“I’m going home to Swansea town, the day is nearly dawning, I’m going home to that seaport sound, one lovely seatown morning”. John Davies.
There have been many great nights in Welsh sporting history. Somehow dark nights, combined with floodlights, add an extra dimension to the drama played out on our fields of dreams.
Take Lille, for example, in 2016 when Chris Coleman’s team beat Belguim 3-1 to reach the semi finals, yes the semi finals of the Euros, that was a night we will never forget.
Newbridge boxer Joe Calzaghe at the MEN Arena in Manchester 2006, defeating Jeff Lacey to become the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, or Colin Jackson’s finest hour in Stuttgart, 1993, when he won World Championship gold, and set a world record time for the 110 metres hurdles of 12.91 seconds.
Sunday October 15 1995 was another one of those magical nights that has gone down in Welsh sporting folklore, and it all happened in Dylan Thomas’ Swansea “An “ugly lovely town, crawling, sprawling by the side of a long and splendid curving shore”, or as described by character Terry Walsh in the 1997 cult Welsh film Twin Town, directed by Kevin Allen,“A pretty shitty city”.
Wales is a pretty tribal environment, and those folk who hail from Swansea are often referred to as “Jacks”.
There are several theories as to how this nickname arose, but the most commonly agreed version is the connection with a certain black retriever born in 1930 called Swansea Jack.
He lived in the North Dock area of Swansea, and would always respond to cries for help from the water.
His first rescue came in June 1931, when he saved a 12 year old boy, and a few weeks later, in front of a crowd of people, Jack rescued a swimmer from the docks. His photograph appeared in the local paper and the local council awarded him a silver collar.
Numerous awards followed including ‘Bravest Dog of the Year’ and the canine Victoria Cross. Legend has it that Jack saved 27 people in his lifetime. Sadly, in 1937, he died after eating rat poison.
His statue stands on the Promenade near St.Helen’s Rugby Ground. In 2000, Swansea Jack was named ‘Dog of the Century’ by NewFound Friends of Bristol who train domestic dogs in aquatic rescue techniques.
Swansea was made a city fairly late in life on 3 July 1969.
Prince Charles during a tour of Wales to celebrate his investiture year, made the announcement that the Swansea was to become a city.
It was the second Welsh town to be granted city status although it had to wait until 15 December before it formally received its letters patent from the Queen. On that day the Prince of Wales made a return journey to the new city to grant the charter to the people and the civil dignitaries of Swansea at the Brangwyn Hall.
Between 19 February and 21 February 1941 Swansea was reduced to rubble during what became known as the “Swansea Blitz”.
About 35,000 incendiaries and 800 high explosive bombs were dropped by the German Lufftwaffe during the raids and the raging fires could be seen from the other side of the Bristol Channel in Devon.
A total of 230 people were killed and 397 were injured. Swansea was selected by the Germans as a legitimate strategic target due to its importance as a port and the destruction of the docks and the nearby oil refinery was key to Nazi German war efforts as part of their strategic bombing campaign aimed at crippling coal export and demoralising civilians and emergency services.
Amazing Swansea Town’s football ground, the Vetch Field was undamaged by the blitz, there were rumours long circulated that the Vetch was used as a central point to which the authorities carried the bodies of those killed in the bombing, although this has never officially been confirmed.
The Vetch Field smelt of Welsh sport, it had an aroma that reeked of sweat, deep heat and down to earth toil and guts, it was South Wales working class chic in every crash barrier and urinal.
On Sunday 15 October 1995 it had this stuff oozing out of its pores.
Wales v Western Samoa was one of the most gladiatorial, bone jarring rugby occasions I have ever witnessed.
For the uninitiated The Vetch was the home of Swansea Football Club.
Opened in 1912, it hosted the Wales Rugby League team for the first time in 1981, when Wales defeated Papua New Guinea 46-0 in front of 11,422 spectators.
Wales scored 13 tries that day through Phil Ford (3), Jonathan Davies (2), Anthony Sullivan (2), Rob Ackerman, David Bishop, Kevin Ellis, Jonathan Griffiths and Adrian Hadley.
The Vetch also had an artistic side, hosting a Stevie Wonder concert in 1984, and in 1985 Carl Douglas performed his one hit wonder “Kung Fu Fighting”, a very suitable theme tune for the match against Western Samoa.
On this particular Sunday afternoon the pubs in the Sandfield area around the Vetch Field were awash with excitement.
Western Street had three pubs in the opening 100 metres of its parish.
The Clarence and The Garibaldi the traditional pre match watering holes were jam packed ahead of the 6pm kick off.
The Sandfield residents were stood on chairs and ladders, their properties offered a good view of the ground for those with a head for heights and a good sense of balance.
