at fly-half. David and wing John Bevan were late additions to the side; David was promoted from the replacements’ bench after Swansea RFC’s Mervyn Davies came down with the flu, resulting in Derek Quinnell being moved to No 8 to accommodate David at blindside flanker, while Bevan had been called up from a scheduled game for Cardiff RFC that day to replace the injured Gerald Davies, another 1971 British Lion. The strength of the Barbarians’ side led to the media billing the match as the fifth test of the 1971 Lions tour.
The Barbarians kicked off towards the River Taff end of the stadium, and the opening exchanges were dominated by back-and-forth kicks, with JPR 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; Phil Bennett recovered possession near his goal line, and with nearly the entire length of the field between him and the New Zealand goal line, he started upfield, sidestepping past three tackles, as encouraged by coach Carwyn James immediately before the game. Bennett passed to JPR Williams, who managed to offload the ball after Bryan Williams had tackled him around the neck.
Still deep in Barbarians territory, the ball then passed through four pairs of Barbarian hands (John Pullin, John Dawes, Tommy David and Derek Quinnell before Gareth Edwards, slipping between two team-mates and seemingly intercepting the last pass, finished with a diving try in the left-hand corner, giving the Barbarians a 4–0 lead inside four minutes, 22 seconds after Bennett picked up the ball.
Asked why that particular try had stood the test of time, scorer Edwards recalls: “Maybe it was the way the game was played, the improvisation, the beauty of the game that was shown in that 10, 15 seconds, was there and it’s there for posterity of how people could actually make the game beautiful, going from defence into attack, the improvisation of the passes, and, dare I say it, actually finally beating the All Blacks at the end of the day! What could be better than that?”
Legendary full-back JPR Williams, however, acknowledges that the sensational score would never even have been allowed under rule changes to the modern game. “Probably a bit of a physical problem with the high tackle!” he said. “I’ve met Bryan Williams a few times. He’s a lovely guy, but a bit shorter than me so, yes, nowadays I think the try wouldn’t have occurred because it was a high tackle. I think the referee would have blown up straight away and it would have been a yellow card!”
The match commentary provided by Cliff Morgan is itself a treasured memory, bringing tears to the eyes and sending shivers down the spine of adoring Welsh rugby followers.
Commentary for the match was originally supposed to have been provided by the great Bill McLaren; however, he was recovering from the flu, so Morgan was called in on the day to replace him. His spine-tingling commentary of the opening try is considered to be among the best ever:
“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! […] If the greatest writer of the written word would have written that story, no one would have believed it. That really was something.”
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! […] If the greatest writer of the written word would have written that story, no one would have believed it. That really was something.
CLIFF MORGAN, MATCH COMMENTATOR
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.
More recently, the 50th anniversary of ‘That Try’ was celebrated at ICC Celtic Manor Resort with a special lunch attended by players from the 1973 game and the unveiling of The Greatest Try painting by Welsh artist Elin Sian Blake, depicting Edwards diving over the try-line to score.
The artist quickly realised the significance of the picture after being commissioned to reproduce such an iconic moment in Welsh sport and, indeed, Welsh culture.
“If something isn’t quite right, people will notice. It wasn’t an option to get anything wrong,” she admitted. “We had to hit a really careful balance between being as accurate as possible and also allowing a little creative license.
“I painted the scene so that the viewer would almost feel as though they were there, with the ball leaping out of the canvas. All in all, painting The Greatest Try took over a year.”
A portion from the sale of limited-edition prints of The Greatest Try went to two charities, Working Options in Education and the Sir Gareth Edwards Cancer Charity.