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Cliff Morgan

Cliff Morgan chips ahead of the New Zealand defence

‘I WAS THERE’: The day Wales humbled the mighty All Blacks

Wayne Pivac’s Welsh team have a bumper autumn series to look forward to with games against New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Fiji. It couldn’t be tougher, but neither could it be any better for the Six Nations champions.

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The All Blacks will be playing their first game against Wales in the Welsh capital since 2017 and will be seeking to extend a winning run over their great northern hemisphere rivals that dates back to 1953.

The Springboks first came to Wales 115 years ago and were the first team to play at what was then the Millennium Stadium in 1999. The Fijians played a Wales XV for the first time in Cardiff in 1964 in an extraordinary game that featured 13 tries.

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The Wallabies have been frequent visitors to the Welsh capital in recent years and won the World Cup for the second time in their history in Cardiff in 1999. Their first visit to Wales was way back in 1908

So when was the first time you saw any of the four southern hemisphere sides play against Wales? We thought we’d ask for some personal memories on great games between Wales and their autumn rivals and see what people can remember.

We’ll have first-hand experiences, memories from golden greats and journalists giving the inside story on some of the big battles they went to.

It will all be part of the ‘I Was There’ series we will be bringing to you in the build-up to the autumn matches, which starts on 30 October with the All Blacks.

If you would like to get involved then use the social media channels using the hashtag #iwasthere. Why not show us the ticket or programme from your first game against any of the big four?

Did you get an autograph from one of the stars of the day? If so, send us the picture.

Welsh rugby internationals are not just great sporting events, they are massive cultural and social occasions. What are your best memories you have of coming to Cardiff to see the All Blacks, Springboks, Wallabies and flying Fijians?

I was there

WALES 13 – 8 NEW ZEALAND 8
Cardiff Arms Park, 19 December, 1953

By Howard Evans

It is odd that I can remember Wales playing against Australia in 1947, South Africa in 1951 and New Zealand in 1953 as if the games were yesterday. Ask me how Wayne Pivac’s side fared against those three teams the last time they played them and I wouldn’t have a clue. The tricks the mind plays on you as you get older!

When the All Blacks came to Cardiff in 1953, Wales were leading 2-1 in the series between the two nations. The triumph 68 years ago made it 3-1 to the team in red, but we haven’t won since.

Those were the days when I used to sit with my uncle Wick, the Cardiff and Wales wing of 1920, Wickham Powell, in the South Stand. I was 12 years and 6 months old when the game was played and it was my second glimpse of the tourists having been at their 8-3 defeat to Cardiff earlier in the tour.

Right up to the last minute the Wales back row was in doubt. Clem Thomas had been involved in a fatal car accident driving back to Wales from his job in Coventry, while Glyn ‘Shorty’ Davies dropped out on the day to allow Sid Judd to come into the team. Sid had been in Roberts House at Cardiff High School, which was my school house. He had played in the Roberts House team that had captured the school shield for the first time and I went on to play in the side that won it the second time.

In the morning of their game against Cardiff I remember the acting captain, Lew Haig, manager Norman Millard and assistant Mr Marslin, coming to Cardiff High School to talk to us. Our head boy was Meirion Roberts, later to be capped against South Africa in 1960. They gave us an insight into the New Zealand rugby philosophy and how they were enjoying the tour.

On the day of the international, New Zealand performed the haka and were loudly cheered. It wasn’t as energetic or choreographed as it is these days, but it was still a great sight.

Wales played towards the Westgate Street end of the old Arms Park and Judd scored in almost the same position as he had for Cardiff. His clubmate Gwyn Rowlands, playing on the left wing, converted.

I was a little bit undecided as to who I wanted to win. I really enjoyed seeing prop Kevin Skinner mark the kick-offs, Bill Clark wearing a white scrum-cap and the young hooker Ron Hemi. He was from the same province as Warren Gatland, Waikato.

They were all going well, but the captain at full back Bob Scott really wasn’t the man he had been when touring with the Kiwis eight years earlier. Clark scored a try and left wing Ron Jarden added a conversion and penalty to make it 8-5 to the tourists at half-time.

New Zealand started the second half very strongly and the Welsh cause was given a further dent when Gareth Griffiths left the field with a dislocated shoulder. There were no replacements allowed in those days, so Wales really were in a pickle.

Ken Jones

Ken Jones (left) was the match winner against the All Blacks in 1953 but Gareth Griffiths was also a hero, returning to the field with a dislocated shoulder

The New Zealand outside half Brian Fitzpatrick, father of future All Blacks legend Sean, went for the corner on the North Stand side, but somehow both Gerwyn Williams and Bleddyn Williams stopped him. Shades of Bob Deans!

 

It was time for a hero and every Welsh heart in the ground was lifted when Griffiths bravely came back onto the field. He may have been a passenger on the wing, but his mere presence was a massive boost.

I can still see Courtenay Meredith leading a charge back towards the Taff End. Rowlands placed a goal and the scores were level. Now it was Wales on the attack again.

Somehow, the ball reached the left wing and somehow it was the flanker Clem Thomas who was to receive it. He had nowhere to go and came up with the bright idea of cross-kicking right-footed towards the New Zealand posts.

The ball bounced just right for the Olympic sprinter Ken Jones and there was no stopping him as he gathered and stepped inside the last defender to score at the posts. Rowlands added the straight-forward conversion and Wales were five points ahead

How or why Clem did what he did I don’t think he even knows now. If the ball had bounced badly for Ken it could have ended with the New Zealand wing Ron Jarden racing clear into an open field and scoring at the other end. You take your luck in any way you can!

Yes, everyone was very excited but, to be honest, Wales had started favourites – at least in my eyes. It will be much more exciting, if now, 68 years later, Wales could win again.

I was not there when Wales won in 1905 or 1935, but I can proudly push out my chest, stand tall and tell the world ‘I was there’ in 1953. I just hope I can see a repeat in 2021.

Howard Evans is a noted author and rugby historian and can still be found at Aberavon’s Talbot Athletic Ground on match days

 

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