We could be heroes
September 30, 2009
The old scoreboard from Stradey Park - lasting memories of Llanelli's triumph over the All Blacks © Getty Images
Saracens have become the latest Guinness Premiership side to announce a fixture against the touring Springboks, joining Leicester and Gloucester, who face the Wallabies, in taking on one of world rugby's superpowers this autumn.
Saracens will make Wembley Stadium their temporary home away from home again while the Tigers face the Springboks at the recently re-vamped Welford Road. The Wallabies stop off at Kingsholm in another throwback to the blood and thunder tour matches that dotted the amateur landscape.
With pride and Test match places at stake, tour matches elongated and invigorated tours to the northern hemisphere and legends were made of local heroes in front of small, disbelieving crowds.
In our latest Scrum Seven, we take a look back at some of the greatest club v country showdowns.
Munster 12-0 New Zealand, Thomond Park, 1978
New Zealand have never lost to Ireland, the All Blacks winning 20 Tests since the 'Originals' triumphed at Lansdowne Road in 1905. Ireland's best result came in 1973, when Tom Kiernan led a side featuring Willie-John McBride, Mike Gibson and Fergus Slattery to a 10-10 draw in Dublin.
Every man in Limerick will attest to have attended the All Blacks' only loss on Irish soil, when Munster pulled out a 12-0 triumph at Thomond Park in 1978. Winger Christy Cantillon was the hero, scoring a try, while Tony Ward converted and added a pair of drop goals. Kiernan was the coach that day, tearing into his pre-match speech.
Shay Dennison rattled All Black wing Stu Wilson's bones with an crunching tackle early on, and the tone was set for a gritty, confrontational victory. The All Blacks won their next 13 games, including a Grand Slam of Test matches for the first time. "Munster played the type of game in Limerick we set out to play ... but played it better," said gracious skipper Graham Mourie.
The men in red also defeated the Wallabies in 1992 and in 2008 agonisingly lost 18-16 to the All Blacks at Thomond Park. On that occasion, Munster's Kiwi contingent, wing Doug Howlett, centres Lifieimi Mafi and Rua Tipoki and fly-half Jeremy Manning, performed a rousing Haka prior to the game, raising the decibel levels inside the newly-renovated ground.
Llanelli 9-3 New Zealand, Stradey Park, 1972
"The day the pubs ran dry." In 1971 Carwyn James had coached the British & Irish Lions to their first, and only, Test series win on New Zealand soil. The following year his Llanelli side lined up to face the All Blacks at Stradey Park, with few expecting the great man to pull off a remarkable double.
Roy Bergiers charged down All Black scrum-half Lindsey Colling's kick and dived on the loose ball to score the only try, with Andy Hill hammering over a long-range penalty. Phil Bennett was masterful at fly-half and lock Delme Thomas was carried from the field on the shoulders of the fans who proceeded, as chronicled by Welsh songwriter Max Boyce, to drink the pubs dry.
Years later as Stradey Park was condemned to history, scrum-half Ray 'Chico' Hopkins would reminisce of the superb Bennett: "That night I not only roomed with him, I cwtched up to him and kept him warm!"
London Counties 11-9 South Africa, Twickenham, 1951
The 1951-52 Springboks were the fourth to undertake a tour of the northern hemisphere, playing 31 games including Tests against all of the Five Nations competitors. Their sole blemish came at Twickenham, where a combined London Counties side pulled off a famous 11-9 victory. With English clubs rarely getting a shot at touring sides, combined teams provided the only opportunity for English giant-killings on many tours.
The Boks were coached by the legendary Danie Craven with Hennie Muller taking over the captaincy when Basil Kenyon was injured early in the tour. Lock JRC Matthews scored Counties' try, with Alan Grimsdell (whose father played soccer for Spurs in their 1921 FA Cup-winning side) converting and landing a penalty, and Nim Hall dropping a goal.
Swansea 11-3 New Zealand, St. Helen's, 1935
St. Helen's played host to one of the most famous upsets in history in 1935, when schoolboys Haydn Tanner and Willie Davies surprised the touring All Blacks. Sixth Formers from Gowerton Grammar School, scrum-half Tanner and fly-half Davies orchestrated a famous 11-3 triumph.
The result made Swansea the first non-international side to defeat the All Blacks and also the first to beat all three of the southern hemisphere's big-hitters. Victories came over Australia in 1908 and South Africa in 1912. Wales went on to defeat the All Blacks at the National Stadium the following December, with Tanner wearing No.9 for his international debut.
All Blacks skipper Jack Manchester famously said to reporters: "Tell them we have been beaten, but don't tell them it was by a pair of schoolboys."
Swansea 21-6 Australia, St. Helen's, 1992
Fifty-four years later, St. Helen's hosted Swansea's greatest post-war triumph. Just over 10,000 fans crammed in to the ground on a wretched afternoon to watch the All Whites take on the recently-crowned World Champions, with hooker Phil Kearns leading a Wallabies side featuring John Eales and Tim Horan.
Hooker Garin Jenkins barrelled over for their first try, but it was hometown hero Scott Gibbs who stole centre stage by rounding off a fearsome move combining forwards and backs for their second.
Stuart Davies and Robert Jones were involved as the home side piled towards the line, with Gibbs gleefully accepting the scoring pass and diving over. Wales lost the following Test match 23-6, with six Swansea players in their side. Following the regionalisation of rugby, the Ospreys defeated the Wallabies 24-16 at the Liberty Stadium in 2006.
Cardiff 8-3 New Zealand, Arms Park, 1953
Wales have endured a sorry run against the All Blacks in the last 50 years; failing to win a Test match against rugby's other heartland since Bleddyn Williams, Cliff Morgan, Sid Judd and Ken Jones conspired to see off the tourists 13-8 in 1953.
Weeks earlier, in the blue and black of Cardiff, Williams had tasted victory over the same opponents. Before the game he was frank about what his side had to do, telling them, "We have got to try things; if we fail, we fail, but we have got to be different".
Different they were as alongside his great friend and centre partner Dr. Jack Matthews he masterminded an 8-3 victory. Carried from the field, beaming with pride at his beloved club's achievement, he would not have believed that fully 56 years later he would remain the last Wales skipper to have defeated the All Blacks.
Northern Division 21-9 New Zealand, Otley, 1979
Bill Beaumont took charge of the Northern Division side as they took on the All Blacks in 1979, laying the foundations for England's surprise Grand Slam triumph in the 1980 Five Nations.
Beaumont led a side featuring Roger Uttley, Peter Dixon and Tony Neary in the back-row and Steve Smith and Alan Old at half-back. Lions legend Fran Cotton packed down in the front-row. Under leaden skies and buffeted by strong winds, Smith and Old both chipped in with tries and there was a brace for Tony Bond as Graham Mourie's tourists were sent packing.