On 27 January 1973, at the Arms Park in Cardiff, the Barbarians and New Zealand staged a brilliant spectacle that has been replayed a million times over.
All but three of the Barbarians’ starting line-up had been involved in the British and Irish Lions squad that had famously won the series in New Zealand two years earlier and the All Blacks were hellbent on revenge as they prepared for one last test at the end of an arduous three-and-a-half month tour.
Four minutes in, though, they were dealt a hammer blow as the Barbarians created the move that led to what is still regarded as the best try ever scored.
Sound On— World Rugby Museum (@wrugbymuseum) October 27, 2019
‘If the greatest writer of the written word would have written that story, no one would have believed it.’ - Cliff Morgan#AudiovisualHeritageDay
Gareth Edwards scoring ‘the greatest try ever scored’. Barbarians v New Zealand, 1973 pic.twitter.com/rkCpwRDIrD
“If the greatest writer of the written word had written that story, no-one could have believed it,” TV commentator Cliff Morgan eulogised, scarcely believing what he had seen.
It is a wonder Morgan had any breath left after brilliantly calling a passage of play that started with Phil Bennett’s two outrageous side-steps deep inside his own 22 and ended with Gareth Edwards’ spectacular dive in the corner: twenty-five seconds of pure rugby gold.
Everyone inside the famous old ground was taken by surprise, even Edwards himself.
"The game had started at such a frantic pace, with lots of kicking back and forth, so I was absolutely breathless and really needed a moment's respite. I was ambling back when the ball went deep and I saw Phil was running back, I thought, 'Thank God for that, Phil will kick it into touch’.
“In actual fact, it came back the other way. I thought, ‘What is he doing now?' Edwards recalled.
With the moment of magic coming so early, there was a danger that the rest of the match could have been an anti-climax.
But with brilliant running talents like David Duckham and John Bevan present, that was never going to be the case.
After a couple of near-misses, the Barbarians added two more tries through Fergus Slattery and Bevan to lead 17-0 at half-time.
While the Baa-Baas were effectively the Lions in all but name, no-one expected such a scoreline especially after an awful build-up which saw Gerald Davies pull a hamstring in the only proper training session at Penarth RFC the day before the game.
“I remember looking at the scoreboard and I couldn’t believe it; this was beyond our wildest dreams. Despite all those nightmares we had before this game, all of a sudden, we were in the ascendency and all our moves turned to gold,” recalled Edwards in Rugby World’s One Game at a Time podcast.
“Some of those movements, and some of that play, left people speechless.”
Edwards, who was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007, had a hand in the second try as he harassed Syd Going into making a mistake at the base of a scrum and Fergus Slattery picked up the loose ball to score.
Meanwhile, the Baa-Baas’ third was purely down to the brute strength of Bevan who refused to be stopped short, having been denied earlier in the half, and carried a tackler over the line with him.
Here's #ScrumV's 'Try of the Week'!— BBC ScrumV (@BBCScrumV) December 13, 2018
We’ve all seen THE try from Gareth Edwards but how about this one from JPR in the second half of the historic 1973 clash between @Barbarian_FC and New Zealand! pic.twitter.com/U35jHmlQHc
Backs against the wall
With so little preparation time together maintaining such a performance for 80 minutes was always going to be tall order. Inevitably, the All Blacks came roaring back.
Joe Karam’s toe-poked penalty had given New Zealand something to build on and the Baa-Baas knew that was just the start of it.
Grant Batty benefitted from Bryan Williams’ injection of pace into the line for their first try before creating another for himself with a brilliantly controlled chip over the top.
“It was backs-to-the-wall stuff,” admitted Edwards.
Another mesmerising run from Duckham got the Baa-Baas on the front foot again, and after the ever-influential Mike Gibson made further inroads, JPR Williams crossed in the corner for what proved to be the telling score.
Like any rugby fan, Edwards never tires of watching the match all over again.
“When you watch it, I still get the thrill of it all. Sometimes disbelief.
“Contrary to what a lot of people might think, I don’t watch it every other day. I might not watch it for years and years but every now and again I might walk into a function room, somewhere in the world, and lo and behind, there it is on the television on a wall.”