x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

That was scrum try for Edwards

Whenever the Barbarians bring down the curtain on a visiting international team's tour of Europe, older spectators in the crowd inevitably refer to "That Try".

Gareth Edwards beside a picture of himself celebrating a try during the British Lions Tour of South Africa.
Gareth Edwards beside a picture of himself celebrating a try during the British Lions Tour of South Africa.

Whenever the Barbarians bring down the curtain on a visiting international team's tour of Europe, older spectators in the crowd inevitably refer to "That Try" which set up a magnificent victory over the All Blacks in 1973. The excerpt from the commentary by Cliff Morgan which ended "What a score!" is often repeated on nostalgic television programmes and, as was the case in Abu Dhabi last weekend, whenever Gareth Edwards gets up to address an appreciative audience.

Morgan, a legend in the Welsh valleys during his own illustrious international playing career, once famously described the brilliant scrum-half as "the greatest rugby player ever born in any position anywhere in the world". That quotation might have included a touch of bias towards a fellow countryman but few would argue about "That Try" which Edwards scored being labelled as "the best try scored by any player in any position anywhere in the world".

Edwards, now 61, is amazed that he is still asked to reflect on the magical moment in his own back yard of Cardiff Arms Park. "Every time I watch it it excites me," he said after speaking at a lunch in his capacity as an HSBC ambassador for the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa. "I still can't believe that it all came together. When you see how many times it could have gone wrong it captures the imagination."

Edwards has vivid recollections of an All Black kick bouncing dangerously in front of the Barbarians posts and then the remarkable sequence of events in the next few mesmerising seconds. "When I ran back to cover the kick, I thought thank goodness Phil [Bennett] is back there and he is going to put it into touch which is what it needed," he recalled. "Then I thought 'what's he doing now?'. Several of the other boys were thinking the same thing."

Bennett, one of the best of a string of brilliant Welsh fly-halves in that era, decided to run the ball from his own try line and side-stepped his way past three would-be tacklers to launch the most daring of counter-attacks. Almost all of his teammates got into the act in thrilling fashion before Edwards took the last of a series of audacious passes and sprinted for the corner, diving to glory just before the covering Grant Batty could get to him.

"As the move unfolded I thought that something might happen here," Edwards said. "All that was important initially was getting the ball out of our territory. I was concentrating like mad at being there when the ball was going to ground. If I am not there as a scrum-half, I am not doing my job. I shouted to Derek Quinnell in Welsh and he just rolled it off his arm straight into my hands. "I remember praying 'please don't let my hamstring go now' as I put my head down and raced for the corner. It was a wonderful team try which is what rugby it is all about.

"That Baa Baa team was the nucleus of the 1971 Lions team which played the type of rugby that people enjoyed watching. "We were all thrilled with the try and so were the crowd. I still remember the noise as I walked back towards the halfway line. It was amazing." Those who turn up at Wembley tonight hoping for something similar when the Barbarians take on Australia will surely be disappointed. Moments like that come along only once in a lifetime.

wjohnson@thenational.ae