Hawkes Bay is located on the east coast of New Zealand’s north island.
The hot summers and cool winters provide excellent weather for growing the grapes that provide the areas famous wines, particularly the highly regarded Cabernet Merlot blends.
It is also one of the most seismically active regions of New Zealand and has had around fifty notable earthquakes since the 1880’s.
However on Saturday July 17th, at McLean park, Napier, the earth moved for an entirely different reason when the British Lions came to town.
The epicentre of this phenomenon was a certain Welshman, Thomas Gerald Reames Davies.
This was the 19th match of the Lions tour they had already played two tests against the all Blacks with one victory and one defeat and were building up for the third test in which Gerald was to figure prominently.
Referees in those days were not neutral and one of the main remits of mid week teams was to beat the living daylights out of the touring team in preparation for their next match against the All Blacks, Hawkes Bay proved no exception in a thoroughly nasty match.
Amidst the darkness of brutality and violence there shone the golden bright light of sheer rugby beauty by the man from Llansaint.
Gerald scored three first half tries whilst on the right wing and one late in the second half whilst playing at centre, when Mike Gibson went off with an injured hamstring.
His first try came from a Hawkes Bay dropped goal attempt that bounced off the posts gathered by JPR, the ball went through six pairs of hands before Gerald Davies touched down.
The second try followed a chip through from Mike Gibson which Davies gathered before touching down to score.
Gareth Edwards long pass from a blind side ruck went to Davies who shimmied and sidestepped half of Napier before touching down with defenders spreadeagled all around him,his third try of the first half.
A fourth try came in the second half helping the Lions to a 25-6 win in a brutal encounter
Dai Smith’s words from “Fields of Praise” written in 1980 beautifully encapsulate Gerlad Davies, the rugby player, I find it hard to comprehend, that I last saw him play thirty nine years ago, where has the time gone ?
Gerald Davies was poised on the field, his element, until the moment to switch and dart like a fish came. He sidestepped at a speed whose rapidity still never made him lose control, to left or right, squeezing fearlessly through eye of the needle gaps that no defence could cover, for no one else could have gone through them.
When his markers knew his intentions they could not master the execution of his desire, when he was checked in that one to one confrontation which comes to wing three quarters more than other players he was supremely brave, moving in close and quickly before, ingenuously and bewilderingly , pausing, absolutely and fractionally, only to shoot away.
Like the flickering tongue of a fly eating lizard he was nakedly on show, and then retracted to his own satisfaction, all in an instant.
His thighs were strong, despite a frail upper body, so that he could, if held, breakthrough any half grasping hands whilst his own understanding of physical limitations, that would have made head on bone crushing tackles either foolishly inept or worse, counter-productive, never made him an easy man to elude.
The lurking feline presence of Gerald Davies could instil a wary trepidation that let others in through less guarded entrances.
Tonight I will raise a glass of Cabernet Merlot to the memory of that magical day back in 1971, a Hawkes bay vintage indeed.