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Sunday, 15 September, 2002, 07:03 GMT 08:03 UK
King of Stradey Park
A great day: Thomas a carried off Stradey Park
A great day: Thomas is carried off Stradey Park

In the second instalment of our feature on Delme Thomas, the Llanelli hero discusses victory over the All Blacks in 1972 and admits his current heartbreak at the state of the game in Wales.


It is one of the greatest pictures in the history of the game.

In the middle of wild celebrations a player is lifted high on the shoulders of ecstatic fans, arms held aloft in absolute triumph.

The man is Delme Thomas and the occasion remains ingrained in Welsh sporting history as the day Llanelli brought the world's greatest rugby team to its knees.

The match ended 9-3 to the Scarlets, with the only try coming in the third minute, courtesy of Roy Bergiers on an unforgettable Stradey afternoon.


Of all the honours I'd won in my career I was willing to give them all away for that one game
For Thomas, three-times Lions tourist, the match represented the pinnacle of his career. His pre-match team talk has been described as one of the greatest in the history of the game.

Filled with passion, Thomas talked to each player in turn, and history will forever record that fly-half Phil Bennett walked onto the pitch in tears.

"We had a great side," Thomas told BBC Sport Online. "Think of the names; Derek Quinnell, Bennett, Barry Llewellyn, Gareth Jenkins, Ray Gravell, JJ Williams.

"I remember telling them before we went out on the field that of all the honours I'd won in my career, I was willing to give them all away for that one game."

Thomas, captain for the season, masterminded the win in conjunction with one of the most respected coaches of all time, Carwyn James.

"People had so much respect for Carwyn as a coach," he said. "He was definitely 20 years ahead of his time.

"But it's always special to play for your club especially against an international side.

"And down in Stradey that day I've never experienced anything like it in my life.

"I've played in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, but the atmosphere that day was incredibly special and I think that helped the players a hell of a lot."

Thomas says professionalism has ruined Welsh rugby
Thomas (centre) says professionalism has ruined Welsh rugby
The 1972 New Zealand side were widely expected to prove too much for the fleet-footed Scarlets.

But when an early Bennett penalty attempt hit the post, Lindsay Colling's clearance was charged down, allowing Bergiers to dive over.

Bennett converted to make the score 6-0 and 26,000 Stradey fans erupted.

Joe Karam missed two kicks for the All Blacks before collecting his side's only points to make it 6-3 at the break.

But the Scarlets held on in a bruising forward battle to allow Andy Hill to grab a long-range penalty eight minutes from time.

"The boys played exceptionally well and we were slightly lucky that we caught them in the first game in Wales which was the right time. They didn't know what to expect," Thomas said.


Being carried off Stradey Park after the game was one of the greatest moments in my life
"It was a wonderful, wonderful day. Being carried off Stradey Park after the game was one of the greatest moments in my life.

"I'd played 15 seasons in Llanelli but to have beaten the All Blacks meant everything - because to me they are the rugby nation of the world, particularly in those days."

Thomas tells the story with a passion that remains undiminished to this day, but his tone changes when he is asked of the mistakes Welsh rugby has made since those heady days.

"It breaks my heart when I think the game has gone professional and the players are playing for the wrong reason," he said.

"There's no loyalty attached to the game especially in Wales at all. It's all money.

"It's ruined the game there's no doubt. Even watching is different. It's no pleasure watching the game today it's far too defensive."

But watch Thomas does, even though he admits it is sometimes difficult to bear.

"I'm very disappointed with firstly the standard of Welsh rugby when I see them being beaten like they have been," he said.

"So many players are in the comfort zone of taking the money and run."

Of all the mistakes Welsh rugby has made, Thomas suggests that one of the greatest was made prior to that historic day in Llanelli.

"It was a massive error not to allow Carwyn to take control of the Welsh set-up after the 1971 Lions tour," he argues.


Every other nation respected Carwyn so much and yet his own shut the door in his face
"He was so far ahead of everyone else. I remember when I started playing, he was wearing a gumshield even then. And only boxers wore those.

"He wanted to be in charge of the Welsh team on his own more or less.

"He'd proved his methods were working. But they didn't accept that in Wales. In Llanelli yes - but not the Welsh Rugby Union.

"I often think of Carwyn when I watch the game today and watch the depths Welsh rugby has fallen into.

"And I think of all the good work he did 30 years ago. We've got coaches on the scene now that wouldn't be fit to wipe his boots.

"And yet when he tried to get on the national scene he was turned away. Every other nation respected him so much and yet his own shut the door in his face."

It is an issue that will forever haunt the man from Bancyfelin who, 30 years ago, arms aloft, was crowned king of Llanelli as he raised his fists to the sky.


Rugby heroes
See also:

11 Sep 02 | Celtic
Links to more Rugby Union stories are at the foot of the page.


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