The manner in which Western Samoa had destroyed France in the opening pool game, gave Wales much cause for concern, their sheer physicality looked ominous.
Many hundreds were locked out of the ground, and kick off had to be delayed to allow the capacity 15,385 crowd to enter.
This was a match everyone had been looking forward since the draw was made. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind as to exactly what time of game this was going to be, and it didn’t disappoint.
Welsh language television channel, S4C, showed the game live, and attracted the stations largest ever audience figure.
Wales coach, Clive Griffiths, brought in an Irish sports psychologist, during the lead up to the game to provide motivational talks for the players, whatever he told them seemed to do the trick.
Scott Gibbs, who had played in Wales rugby union defeat to Western Samoa in the 1991 Rugby World Cup, pulled out with a knee injury an hour before kick off.
As a result John Devereux switched to the centre, with Adrian Hadley coming in on the wing
Scott Quinnell was also called up to make his international debut.
For Wales captain Jonathan Davies, the occasion was made extra special as his young son Scott was the Welsh mascot.
Oh those two little words, Western Samoa, for Welsh rugby fans they are the stuff of nightmares. In the Rugby Union World Cup of 1991, they came to Cardiff Arms Park and produced one of the greatest shocks ever recorded in the history of the game, when they beat Wales.
This team hoped that lightning wasn’t about to strike twice, although on this occasion the South Sea Islanders were no minnows, they had already captured the imagination, and they had Schuster and Tuigamala in the side, they really fancied their chances against Wales .
In the lead up to the game, Wales prop Dai Young spoke to the press.
“There is no doubt Western Samoa have some great individual players, what nobody knows is how well they will perform as a team, but with the obvious talent they have, it is safe to assime they will provide very tough opposition”.
The Wales Team To Face Western Samoa
1 Iestyn Harris (Warrington)
2 Anthony Sullivan (St Helens)
3 Allan Bateman (Warrington)
4 John Devereux (Widnes)
5 Adrian Hadley (Widnes)
6 Jonathan Davies (Warrington) (Captain)
7 Kevin Ellis (Warrington)
8 Kelvin Skerrett (Wigan)
9 Martin Hall (Wigan)
10 Dai Young (Salford)
11 Paul Moriarty (Widnes)
12 Scott Quinnell (Wigan)
13 Richie Eyres (Warrington)
14 Neil Cowie (Wigan)
15 Kieron Cunningham (St Helens)
16 Rowland Phillips (Workington)
17 Paul Atcheson (Oldham)
Western Samoa’s team came with a government health warning, with ex union converts John Schuster and Va’aiga Tuigamala,, in the back line, they were a very serious threat. Coach Graham Lowe was a wily customer who possessed one of the shrewdest brains in Rugby League, he had been at the helm with Brisbane Norths, the New Zealand international side as well as Wigan and the Queensland state of origin team.
He picked his strongest side to face Wales, perhaps the one surprise was Apollo Perelini on the bench.
Nine of their World Cup squad were former international union players.
When Wigan’s Tuigamala announced his intention to play rugby league for Western Samoa along with Schuster, Esene Faimalo, Tea and Iva Ropati, Apollo Perelini , Tony Tuimavave and Sam Panapa it gave a clear indication that the South Sea Islanders were not over here just to make up the numbers.
1 Paddy Tuimavave (North Harbour)
2 John Schuster (Halifax) (Captain)
3 Tea Ropati Auckland Warriors)
4 Va’aiga Tuigamala (Wigan)
5 Brian Laumatia (Cronulla)
6 Sam Panapa (Salford)
7 Willie Swann (Auckland Warriors)
8 Se’e Solomona (Auckland Warriors)
9 Willie Poching (Auckland Warriors)
10 Fa’ausu Afoa (Penrith)
11 Tony Tatpu (Auckland Warriors)
12 Via Mata’utia (St Helens)
13 Tony Tuimavave (North Harbour)
14 Mark Ella (Albi)
15 Apollo Perelini (St Helens)
16 Joe Vagana (Auckland Warriors)
17 Des Maea (Auckland Warriors_
With the delayed kick off Wales’ Mark Jones was butting walls and doors in the changing room things were reaching fever pitch, and as dusk fell the twinkling lights of Port Talbot illuminated the skyline a tribute from one steel producer to 30 players whose steel production was about to reach record levels, as they came out of the tunnel to a deafening roar, you had a feeling something very special was about to happen.
A passionate rendering of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau gave way to the Samoan war dance, the Siva Tau.
The Siva Tau declares that Samoa are ready for the war and fight fiercely, not that we needed reminding
John Devereux takes up the story. “We said we would respect the Siva Tau, and face it standing on the half way line with our arms linked”.
“I was in the middle of the line with hooker Martin Hall and when Samoa come to the end of the war dance, they start to walk towards you”.
