The Day The Pumas Terrified Wales Grand Slam Legends

The Wales Grand Slam winning side of 1976 was pretty special, it contained names that have gone down in rugby legend as some of the all time greats, they played with a verve and an insouciance the like of which we Welsh pine for in these modern professional times.

So when, on 16 October 1976, Argentina came to town to play a fully laden Wales team, the expectation was one of an inevitable comfortable victory for the star-studded men in red, how wrong could you be.

In the lead up to the international, Argentina had beaten an East Wales side 25-22 at Rodney Parade, and followed it up with a 29-26 win over Cardiff.

An 18-6 victory over Aberavon followed, but four days before the match against Wales, the Pumas were beaten 14-12, at Stradey Park, by a West Wales side that included, Elgan Rees, Clive Griffiths Andy Hill and Geoff Wheel.

A large crowd gathered at the National Stadium for a three o’clock kick off, and to witness a contest within a contest as two of the greatest fly halves ever to grace the game faced each other, Phil Bennett the magical diminutive pale-faced Welshman, and Hugo Porta the Argentinian with the swarthy elegant film star looks, and it turned out to be quite some battle.

The scores were level at half time 6-6, two penalties apiece.

Wales scored two second half tries through Gareth Edwards and Gerald Davies, but as the match progressed the home crowd were about to witness the unthinkable.

George Gauweloose side-stepped JPR Williams forty-five metres out and ran over for an Argentinian try started way back in their own twenty-two.

The sight of JPR being beaten once in a match was a rarity, so when Gonzalez Becca Varela also ran past the great man to score in the corner, after Roy Bergiers had lost the ball in the Pumas twenty-two, there was an air of disbelief in the Cardiff autumn air.

As the match entered injury time, Argentina were leading 19-17, with seconds left to play Wales were awarded a penalty, following a high tackle on JPR Williams, which Phil Bennett converted to give Wales a 20-19 win.

Gareth Edwards rates the Pumas fly half, Hugo Porta, as one of the true greats of the game.

“Hugo gave Terry Cobner, Trevor Evans and Mervyn Davies the runaround that afternoon, Merv named him as the best fly half he had ever played against.” 

The match is still hugely revered in Argentina, indeed in 2016 the governing body arranged a massive gala de rugby to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of this memorable game.

Harlequins Ladies 2018 What A Year

As the pigs in blankets made their way from freezer to oven, and you roasted your chestnuts on an open fire, there is little doubt that no one had earned the right to a few cosy fireside evenings with their feet up more than Harlequins Ladies.

As the final remnants of the turkey are gobbled up  we can reflect on the fact that Quins have delivered a few stuffings themselves, carving up defences and in the process scoring 77 tries in the opening thirteen rounds of the 2018/19 Tyrrells Premiership.

So as you tuck in to the Christmas chocolates you may discover a few soft centres, something you will never find at Quins, Jade Mullen, Rachael Burford and Emily Scott maybe silky smooth but they are tougher than the nut clusters and twice as effective.

Ellie Green has achieved more conversions than St Paul with 39 in a total points haul of 92, whilst Heather Cowell has touched down 15 times

The last match of 2018 at Surrey Sports Park saw Quins once again at their imperious best against bottom of the table Worcester Valkyries, and in the process they gained their tenth win in a row.

If the premiership title was awarded on attitude human decency and rugby values, Quins would hold the title already, the fact that they are a skilful intelligent entertaining team to watch makes them the complete package, it seems the only team that can beat Harlequins Ladies is Harlequins Ladies themselves.

As an old-timer what gives me most satisfaction is the fact that I have never seen, or heard, them resort to the sledging and underhanded tactics one or two of the top teams in the Tyrrells Premiership resort to, they would not stoop (if you’ll pardon the pun) so low.

Am I biased ? You bet I am, the dedication these young women have for the game is staggering, and the majority do not get a single penny for playing the game.

When your Saturday consists of a 5.30am start, five hours on a coach, a rugby match played in freezing rain and mud, followed by the news there is no hot water for a shower, a five hour coach journey home covered in mud feeling cold wet and shivering, you have a taste of how the elite women’s game can sometimes feel.

