The probable impossibility
May 28, 2014
John Taylor believes a white bandage helped selectors identify him during the trial match © Getty Images
Calling Friday's Welsh trial Probables v Possibles is a nice touch but the occasion will bear no other similarity to those gladiatorial encounters of yesteryear.
Each squad has had a week at the national training centre to prepare. Rob Howley will coach the Probables with Rob McBryde in charge of the Possibles while Warren Gatland sits back and takes an overview of everything. It will give a good insight as to how the understudies measure up (is there life after Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, for example?) but there will be no real surprises.
Nothing like the old days! Then the final trial was always held in mid-January before the start of the Five Nations Championship. It was really all about the Possibles - the one chance for those pushing for a Welsh jersey to pit themselves against the boys in possession.
The whole of Wales waited with baited breath for the teams to be announced. There were no preliminary training squads, no press conferences, not even a national coach until 1968, so nobody had a clue about the selectors' thinking until they emerged from their deliberations and the chairman made them public.
There were never any great surprises in the Probables - they were basically the team that had represented Wales the previous season - but the Possibles were another matter. The selection committee was chosen annually from WRU committee members - some had played at the top level but others were just good lobbyists. It was often very political with selectors fighting for greater representation from their region. Known collectively as the 'Big Five' they revelled in their power and they loved to spring a few surprises. I was one of them.
The 1966-67 season was my first at London Welsh and I was not even a regular in the first XV. When we embarked on our traditional Christmas tour I had played only a handful of games and was very much the third choice flanker but then lady luck intervened.
This was not the sort of festive jolly you may be imagining. The tour involved playing Neath on Christmas day, Llanelli on Boxing Day and Swansea the day after. We then had a couple of days break before playing Bridgend on the Saturday - a crazy schedule with probably only 25 players involved in all.
Tony Gray, who later won a couple of caps and became national coach, was our No. 1 open-side but he was injured against Neath which meant I had to play all the remaining games. First up was Llanelli in front of a full house at Stradey Park.
Within five minutes I was off the field having a bad head gash stitched but there were no replacements in those days so the 'trainer' wrapped a huge swathe of white elastoplast round my head and I returned to the fray. Nobody could miss me and I was just as conspicuous in the next two games as well.
The selectors, who had come to watch Tony, saw me instead and when the teams for the final trial were announced a week later I was named in the Possibles. Nobody was more amazed than me.
The Possibles were often deemed the 'Impossibles' because everything was stacked against them. Most of the Probables had played together against Australia in the autumn - we had never even had a run-out - but I had two things going for me. In their wisdom the selectors had decided that it was time to retire Hayden Morgan who had been a great flanker for Wales and the Lions over the previous decade so the Probables' open-side flanker Omri Jones was also uncapped.
Omri - a policeman with a fearsome reputation for law enforcement on and off the field - and known as 'Om The Bomb' - revelled in his reputation as one of the hardest men in Welsh rugby and most people thought he was a shoe-in as Hayden's replacement but they underestimated my second advantage - I was still wearing the white bandage.
They were peculiar games. The only thing the Possibles could offer was fire and brimstone so the trials were usually pretty fiery. Fortunately, I had John Hickey and Tony Pender, two excellent Cardiff back-row forwards with me. They were pretty physical and we really disrupted the Probables in the first half. I made a try and we went in to half-time in the lead - unheard of.
There was no leaving the field in those days and I was sucking on my orange when Omri and I were called aside and instructed to swap jerseys - he made it very clear what he was going to do to me in the second-half and that it would be him wearing the red jersey when Wales played Scotland a couple of weeks later.
The rest is history - the Probables got control in the second half and won the game. I had a hand in the winning try and I was selected. Poor old Omri never ever won the cap he had coveted for so long.
After that I was always in the Probables and life was much simpler but my thanks still go out to whoever kicked me in the head at Stradey Park on that Boxing Day …
Even the greats were not spared ...Wavell Wakefield takes a breather during the England trial in 1923 © Getty Images
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John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist