Glenn Webbe had the distinction of scoring the first World Cup hat-trick by a Welsh player 33 years ago at the inaugural tournament in New Zealand and Australia.
Not only that, but the Canton man was the first British black player to ever feature at the showpiece tournament as well.
Bridgend’s wonder wing steamed over the Tongan line three times in Palmerston North to make it two wins in a row for Wales in Pool 2. They had beaten Ireland 13-6 in Wellington four days earlier.
A year earlier, Webbe, these days a director at the Kitchen Bureau on Cardiff’s Penarth Road, had won the first of his 10 Welsh caps against the Tongans on tour in Nuku’alofa. His first try for Wales came at the World Cup and his hat-trick was the first by a northern hemisphere player in the tournament.
Wales won 29-16 on their way to third place at that inaugural tournament in New Zealand, although the Bridgend flyer’s campaign ended after the Tongan victory.
“It still hurts even now being sent home after scoring a hat-trick,” explained Webbe. “I took a heavy hit and went down, but I was able to stay on and score a solo try from my own 22 to complete the hat-trick.
“I guess I had to stay on because we’d already lost Stuart Evans and Malcolm Dacey. In those days there were only two replacements and we’d have had to have gone to 14 men if I’d gone off.
“After the game I was told I’d have to go home because of my concussion. It was a bitter pill to swallow because I was in the shape of my life and wanted to build on my hat-trick.
“When you win one cap, you want five. When you’ve got five, you want 10 – you never want to rest on what you’ve got. That’s why it was so hard to head home after the biggest game of my life.”
The moment that did for Webbe was when his long-standing partner in crime, Mark Ring, called the ‘Mazda’ move.
“This was Mark’s star plan. All the team gathered in Auckland before the tournament started and were told that the try of the tournament would win a brand new Mazda car,” recalled Webbe.
“They drove the car on to the field where we were all gathered and we decided we wanted to win it. So Mark devised a move that was devised to split the defence left and right and allow me to come charging through the middle unopposed and go on to score.
“We couldn’t even do it in training, so when Mark called it against Tonga I just shouted ‘No’. ‘Mazda called’ he insisted and away we went. It was a doule dummy, scissors sort of thing and I came through the middle and was supposed to go all the way to the posts without anyone laying a hand on me.
“It didn’t quite work out that way. Their full-back, Tali Ete’aki, had spotted something was up and he was laying in wait for me. I got the ball in space and then he pounced – wham!
“It was a flying head butt and I think I’ve still got him tattooed on my chin. I went down, out for the count.”
The Mazda move may have turned into a bit of a car crash, but Welsh physio Tudor Jones managed to revive Webbe and get him back on his feet. He already had two tries under his belt and the best was still to come.
Receiving the ball deep in his 22, he went away on a weaving run that remains a contender for Wales’ best World Cup try. It was shortlisted for the Mazda prize, but All Blacks wing John Kirwan took the keys for his mazy run against Italy in the opening game.
“Mark always tells me he had to scream at me to ground the ball, but I don’t believe him. I’ve seen the try so many times on video, but it’s not a real memory,” admitted Webbe.
“I was bitter about what happened to me at the time, but I’m delighted that World Rugby is doing all it can to protect the safety of players in the modern game. We never knew when or where the hits were going to come from in my day, but now the players are getting hit by two or three tacklers at a time.
“And just look at the size of the players these days. I was 5’11” and 13 stone when I was playing and that was quite meaty for my position. Not any more!
“When I first played against Tonga on tour in 1986 I was sitting on the sidelines laughing at a fight breaking out. Then I realised that I would have to go on after Adrian Hadley had been pole-axed by a punch from one of their props.
“Both Adrian and Bleddyn Bowen, who was also injured, had to walk to the hospital because the ambulance drivers refused to take them because they wanted to watch the rest of the game. This was our second game on tour and in the opening match in Fiji our captain, David Pickering, had been kicked so hard he didn’t play again on tour.”
GLEN WEBBE’S WORLD CUP WONDER MATCH
29 May, 1987 at Showgrounds Oval, Palmerston North, New Zealand
WALES 29 TONGA 16
Wales had opened the first Rugby World Cup with a 13-6 win over Ireland at Wellington and followed that up by defeating Tonga, but it was victory which came at a large cost.
Glenn Webbe and Stuart Evans both played their last game in the tournament, Webbe suffering concussion on his way to a hat-trick of tries and Evans ending up with his right leg in plaster up to his knee.
Wales won the match up front by besting the Tongan scrum, though they were outfought in the loose and faded at the end as the Tongans ran in two late tries. It was the first occasion that Wales played an international match wearing green jerseys.
Wales: P Thorburn (Neath); G Webbe (Bridgend), K Hopkins (Swansea), M Ring (Cardiff), A Hadley (Cardiff); M Dacey (Swansea), R Jones (Swansea); A Buchanan (Llanelli), K Phillips (Neath), Stuart Evans (Neath), R Moriarty (Swansea, capt), H Richards (Neath), P Moriarty (Swansea), P Davies (Llanelli), G Roberts (Cardiff). Reps: J Davies (Neath) for M Dacey; S Blackmore (Cardiff) for S Evans.
Scorers: Tries: G Webbe 3, A Hadley. Cons: P Thorburn 2. Pens: P Thorburn 2. DG: J Davies.
Tonga: T Ere’aki; M Vunipola, S Mohi, T Fukakitekei’aho, K Fielea; A ‘Amone, T Fifita; V Lutua, A Afu Fungavaka, H Tupou, M Tu’ungafasi, K Fine, V Kakato, M Felise, F Valu (capt). Reps: A Liava’a for A ‘Amone; L Va’eono for H Tupou. Scorers: Tries: K Fielea, T Fifita. Con: A Liava’a. Pens: A Liava’a, A ‘Amone.
Referee: David Bishop (New Zealand)