This was Quins experience a few weeks ago it was no surprise to turn up to training the following week to find the players scouring the anti doping website to find any remedies they are allowed to take.

Looking back on the whole of 2018 Quins Ladies played 22 Tyrrells Premiership matches between January 3rd and 22 December, winning 17, drawing 1 and losing 4, three of those defeats were by 4 points or less, a remarkable record.

2019 starts against old foes Saracens away on January 12 a team Quins faced three times in 2018 winning twice, but losing in the Premiership final 24-20.

The following week, on January 19th, Harlequins Ladies face neighbours Richmond in a rip-roaring derby at the magnificent Stoop, and players fans and everyone connected with the team cannot wait.

No one knows what 2019 has in store but whatever happens this group will give it everything, and when all is said and done trophies gather dust, but memories last forever.

Happy New Year everyone.

Christmas Howard Davies The Welsh Rugby Star 

Christmas Day 1916 was a fairly lively affair for a certain Mr and Mrs Davies from Llanelli.

Mrs Davies gave birth to a bouncing baby boy amidst all the tinsel and the stuffing.

In a moment of inspiration, or maybe sheer madness, they named their newborn Christmas Howard Davies, whether this was a blessing or a curse for the incumbent we will never know.

Had the baby been a girl, no doubt she would have been called Holly, Carol or even Ivy, much less traumatising one would imagine than being called Christmas.

In the record books Christmas Davies is forever refered to as Howard, and it is under the name of Howard that his distinguished rugby career is chronicled.

One of the few players to represent Wales either side of the Second World War, he began his rugby playing careers with Burry Port All Blacks, before crossing the Loughor bridge to play for Swansea, from where he won his first international cap against Scotland in 1939.

After a successful debut, Wales won 11-3, he was selected for the following match against Ireland in Belfast which proved to be Wales, and Ireland’s, final internationals before war broke out.

Wales first post war  championship international in the 1939 Five Nations tournament was against England in Cardiff in 1947, and Christmas Howard Morris, having moved west from Swansea to Llanelli, was at full back in a match which the home side fielded thirteen new caps, only Davies and Haydn Tanner had been capped previously.

Wales lost to England that day, 9-6, but they went on to defeat France, (3-0) Scotland (22-8) and Ireland (6-0) that season, with Christmas, or should I say Howard, featuring in every game, with Wales & England emerging as joint Five Nations champions,

Davies was a superb tackler and had a massive boot on him, his last ever game for Wales was in that 6-0 victory against Ireland in Swansea on 29 March 1947.

He continued his life in Burry Port, and earned his living as a steelworker.

Having been born on Christmas Day, it seems appropriate that Christmas Howard Davies left this world on another memorable date in the calendar, 5 November 1987.

 

 

Wales v England 1963 And The Big Freeze

The winter of 1963 will go down as one of the coldest and most disruptive, certainly in my lifetime.

In the final days of 1962 a blizzard swept across South Wales with snow drifting more than 20 feet, this was the start of one of the worst winters on record, and the fact that Wales  lost to England in Cardiff on January 19, just added to the misery already being endured meteorological.

Average maximum temperatures in January were 0 degrees and the snow and ice did not shift in many places until March.

Such was the severity of this dreadful winter, the sea actually froze in Whitstable, Kent.

Despite the weather the Five Nations tournament somehow struggled on in dreadful conditions

England had to train at Porthcawl beach as it was the only snow free area available

Fifteen tons of straw had been laid to protect the pitch for the showdown between Wales and England after Cardiff arms Park had been covered with nine inches of snow which had fallen in a single day.

Sport had been brought to a standstill all over the country but despite the bitter cold and risk of more snow, everyone involved was determined that the match should go ahead.

Tractor drivers, grounds staff and volunteers spent ten days, working from dawn until dusk, mostly shovelling snow and straw away by hand until the pitch was clear.

Work started and within a couple of days we knew how much snow we could clear. It turned out that the Wales v England game was the only sports event held in Britain that day. “The atmosphere among the clearers was fantastic. The president of the union would come down every day with bottles of whisky for the men because it was so cold, but everybody enjoyed themselves.”