“As they started walking towards us Martin started walking towards them, dragging me with him, we became an arrowhead with us two at the tip I ended up face to face with Inga Tuigamala”
Straight from the kick off the hits came in. Kelvin Skerrett set down a message very early on, when he took exception to a Samoan pat on the head following his knock on. Wales were awarded a penalty and it set the tone that Wales were not going to take a backward step.
Scott Quinnell was tackled inches short of the Samoan try line, Tea Ropati prevented Quinnell getting to his feet for a quick play the ball and received a yellow card for his troubles. Jonathan Davies put the resulting penalty kick wide of the posts.
The choral Welsh legions did not have to wait long for a slice of bread of heaven. With 7 minutes played, Brian Laumatia was bundled into touch on Samoa’s first tackle.
From the Welsh scrum put in Kevin Ellis sent out a glorious pass to Iestyn Harris who sidestepped majestically past Tony Tuimavave, to touch down under the sticks. Jonathan Davies converted to give Wales a 6-0 lead.
Wales were on fire, uncharacteristically, Davies missed a second penalty, and Quinnell was once again held up short of the try line.
On the 19 minute mark, and very much against the run of play, Sam Panapa gave a short pass to Bryan Laumatia who raced in for a Samoan try, Schuster’s conversion brought the scores level at 6-6.
Wales reaction was tremendous, three minutes later, following a Welsh scrum, Jiffy kicked down the right hand touchline for wing Anthony Sullivan to chase, “Sully” gathered outpaced Laumatia and raced over for a wonderful try, Jonathan Davies found his kicking boots to land the conversion and Wales in the blink of an eye were 12-6 ahead.
John Schuster clawed back two penalties for Western Samoa, and Davies added one for the home side to make the half time score Wales 14 Western Samoa 10.
Wales were even more magnificent in the second half, they took the constant cheap shots and kept their cool admirably in extenuating circumstances.
Western Samoa, on the other hand, became more and more undisciplined and the penalty count continued to rose.
Six minutes after the restart a superb Jonathan Davies drop goal extended Wales lead by a point.
The Welsh forwards were running themselves into the ground. Paul Moriarty who had been a constant target put in a huge shift and was replaced on 55 minutes by Rowland Phillips.
Kelvin Skerrett who was immense all game continued to inspire as he snarled in the faces of the opposition front row, and Scott Quinnell who hadn’t played for five weeks was a colossus, constantly driving forward, tiring out the South Sea Islanders defence.
Des Maea hit Allan Bateman with a high shot on 58 minutes, which earned him a yellow card from referee Russell Smith, it was Western Samoa’s second one of the night and proved costly as Jiffy landed the resulting penalty to extend Wales lead to 17-10.
Willie Poching had a try disallowed for Western Samoa after a blatent forward pass from Sam Panapa, before a Iestyn Harris drop goal in the 75th minute looked to have given Wales an unassailable 20-10 lead.
As the crowd sang Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, with the match in injury time, scrum half Kevin Ellis took a pass from Rowland Phillips, Ellis broke left to score in the corner. Davies conversion drifted wide as the hooter sounded, Wales were through to the Rugby League World Cup Semi Finals, they had beaten Western Samoa 22-10, and the Vetch Field went mental.
The Wales team were still on the pitch twenty minutes after the final whistle, such was the acclaim and clamour from the ecstatic crowd.
Red shirted heroes were on their knees, the battle had been brutal, a young fresh faced Iestyn Harris stared into the Swansea night looking almost mesmerised as he took in what had occurred.
” I have never experienced a more passionate occasion, the crowd must have been worth at least 10 points to us tonight. It’s going to take a remarkably good team to beat us in this World Cup”
Man of the match, Scott Quinnell had a grin as wide as the Severn, “It was one of those games where you just had to take the bull by the horns, it was one of the hardest games of rugby I’ve ever played in”.
Captain, Jonathan Davies told the assembled media, “There’s a word in Welsh called Hwyl, and it’s that spirit that keeps coming through with this squad”.
“Scott Quinnell had ice packs on almost every part of his body post match, the Swansea City apprentices who were looking after us coudn’t believe their eyes with all the blood and stiching going on”.
Adrian Hadley “It was great to back in Cardiff and all back together. The game against Western Samoa was probably the toughest game of rugby I’ve played in.
Clive Griffiths “They wanted to play a big power offloading game against us, but we met fire with fire”
The Final Group Three Table made very pleasurable reading for Wales and their ever growing legion of fans.
Even more exciting was the approaching semi final against the old enemy, England.
But perhaps the most amazing fact amidst all the celebration and anticipation was the realisation that everyone In Wales was talking Rugby League.
You could almost hear the wailing ghosts of past rugby union administrators turning in their graves.