‘Twas on a dark and dismal day…

You may be surprised to learn that on 31st October 1972, Llanelli beat the All Blacks. I know. Amazing isn’t it? Scarlets supporters, always so quiet and keen to hide their light under a bushel, have kept this historic fact a secret for decades.

I should add at this point, removing my tongue from my cheek, that I’m a Scarlets supporter too, although I wasn’t at Stradey that day, but only because I was only 8 months old at the time.

Some people may also be surprised to learn that Llanelli aren’t the only Welsh club to have beaten the All Blacks over the years. In fact, Swansea, Cardiff and Newport RFC all managed it. So why does the Scarlets’ victory seem to be more significant and memorable?

Alun Gibbard’s lovingly-curated book goes a long way to explain the reasons why.

Could it be Max Boyce’s song, 9-3 (The Day the pubs ran dry)? Could it be the influence of possibly the greatest ever rugby coach, Carwyn James? Could it be the irresistable zeal of the young centre Ray Gravell? The quiet strength and presence of Delme Thomas, British Lion and conqueror of the All Blacks in their own back yard? What about the people of Llanelli and the surrounding area? Even outsiders from the other side of the Loughor bridge, such as J J Williams and Tom David had their own important part to play.

It’s probably all of these things and more.

As well as the tales of triumphant celebration, there are many poigniant tales in between. It’s the tinges of sadness which make the story all the more compelling. Players who had lived with tragedy, and those who were visited by it years later. The untimely deaths of Carwyn and Grav.

Alongside these there is the unhappy realisation that there will never be a day like this again. Rugby clubs don’t play touring teams any more. The regions which have taken their place don’t either, and even if they did, I doubt such occasions would hold a candle to the atmosphere and excitement of that Tuesday afternoon in October 1972.

That’s why this book is far more than a piece of nostalgia. It’s a reminder to us all in the modern era. It says, “This is what rugby can be.”

“Who Beat The All Blacks” by Alun Gibbard is published by Y Lolfa.