After the big clear-up operation the pitch was covered with straw again to stop the grass freezing. groundstaff weren’t allowed back onto the pitch to clear the straw until two hours before the match.

Hundreds of volunteers covered the pitch with straw and braziers were lit

The Welsh captain that day was Clive Rowlands on his international debut, and he believes the match should never have been played

“It was awful underfoot, someone could have been seriously injured, it was so hard the players sounded like a herd  of cattle running at you”

“As it was my first cap I was, of course, happy to play”

The England wing Peter Jackson said ” A bright day was forecast and they assumed that a couple of hours sunshine would make all the difference”

“The biggest problem was the change in surface. One minute you would be running on a part of the pitch which had been under or near a brazier and the next you’d be in the rock hard stuff, players were slipping and sliding all over the place”.

Referee Kevin Kelleher wanted to call of the game just before kick off, but with 55,000 inside Cardiff Arms Park he was persuaded that it might be in his best interests to go ahead with the game.

The temperature at kick off time was -6 degrees, and both teams remained in the changing rooms during the playing of the anthems.

The game itself was won by England 13-6, Mike Phillips (no not that one !) and John Owen scored tries for England, whilst Richard Sharp kicked two conversions and a drop goal.

Wakes points came from a penalty by Graham Hodgson and a Dai Hayward try.

After the match the teams returned to the changing rooms to find the pipes had burst and they had to go to the local swimming pool to shower.

England would not beat Wales again in Cardiff until 1991.

Thinking Outside The Boks

Twelve months ago many people in Wales were in a state of despair, an opening autumn stuffing by Australia, and a notion felt by many that Wales, in rugby terms, were stagnant and going nowhere.

A last minute victory against Japan, and a win against one of the poorest Springbok sides of all time, did little to paper over the cracks.

What a difference a year makes, at the tail end of the 2018 6 Nations Wales beat Italy and France on consecutive weekends in Cardiff.

Summer arrived and South Africa were defeated in Washington, by a Wales squad en route to a two test victory over the Pumas in Argentina.

As Autumn arrived, Wales beat Scotland Australia and Tonga to extend their unbeaten run to eight games.

On Saturday the Springboks arrived for the final match of the Autumn series.

Wales had won five out their last six meetings with South Africa, the only blot on the copy book being the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter final, which Wales were leading 19-18 with 74:06 on the clock.

Now Welsh fans are not wholly comfortable with success, we find it in our melancholy way a pre curser to abject failure, we dare not celebrate it too vociferously for fear of tempting fate, in the same way as we dare not purchase sun cream on a hot summers day, as it will inevitable bring a deep depression sweeping in from the Atlantic the moment our bodies have absorbed that first smear of lotion.

But there is something different happening here, Wales strength in depth is surely the best it has ever been, and on Saturday they achieved an autumn clean sweep for the first time.

It is not that long ago that just a single injury to either Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn, Leigh Halfpenny or Rhys Webb would have the nation rubbing its collective hands in despair, with the almost inevitable certainty that any tournament success was dead and buried at that point.

But those days seem a distant memory, Wales have now learned how to close out matches against the big guns from down south, and such is the strength in depth it can be done in a variety of ways.

Wales win on Saturday was their fourth in a row against the Springboks, and the ninth consecutive victory overall, heady days indeed.

So after the most successful Autumn series on record we can look forward to the 2019 Six Nations, and dare I say it, even the Rugby World Cup with optimism.

Wales open the tournament in Paris, on Friday 1st February, and the poor Welsh fans who have justifiably complained about all the 8pm fixtures they have been dealt over the years, have at last been listened to, this one kicks off at 9pm.

The mem in red have eight further international matches before their opening Rugby World Cup match against Georgia on 23 September.

World Cup hopes have never looked better, but for now we can deservedly celebrate and bask in Wales Autumn successes, but like the sun cream application , dare we risk it ?

 Electric Quins Storm To Victory Over Lightning

The odds of being struck by lightning are one in 960,000, so pretty slim all things considered, whilst the odds of being struck twice by lightning are one in 9 million.

The old adage of Lightning never striking twice was put to the test at Surrey Sports Park today, and the theory was well and truly confirmed.

