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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
The 1964 Fijians

As Wales prepare for their crunch 2007 World Cup clash with Fiji, many people west of the Severn still retain fond memories of the islanders' first European tour.

The 1964 Fijian tourists
The 1964 Fijians entertained on and off the pitch

The pioneering visitors played five thrilling matches in Wales, the first four against combined club sides before the finale, a non-cap game against a Wales XV at Cardiff Arms Park.

"No-one really knew what to expect from them," said ex-Wales and Newport dual-code legend Dai Watkins.

"It was a new beginning as far as rugby was concerned, the emergence of Fiji as a rugby nation.

"They were out to prove a point to the International Rugby Board, to show that they were capable of matching their skills and abilities against the home nations.

"They were all massive, they could motor, had huge body strength, and hands so big that they could hide the ball in them - people in Wales were amazed at their size and how they operated as a team."

At the end we all linked hands and sang 'Now is the Hour'

Ex-Wales captain Brian Price

Having proved hugely popular during the club games, Fiji prepared to face a strong Wales XV in front of 60,000 at the Arms Park.

"They drew enormous crowds as everybody took to them," said Wales' captain for the day, Brian Price. "In the clubhouses after games they would all get out the guitars and sing, they were such characters.

"It was the first time I led Wales and the occasion stands very high in my memory, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

"We had a terrific side out for the non-cap match. John Lloyd, Denzil Williams and Norman Gale were in the front row, with John Mantle and myself behind them.

Dewi Bebb scores a try against Fiji at the Arms Park
Wales took an early lead but struggled at the end

"There was a strong back-row - I remember Alun Pask scoring a fantastic try - and behind you had people like David [Watkins], it was a team packed with full internationals."

Wales built a commanding 28-9 lead at the break, but the islanders gave their hosts more than a scare in the second period.

"They were giving us the run-around, so much so that I risked being booed out of the ground by asking David to kick a penalty for goal before half-time - we were absolutely shattered!" said Price.


"We had dominated the line-out, though, and thought we'd continue to control possession and do what we wanted in the second half.

"But Fiji were great thinkers about the game. They saw what was happening at the line-out and decided to throw it over the top and race for it.

"They were quicker than us to the ball and that helped them come back seriously, we had to dig deep before winning 28-22.

"At the end we all linked hands and sang 'Now is the Hour'. The crowd all joined in - it was a terrific finale to a terrific match."

*David Watkins and Brian Price were speaking on the BBC's "Sport Wales" TV programme that has a regular slot on Thursday evenings

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