December 17 down the years
South Africa close in on Grand Slam
A lineout during Ireland's win over South Africa © PA Photos
In the 17th match of their tour South Africa beat Ireland 8-3 thanks to an injury-time pushover try by Hugo van Zyl, converted by Dick Lockyear. Ireland had led 3-0 at half-time, only the second time on tour that the Springboks found themselves in arrears. "We thought we had snatched a draw until those final minutes," Irish skipper Ronnie Dawson said. "But we couldn't complain. After all, the Springboks did cross our line twice, and missed four penalties they should have kicked."
England fullback Grahame Parker was forced to withdraw from the second England trial after suffering injury in a car accident driving to the match at Bridgewater. The former England centre Ron Gerrard, from nearby Bath, deputised in the 'Probables' at the last minute.
Wayne Smith was appointed coach of the All Blacks to succeed John Hart who had quit after the World Cup. He only lasted until 2001 but after a spell with Northampton he was appointed as New Zealand's backs coach by Graham Henry in 2004 was still there when they won the 2011 World Cup.
The squeaky-clean Sue Barker found herself in trouble after a quip to Wales coach Mike Ruddock during the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year show. "Obviously you will be hoping to successfully defend the Six Nations Championship with your star player Gavin Henson - as long as you can keep him out of Church," she trilled. As in Charlotte, Henson's girlfriend. The tabloids had a field day. "For one of the more sensible sports presenters around, it beggars belief that she would think it an appropriate thing to say," concluded the Daily Express
Cardiff and Swansea were slapped with massive £150,000 fines by the WRU for taking part in Anglo-Welsh friendlies despite the board ordering them not to. Cardiff chief executive Gareth Davies said: "I am appalled at their actions. I believe the consequences are far reaching. We have no intention of paying the fine. It was the classic Kangaroo court and just showed how inept they are. The only questions they could ask were those legally prepared for them … this has dragged Welsh rugby down to its lowest point and shown that we have no future in Wales if we are to be treated like this."
A month after refereeing the World Cup semi-final between England and Scotland, Australian Kerry Fitzgerald collapsed and died after suffering a heart attack in his Brisbane office. He was 43.
Former Scotland wing Johnnie Wallace led his native Australia (represented by 15 New South Wales Waratahs) to a 10-8 defeat against the Scots at Murrayfield.
Teenager Lewis Jones, in his first appearance in a Welsh trial, was the stand-out player in the 'Probables'' 11-3 win against the 'Possibles' at Aberavon. In addition to his sure fullback play he kicked a penalty and converted a try for the winners.
Tony Miller became Australia's most-capped player, making his 37th Test appearance in the match against Scotland at Murrayfield. But it was no day to remember as Scotland won 11-5.
The North beat the Midlands 22-7 to become inaugural winners of the RFU's Divisional Championship, a competition introduced to provide England's selectors with a filter process for their final trial selections. London beat the South/South-West 22-15 in the third/fourth place play-off.
The creation of the Welsh regions moved closer with a meeting between clubs in Cardiff. Tony Brown (Newport), Bernard Jones (Pontypridd), Peter Thomas (Cardiff) and Leighton Samuel (Bridgend) were among those at the meeting while Swansea was represented by its chairman Roger Blyth. "We really had a lengthy and constructive debate regarding the future of Welsh rugby and we are very pleased with the progress we have made at this meeting," said Thomas. "We are all very mindful of our responsibility to Welsh rugby. We are now going to report back the detail of our discussions to the chief executives of our respective clubs."