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Opinion

The fascinating vision from Wales' last win over NZ, and the lessons to be learned 68 years later

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Expert
29th October, 2021
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There is a match at Principality Stadium this weekend. Wales will try to beat New Zealand.

Wales last beat the All Blacks almost 70 years ago. It happened on a sunny day in old Cardiff Arms Park in 1953.

Elizabeth II had just taken the throne and the crown and Winston Churchill was still Prime Minister.

You can watch highlights from British Pathé.

The crowd of over 55,000 is dressed up and overwhelmingly male.

Brian Fitzpatrick, father of Sean, was on debut at second five eighth: All Black number 525.

Bill McCaw was in the All Blacks’ back row. Richie is a distant relative. New Zealand rugby is like that: connected at all levels.

The Welsh players had arrived in Cardiff using all manner of public transportation less than three hours before kickoff.

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They met for lunch at a hotel near the park, then walked down Westgate Street in and among the crowds of fans entering the ground. No police escort from a five-star resort.

Their pre-Test practice consisted of a one hour run at a local club on the Friday before the match without coaches. A true captain’s run.

Generic vintage rugby league or rugby union ball

(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

There was little scouting in those days. New Zealand was rated the best in the world (the more things change), mostly because of their fit and mobile pack, which included heavyweight boxing champ Kevin Skinner, a beast of a man who weighed in at a mere 97 kilograms, and the hard fisherman Peter Jones, who went from 97 kilograms at the start of the tour to 120 kilograms by the end, but could still run 100 yards in ten seconds.

A tour in those days went on forever. The All Blacks had played eight matches in November, beating Cambridge but losing to Oxford, and losing to Cardiff club. Often the club matches were tougher than the Tests because internationals simply did not have time together.

Lanky lock Tiny White played in over 30 matches on the tour, and tended to rule the lineout with his (then) tall six-foot-two frame and long arms.

The numbers on the backs of the All Blacks are massive. The digit on Wellington-born number eight Bill Clark extended from his neck to his waist.

An early sequence saw the visitors offload eight times in one attack, albeit half of the passes spilled to the thick grass.

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Aforementioned loose forward Clark, who looked large at six foot one and 86 kilograms, put sideboot to ball after that raid in a cross kick Beauden Barrett might have done.

Beauden Barrett was left feeling sore and sorry against the All Blacks.

(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The scratchy video shows ineffectual defence by the All Blacks leading to a scrappy try by Welshman Sid Judd: similar to the Sbu Nkosi try given up by George Bridge this year. A try was worth only three points, so after conversion, the score was 5-0.

A difficult penalty for New Zealand made it 3-5, and then a kick-chase by Kiwi prop Ian Clarke ended in a Ron Jarden-converted try. The score was 8-5 New Zealand at the half.

An attack by Wales deep into the All Blacks’ half led to a chip shot penalty by Wales, for a ruck foul.

The levelling score was at best 15 feet high off the toe of the boot.

A Welsh prop is seen being escorted off the pitch with a dislocated shoulder, yet he comes back on a few minutes later; the spiritual ancestor of Alun Wyn Jones.

Alun Wyn Jones of the British & Irish Lions

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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At 8-8, Clem Thomas, a Welsh loosie, scooped up the ball from a soccer-style scramble, and was caught along the left touchline by the All Blacks, but stepped back and as an apparent afterthought, launched a diagonal kick to the right, which bounced kindly to Ken Jones.

Jones sidestepped the cover defence, and cut in near the posts, setting the crowd alight with joy.

The Times reported it thus:

“The crowd, one cannot help thinking, would have been content with a draw, but not so the Welsh team. From now on they out-rushed their opponents even if they got the ball.

“It was the smothering of Elsom which offered R. C. C. Thomas his great chance. Gathering the ball on the left touchline, he had a quick look about him and saw that across the field spread a wide open space occupied by Ken Jones.

“Thomas placed his long kick across field well and it bounced nicely for Jones, whose speed and swerve easily beat his only opponent, Scott. Rowlands made no mistake with the kick and, for the last five remaining minutes, New Zealand were too shocked by the two blows which had suddenly befallen them to strike back in force.”

It was 13-8 and that was the final scoreline.

Even the three-minute summary was dour: the handling was abysmal in the highlights!

Brian Fitzpatrick refused ever to set foot in Wales again after that day, even to watch his son play.

The All Blacks played 22 more matches after the Cardiff defeats, beating the rest of the Home Nations, losing to France, and having fun in Canada.

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A million or more Welshmen claimed to have been there at the grounds when Wales beat New Zealand.

All Blacks logo

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Thomas, the accidental or perhaps brilliantly intentional cross-kick hero, had actually been involved in a fatal car accident the day before. The Welsh selectors held a meeting at noon on the day of the Test to reach a decision on whether to let Thomas play.

Some alleged the Welsh touch judge, Ivor Jones, a former Llanelli, Wales and Lions back row forward, shouted to Thomas to cross-kick, but on balance, it seems it was simply instinct.

Wayne Pivac would love his team to show that same instinct, and he would love to hold the All Blacks to eight points.

But he is missing his Lions Dan Biggar, Taulupe Faletau, and Louis Rees-Zammit, along with a few useful back-ups. The reason for their absence is a club versus country squabble in which clubs are winning, as seems to be the case for the Wallabies as well.

The Springboks were missing their best back and their best forward, along with their first-choice scrumhalf and tighthead prop, when they took on (and beat) the All Blacks recently.

So, a home team like Wales should stop talking about the ghost of Biggar and instead channel the ghost of a Swansea number eight named Thomas, who kicked to a Newport winger named Jones.

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