Sportsnight #1: 1973, Rugby Union, Barbarians v All Blacks

by Charlie_East_West on March 27, 2013

Good evening and welcome to Sportsnight. Tonight’s action features rugby union. We are off to Cardiff Arms Park for a match between the Barbarians v the All Blacks, and it is an absolute belter.

The game took place on 27th January 1973. It is now 40 years since what is generally regarded as the greatest rugby match of all time, and the greatest try of all time, and featuring some of the greatest sideburns of all time. The whole game became a free flowing exhibition of attack minded rugby. It is sport at its absolute finest.

Rugby is a very different game today, and it is much the poorer for it. In the amateur era, we could relate to the game as there was a shape and size for every position – the small fat man who played prop; the giant beanpole lock; the feisty little scrum half; and the good looking glory-boy flyer on the wing.

The majority of players stayed with their local clubs, and had jobs in their local community. If say, a full back happened to have a nightmare game repeatedly dropping an up and under kick, the spectator could simply roll their eyes and justifiably say that they had better just “stick to the day job.”

After the game had finished, the players openly sought out their opposite number, drink themselves silly, sing a few rude songs, and make a friend for life. Rugby tours were made legendary not just from the passages of play on the pitch, but the playing off the pitch. “What goes on tour, stays on tour” became coded terminology for discrete indiscretions, and whilst the joyful silliness of it all still remains at grassroots level rugby today, it has all got a little bit too serious and focused at the professional level.

The game back in 1973 was more expansive, and attack minded players were given the opportunity to run amok through an unsuspecting defence. Today, in the professional era, we have a bunch of Orc-like machine men marauding around the pitch, heavily armoured, wearing skin tight lycra, and drilled to the point of sanitisation by the coaching staff. Risk adverse coaching ploys such as drift defensive tactics now dominate the game, and snuff out any room for a twinkle-toed winger – with the recent notable exception of Shane Williams.

The depressingly professional seriousness of it all is slowly filtering down to all levels of the game. I recently watched the local senior school go through their paces, and it was shocking to behold. Every single player was 15 stone, built like Mr Universe, and coached within an inch of their lives. There was hardly a smile in sight, and there was not a sound of laughter. It looked like the joy has been sucked out of the game.

Something has sadly been lost in all of this. Rugby was supposed to be an amateur game, with a joyful sporting ethos on the pitch, and then heavy socialising off the pitch. Sadly, the professional era has battered the life out of the game. It has become brutally physical, and many of the players will have disturbingly short careers and potentially grotesque physical symptoms in middle age as a result of a rugby battering in their twenties.

So, lets wistfully step back in time to 1973, and look at what is considered to be the golden age of rugby – featuring some of the finest hairy-arsed rugby players ever to walk the face of the planet. Revel in the intimidating presence of the All Blacks, the all round genius of Gareth Edwards, the cameraman-beating sidesteps and swerves of David Duckham, the willow-the-wisp artful guile of Mike Gibson, the all round socks-round-the-ankles hardness of JPR Williams, and of course the majestic, poetic commentary of Cliff Morgan:- “Kirkpatrick to Williams. This is great stuff! Phil Bennett covering chased by Alistair Scown. Brilliant, oh, that’s brilliant! John Williams, Bryan Williams. Pullin. John Dawes, great dummy. To David, Tom David, the half-way line! Brilliant by Quinnell! This is Gareth Edwards! A dramatic start! What a score!!…..Oh that fellow Edwards….If the greatest writer of the written word would’ve written that story no-one would have believed it. That really was something.”

That game, that try. Ah, those were the days…

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray_North March 27, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Sport as Art. Genius. Playing a game as it should be played.

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Charlie_East_West March 27, 2013 at 9:22 pm

I showed the youtube clip to my seven year old boy a few weeks ago – he said it was the best thing he had ever seen. Because of this game, he has instantly moved from football to rugby. He now wants to be David Duckham beating the cameraman.

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David Blythin March 27, 2013 at 11:47 pm

You’ve just made me shed a tear Charlie…thank you.

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George_East March 28, 2013 at 12:12 am

The haka is a bit Monty Python.

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Charlie_East_West March 28, 2013 at 12:17 am

The rugby is out of this world.

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George_East March 28, 2013 at 12:27 am

Couldn’t agree more with that. It is sublime. It just struck me in the clip you posted is all.

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Eddie Kaye March 28, 2013 at 9:24 am

‘Rugby is a very different game today, and it is much the poorer for it. In the amateur era, we could relate to the game as there was a shape and size for every position – the small fat man who played prop; the giant beanpole lock; the feisty little scrum half; and the good looking glory-boy flyer on the wing.’

I am glad you said ‘Rugby’ in the generic term. The thirteen man code has suffered a similar fall from grace. I despair at watching the Super League – 17 clones rotated running into each other like Robocop v The Terminator. I watched a DVD of my team Dewsbury from 1973 (featuring Sky TV’s own Mick Stephenson at Hooker, and Eddie Waring’s last commentary). The skill from the half backs was more evident than in a season of the modern game, and not one suspiciously pumped up winger in sight. Oh happy days, jumpers for goalposts.

League or Union, you will be hard pressed to find a better try than this one.

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Charlie_East_West March 28, 2013 at 9:29 am

Eddie – spot on. Both codes have been badly affected by new levels of professionalism, rule changes and the severe seriousness of it all.

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Bobby_West March 28, 2013 at 9:54 am

Just brilliant. Thanks for this Charlie.

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Charlie_East_West March 28, 2013 at 9:59 am

Bobby! How are you?

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Bobby_West March 28, 2013 at 10:39 am

Good thanks. Still reading ATL!

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George_East March 28, 2013 at 10:54 am

Reading? April is fast approaching. You going to be contributing again?

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