Monday, April 01, 2019

trying times

I'm not sure how I ended up watching this hour-long compilation of Welsh tries - possibly residual enthusiasm after our glorious completion of the 2019 Grand Slam a few weeks ago, possibly just some lazy clicking on stuff in the YouTube sidebar, or just letting the auto-play sequencer have its way.

Anyway, it's a compilation presented (with, frankly, far too much inconsequential chit-chat for my liking) by a pair of wily little Welsh scrum-halves of differing vintage, Clive Rowlands and Robert Jones (also, as it happens, father-in-law and son-in-law). Rowlands is more famous as a coach and manager of Wales and the British Lions, but as a player captained Wales to a share of the Five Nations Championship in 1964 and an outright championship win and a Triple Crown in 1965. His most famous feat as a player may well have been in 1963, though, in this game against Scotland at Murrayfield. The general tone of the newsreel voice-over is all Topping Rugger Well Done Everyone Jolly Bad Luck Scotland which conceals the interesting tactical choices made by Rowlands, principally involving hoofing the ball into touch whenever he got his hands on it. There were apparently 111 lineouts (yes, yes, all right, lines-out, if you prefer) in the match, a figure you can instantly compare with, say, the recent Wales-Ireland match in Cardiff and discover that there were 29, and with Wales' previous match in Cardiff, against England, which featured only 17. Legend has it that this was one of the catalysts for the eventual worldwide adoption of the "Australian dispensation" which outlawed direct kicking to touch outside of your own 22. 

Jones was more my era, and a fine player too, though in a different mould from the rugged Welsh scrum-halves of my formative years like Gareth Edwards and Terry Holmes. Probably much to his chagrin Jones may end up being best remembered for his terrier-like scrapping with Nick Farr-Jones on the Lions' victorious tour to Australia in 1989. 

Anyway, the video is divided up, in a slightly contrived manner, into categories starting with tries by position: wingers, centres, half-backs (Gareth Edwards gets a whole section to himself here), forwards, and then there are sections on crucial match-winning tries, spectacular long-distance ones, and then at the end a top ten run-down featuring most of the usual suspects, and no surprises with the top two: Gareth Edwards against Scotland in 1972 and Phil Bennett, also against Scotland in 1977. "That try" by Edwards for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 1973 was presumably ruled out of the running for not being scored in a Welsh jersey.

Anyway, the thing that caught my eye among the "match-winning" section was this try by Mike Hall against England in 1989, which turned a 9-6 deficit into a 12-9 lead which Wales retained until the final whistle to record the last of their 13 successive wins in Cardiff. It's the first time I've seen it since watching the match (as reminisced about here) live in a hall of residence TV room at Bristol University, and no amount of Google or YouTube searching will return the clip; you have to stumble across it as I did.

I'd forgotten some of the details beyond the basics of the hack-ahead and diving touchdown; one delicious detail that I had forgotten was that the two England players who principally conspired to let Wales in for the try were Rory Underwood and Jonathan Webb, the very same two players who were culpable for Ieuan Evans' try in Wales 10-9 victory at the same venue in 1993. 

As I mentioned and this article says, there has always been some doubt about the legitimacy of the grounding of the ball for Hall's try. The low quality of the video footage and the fact the the posts obscure some of the action make it difficult to reach a firm conclusion 30 years later, but to be honest it doesn't look as dicey as I remember it. It's interesting to reflect, though, on how one might retrospectively disallow some of the legendary tries of rugby history given the high-definition super-slo-mo multi-angle replays we've got access to these days. In addition to Hall's try there are probably a whole host of kick-and-chase touchdowns where the grounding might look a bit dubious on close scrutiny. A couple of obvious other examples: both the Barbarians try (Quinnell to Edwards right at the end of the move) and the 1977 Bennett try (Bennett to Burcher somewhere in the middle) feature passes which harsh critics might rule out for being forward. Elsewhere there are probably lots of undetected knock-ons, obstructions, feet in touch and clatterings into the corner flag to mar your retrospective enjoyment of great moments in rugby history.

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