March 24 down the years
Wales humiliated in 'knockabout farce'
A programme for France v Wales in Paris, March 24, 1973
A programme for France v Wales in Paris in 1973, a game which ended Wales' championship hopes ©

Wales's 14-8 defeat by Ireland in a game devoid of penalty goals left them whitewashed for the first time in the Five Nations. A scrappy match, in which the only successful kick out of 14 attempts was Michael Kiernan's conversion for Ireland, was labelled a "knockabout farce" by the Observer. So bad was the performance that several papers wrote it was the worst Welsh side of all time, and after the match several dozen former players signed a letter to the WRU demanding action be taken. "What I was most disappointed by was the lack of pattern in the Welsh play," said JPR Williams. "To be good at international level you have to have players with the heart and mind to commit themselves, I'm not sure today's player is prepared to give that sort of commitment."

France were denied a first Cardiff Test win by a hugely controversial Derek Williams try ten minutes from time. The French, who deserved the victory, had ever right to complain about a "home" decision. There were three refereeing errors. As he tried to ground the ball Gordon Whitson appeared to clearly knock-on, allowing Jacky Bouquet, France's fly-half, to touch down first ("I touched it down with both hands") and then as the ball bobbled loose Williams did touch down successfully but by then the ball was over the dead-ball line. Referee Peter Cooper brusquely brushed aside complaints. "I saw no knock-on. I saw no touchdown by Bouquet, and Williams touched down six inches inside the dead-ball line." Even former Wales players disagreed with him but it did not matter. Garfield Owen converted and Wales won 5-3.

Wales ' championship hopes ended in Paris with a 12-3 defeat after which their coach, Clive Rowland, took the blame. The 56,000 crowd had little to enjoy in a turgid match where all the points came from kicks, the first time since 1967 there had been a Five Nations match without a try. France's tackling knocked the stuffing out the Welsh backs and Rowland said his side had become "too mechanical" and admitted they may have been overtrained.

The planned Ireland-England match in Dublin was postponed until the next season owing to a foot-and-mouth epidemic in the UK. "Knots of disaffected English supporters, here because they were unable to cajole refunds out of airlines or hotel chains, wandered around not knowing quite how to amuse themselves," wrote Paul Ackford in the Sunday Telegraph. "Shopping and golf had been ticked off the list. Some were bleary-eyed from the traditional over-indulgence but they lacked the proximity of the game to reach for the hair of the dog. It was very flat."

The last international was staged at Kennington Oval, the original venue for England's rugby, football and cricket internationals. On a Monday afternoon, England beat a below-strength Ireland side by three goals to nil in front of the 5000 spectators who braved bitterly cold temperatures.

The Easter Monday Five Nations match between Ireland and France in Cork kicked off in the morning to enable the crowd, players and officials to enjoy the afternoon at the local races. In spring sunshine, Ireland romped to a 24-0 victory in front of 10,000 spectators in a contest to decide the wooden spoon.

Wales ended France's three-year unbeaten Five Nations record, winning 3-0 thanks to a Kel Coslett penalty seven minutes into the game in Cardiff which was a display of attack and counterattack. "Their shove, their lineout work, their drive into the rucks … it was formidable," said Pierre Lacroix, France's captain.

Planned tours of Kenya by the Public School Wanderers and Hampstead were cancelled after comments from the Kenyan government that no player who had played against South Africa in the previous three years would be allowed. The clubs said that the ruling "was not in the best interests of rugby football".

French wing Michel Pomathios became the first foreign player to turn out for the Barbarians, but got few chances in the club's 13-3 defeat by Cardiff.

If you have to go … Air Commodore Alfred Warrington-Morris, the treasurer of the RAF RFU, spent his last day watching the RAF v Army match at Twickenham, had a couple of post-match pints and dropped dead as he left to go home.

In his Easter Monday address, the Reverend Henderson told his astonished Cardiff congregation that "a meeting of footballers had been held on Easter Sunday" and supporters of Luton Town, dressed in "gaudy garments … paraded round the city". He then went on to praise "those responsible for rugby football for displaying none of those traits".


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