If the lyrics of Max Boyce’s famous song are to believed, there’s only one Welsh team who’s ever beaten the All Blacks. But along with Llanelli, it should be noted that Cardiff, Swansea and Newport have accomplished the feat too.
The story of Newport’s victory on that dank, drizzly October afternoon in 1963 deserves to be told, not least because it features a roll-call of names to rival those of the Llanelli team of 1972. Brian Price, David Watkins and Glyn Davidge to name but three.
In the end, the game hinged on a single drop goal from Dick Uzzell, but the truth is, an All Blacks side containing Colin Meads, Kel Tremain and Brian Lochore was hammered by Newport that day. That New Zealand side is arguably the greatest ever to leave their shores, better even than the side defeated by the Lions and Llanelli in the 70s.
Yes, it was 3-0, but back then, rugby was a different sport to the one we know today. International tours took months, rather than weeks, and our club sides were still allowed to play the tourists in front of 25,000-plus crowds on a Wednesday afternoon! Don’t forget, the players had day jobs too in those days.
Steve Lewis’ book takes us through the history of those mammoth tours, along with the background of the players involved and the historical context through which we view the match.
This kind of game would never happen these days, for many reasons. It is a shame. Call me an old romantic (I am, guilty as charged), but I would love to be able to watch my local club play an international touring side on a Wednesday afternoon, whatever the weather. These days, we get to see Wales playing the great southern hemisphere sides every Autumn, and it feels like the magic is diminishing every time.
Commentators are forever going on about the “intensity” and “physicality” (that’s not even a word, by the way; why can’t they just say “strength”?) of modern rugby. But back then it was just as brutal. And you could forget about having a couple of days’ “recovery” in the pool or gym after a big game. Back in the 60s and 70s you had to go back to work the morning after, or you risked losing your livelihood.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It provokes strong emotions and makes people forget the stark realities of everyday life. Today, rugby is a professional sport and there’s no time for sentimentality or looking backwards. That’s why stories like this are worth taking time to read. We need to remember that rugby is about a lot more than money, sparkly hats and fireworks. At its heart, rugby is about communities and people coming together to witness great sporting moments; brief occasions where we can put the trials of everyday life to one side and gaze in wonder at this beautiful, brutal game.
All Black and Amber by Steve Lewis is published by Y Lolfa.