Loughborough lightning had already struck Harlequins Ladies earlier this season, when they beat them 41-17 in just the third match of the Tyrrells Premership.

However the team that visited Loughborough on September 22nd was a shadow of the current crop, and today it was Quins who provided a Storming start from which lightning never recovered.

Playing with a strong wind behind them Quins built up a first half lead of 19 points to nil.

After just 6 minutes Heather Cowell went over for a try brilliantly converted by Ellie Green, and just 7 minutes later scrum half Leanne Riley scored a try, once again superbly converted by the “Green Machine”

Quins third try came from Georgia Newman on 34 minutes, giving the home side a 19-0 lead which they took in to half time.

As the Dark clouds gathered overhead for a gusty second half, Harlequins, playing into the wind, continued where they left off before the interval, and a break from Leanne Riley, who played an absolute blinder, led to try on 50 minutes for Emily Scott, before the England scrum half broke from her own half and scored a wonderful individual try on 53 minutes.

Lighting pulled back a converted try on 57 minutes to bring the score to 31-7, but this was a temporary reprieve as ruthless Quins scored two further tries through Heather Cowell on 69 minutes, and replacement Chloe Edwards in the 78th minute. which Ellie Green converted.

Make no mistake, this was a comprehensive victory for Quins against one of the best teams in the league, Lightning barely had a sniff, such was Harlequins dominance and accuracy in all phases of the game.

The home team’ seven tries gave them their third bonus win in a row, and Heather Cowell’s brace makes her Quins top try scorer with ten from eleven matches.

Harlequins win moves them up to second in the table.

As the game ended the wind dropped, and the rain came, but the threat of lightning had been extinguished.

Scoring sequence 5-0, 7-0, 12-0, 14-0, 19-0 Half Time 24-0, 26-0, 31-0, 31-5, 31-7, 36-7, 41-7, 43-7.

 

Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery Of Wales v Australia

From Sydney to Swansea, or Canberra to Cardiff, Wales and Australia are not just at opposite ends of the planet geographically, they appear to be at opposite ends of so many things.

Australia wear gold shirts epitomising a bright warm climate, a young country full of hope, optimism and derring-do.

Wales inhabit the scarlet blood-red garb, a dark hue reflecting historic struggles and bloodshed, a country that has had to withstand invaders, battle for recognition from its near neighbour, and indeed the world at large.

Next Saturday in Cardiff Gold meets Red on the field of dreams.

Wales will be dreaming of a first victory over the Wallabies since 2008, having lost the last thirteen matches against them.

As history reminds us, Wales have gone oh so close, in 2012 Wales and Australia met three times, the Aussies won all three, two tests were lost by a two point margin, and one by a solitary point.

To make matters worse, Wales were leading in all three games until a Mike Harris penalty (8omins) a Kurtley Beale try (80+1 mins) and a Berrick Barnes penalty (75mins) decided the outcomes.

It remains to be seen whether Warren Gatland’s men can turn dreams into reality in a fixture that was once so rare, but had now become as regular an autumn event as Beaujolais nouveau day and Bonfire night.

The mystery of thirteen successive defeats against the green and gold, would baffle even the great Sherlock Holmes, but maybe the key lies with his arch-enemy.

When Wales defeated Australia at the Arms Park in 1981 (18-13) one of the try scorers was named Moriarty (Richard), incidentally Wales scrum half that day was Holmes (Terry).

At the 1987 Rugby World Cup, when Wales beat Australia 22-21 in the third place play off, one of the try scorers that day was also named Moriarty (Paul).

It must therefore seems elementary to suggest that all Wales have to do is pick yet another Moriarty (Ross), to face the Wallabies on Saturday.

If the case was that simple, but sadly Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will not be writing the script for this one.

As appears to be the case at virtually every Rugby World Cup, Wales are in the same Pool as Australia in  Japan 2019, there is no doubt a win for the men in the blood-red shirts would be a huge psychological boost.

As Sherlock Holmes once said “There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you “, after thirteen straight defeats Wales will be hoping that “A study in Scarlet” will prove to be the perfect bed time reading come Saturday night.