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The day the All Blacks blew Stradey away

by Gareth Roberts
BBC Sport Wales online

info@huwevansagency.co.uk
Wayne Shelford, one of rugby's greatest captains

It was a day on which the emergency services were snowed under with calls from flooded residents, newly-roofless house-owners . . . and a reporter who was locked into Stradey Park, or so he thought.

It was also the day on which the New Zealand All Blacks provided all the proof they ever needed to lay claim to being the most ruthless rugby nation on the planet, led as they were by arguably the greatest captain to have graced the game in Wayne Shelford.

I'm not talking about any of the days on which the All Blacks posted their latest record victory against Wales. This particular win was of rather more modest proportions, an 11-0 triumph against Llanelli at Stradey Park on 28 October 1989.

But boy was it special. There was one major reason for that and it blew up the Loughor Estuary, rendered roads impassable and made life a misery for anyone daring to venture outdoors: a howling, unforgiving gale.

Not that it stopped the crowds thronging to Stradey Park, where a temporary stand was declared unsafe in such conditions, forcing those who had bought tickets to cram on to the terraces in a manner that would have the health and safety experts looking on in horror.



Get a ticket and get into the ground - you can help with the post-match quotes



My then boss
There again, I shouldn't even have been there, having been re-directed by my then boss from a postponed game at Swansea to Stradey Park with the instructions: "Get a ticket and get into the ground - you can help with the post-match quotes."

So there I was, blasted by the gale in the car park begging all who passed for a spare ticket. The man who took pity on me was another Gareth Roberts, the former Llanelli, Swansea and Wales flanker.

Even at that stage, the game looked as if it was in doubt. The conditions were so bad Llanelli, who had dismissed a proposal for Sunday rugby on religious-observance grounds, offered to postpone kick-off for 24 hours.

New Zealand declined. At least that was their answer. But the message was thus: "We don't care how bad the conditions are. We fear nothing. Let's get it on."

And so they did. Late arrival or not, I couldn't have wished for a better seat, plonked as I was among the Scarlets' players wives and families.

For them the emotions of viewing what unfolded must have been laced with feelings of pride, fear and passion.

For me it became purely about admiring in awe the display the All Blacks produced that day.

Everyone in the ground that day believed the 11-0 lead New Zealand built by half-time would not be enough as they turned around to face the gale.

Grant Fox
Grant Fox's pinpoint tactical kicking kept the All Blacks ahead
But that smug belief was soon wiped from the minds of each and every Scarlets fan by one, simple Grant Fox act.

The fly-half's first drop-out did not tumble backwards out of the sky as Llanelli's had in the first-half. Instead Fox dropped kicked the restart along the floor, taking the vagaries of the gale out of the equations.

If the first-half had been an arm-wrestle, the second was a full-on sumo bout as two sets of forwards set about each other with a relish rarely seen before or since.

No-one could fault the Scarlets' efforts. The likes of Phil May and his pack were truly heroic that day.

But they were up against the most ruthless team to have toured Wales, led by the awesome Shelford.

New Zealand held firm to their lead, denied Llanelli a single point and left the scene of that particular battle as true giants of the sporting world.

606: DEBATE
Huw Llywelyn Davies
They were even good enough to spare this reporter a few of those quotes my boss had demanded. But as the man filing his copy by telephone, the nature of my task meant I was the last in the ground.

When time came to leave, the doors were all locked - and the gale continued to do its worst, making for an eerie scene all round.

A 999 call met sympathy. "Are you in any immediate danger?" No. "Can you hang on a few hours - we're inundated with calls?" Ok, then, though I might freeze to death if I have to sleep here.

"Just don't try to climb out over a fence, is that ok?" As if I had any choice. Fortunately the winds that trapped me also blew open a gate towards the town end and I made my escape, all of two-and-a-half-hours after the last soul had left the premises.

However, there was still a sting in the tale: I'd left my car lights on and the jump leads were a phone-call and RAC journey away.

But despite the cold, hunger and tiredness that had begun to grip me, there was an inner warmth from the knowledge I'd seen the most awe-inspiring display of my life.

There have been countless more spectacular games of rugby, but few as memorable as that All Blacks display at Stradey Park.

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see also
Stradey Park - the bare facts
20 Oct 08 |  Scarlets
Thomas' Stradey heartbreak
20 Oct 08 |  Scarlets
BBC Sport Wales coverage
23 Mar 08 |  Wales
Magners Celtic League
11 Apr 07 |  Rugby Union
Heineken Cup
11 Apr 07 |  Rugby Union
Anglo-Welsh Cup
11 Apr 07 |  Rugby Union


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