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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 16:34 GMT
The try of the century
Gareth Edwards in action for Wales during the 1970s
Edwards (centre) shone in a golden era for the game

In part two of our weekly Legends series, Gareth Edwards recalls scoring rugby's most famous try.


Even 30 years on, the exuberant words of commentator Cliff Morgan bring a warm glow to rugby fans everywhere: "This is Gareth Edwards ! A dramatic start...what a score!"

Cardiff Arms Park, 27 January, 1973 - the Barbarians v New Zealand.

The oval ball equivalent of England's World Cup win, and "They think it's all over..."

The participants in that famous try scored by Welsh legend Edwards will be reunited in January for a gala dinner to celebrate that momentous occasion.

Every pass, every feint, every side-step, will no doubt be recalled in ever greater detail, with members of both sides drowning in the waves of nostalgia.

Gareth Edwards in action for the Barbarians
The Barbarians strive to maintain a tradiition of running rugby

But the build-up to arguably rugby's most memorable moment was not one of excited anticipation. The overriding feeling, certainly in the Baa-Baas camp, was rather fear and trepidation.

"We went on the field determined to try to win the game but petrified that we might get run over by an All Blacks side that had been on tour for three months," Edwards recalled.

Two years earlier, Edwards and company were part of the first British Lions side to win a Test series in New Zealand.

With minimal television coverage though, the Barbarians game presented a British public with their first real chance to see the heroes of that historic achievement in harness.

It was, at least in their eyes, another Test match between Britain's finest and the All Blacks. So why the concern?

"Anyone who has been on a Lions tour knows that when you come back to this country, the Lions is over," said Edwards.

"You retain the special spirit created on tour, but you haven't been together for a long time."


That try settled the whole occasion, and gave it a sense of occasion
Gareth Edwards

The Baa-Baas tradition of limited preparation and the selection of one uncapped player - in this case 21-year-old Cambridge University lock Bob Wilkinson - also worried those charged with repeating their feats of 1971.

"We thought, 'God alive, are we going to get run over and smashed out of sight here?'" admitted Edwards. "There was great pressure to perform.

"Carwyn James (the victorious Lions coach of 1971) only had two days with us, and our preparation was absolute rubbish."

The early frenetic minutes of the match bore out Edwards' fears. He remembers them for "a lot of poor play and aimless kicking".

But then his Welsh half-back partner Phil Bennett fielded a New Zealand kick metres from his own try-line.

"When Phil went for the ball, I was thinking 'Thank God, he's going to put it into touch', because I needed a breather, and so did the rest of the team," recalled Edwards.

Gareth Edwards in action for the British Lions
Edwards had won in New Zealand with the Lions in 1971

"But when he started running back towards me, I thought 'What the hell's he doing now?"

What followed has become the stuff of legend, Morgan's memorable commentary preserving the moment in rugby folklore.

"Brilliant, oh that's brilliant!" he enthuses as Bennett sidesteps his way past three bamboozled All Blacks.

The ball is transferred to JPR Williams, then to hooker John Pullin and on to John Dawes, by-passing a retreating Edwards.

Dawes' dash up the left touchline gives the move momentum, before a burst from flanker Tom David and a charge from Derek Quinnell makes the score possible.

"When I started chasing, I wasn't thinking 'There's a try on here'" said Edwards. "My first thought was I better get there as scrum-half in case the ball goes to ground.

"But the nearer I got to the action and saw things unfolding, I thought 'Hello, hang on a minute.'"

Spontaneous

Quinnell's pass towards wing John Bevan never reached its intended target.

Edwards - at top speed and with perfect timing - surged onto the ball and set off on an exhilarating run that took him outside the remaining cover to score in the left corner.

"That try settled the whole occasion, and gave it a sense of occasion," added Edwards. "We never thought about it beforehand, or even dreamt about it. It was all spontaneous.

"But it has stood the test of time and the fact that people still get a thrill from it and cheer when it is shown shows you the impact it had."


Rugby heroes
Links to more Celtic stories are at the foot of the page.


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