The grim history of Wales on tour in New Zealand

The Welsh have got New Zealand covered in singing, but elsewhere on rugby game day the All Blacks have reigned supreme since December 1953, when Wales triumphed 13-8.

Those were halcyon days in the valleys – Cardiff beat the All Blacks 8-3 earlier on the tour and Swansea drew 6-6 a week before that test.

Since, the All Blacks have won 26 straight internationals and, outside of a controversial one-point margin in the Welsh capital in 1978, generally with ease.

The Welsh Wizards:

The best Welsh players to play in New Zealand? No, we don’t count Hemi Taylor, Shane Howarth, Brett Sinkinson, Sonny Parker, Matt Cardy or Gareth Anscombe.

Welsh-born stars to shine down here are a select few – and from an older generation. And, in accordance with the All Blacks utter domination of Wales in New Zealand, their eye-catching deeds were performed for the British and Irish Lions.

John Dawes:

Canny centre who captained the 1971 British and Irish Lions to their only series victory in New Zealand. Returned as coach six years later and was on track to preside over a drawn series until Lawrie Knight scored late in the final test at Eden Park. Capped 22 times for Wales between 1964-71.

Gareth Edwards:

Anointed Wales’ greatest player and considered the greatest halfback. A star of the powerful Welsh sides of the late 1960s and 1970s, Edwards most memorable moment against the All Blacks was arguably his try for the Barbarians in 1973. However, he was so much more – and failing to notch a test win over the All Blacks was the only blemish on a stellar career. Influential on the 1971 Lions tour, he was a member of the squad that won in South Africa three years later.

Barry John:

Regarded as the best No.10 Wales have produced, he helped mastermind the 1971 tour, playing in 17 of 26 tour matches and amassing 191 points. Bestowed the honorary title of “The King” from a parochial Kiwi press. Formed an instinctive partnership with Edwards at Cardiff and Wales. Shocked the rugby world by retiring in 1972 at age 27 after his 25th cap. Said he was tired of “living in a goldfish bowl”.

JPR Williams:

With socks around his ankles and sporting long sideburns, JPR Williams cut a distinctive, dashing figure from fullback. Iconic member of the great Welsh sides alongside Edwards and John, JPR also shared the Lions’ success in 1971-74. Dropped a goal in the fourth test at Eden Park – his only points for the Lions were influential as they helped seal the series with a 14-14 draw. Opted against touring New Zealand in 1977 as medical studies took precedence. A year later he needed 30 stitches to close facial wounds after he was rucked by John Ashworth during the All Blacks’ tour match in Bridgend. He was sewn up by his father.

Phil Bennett:

Succeeded John and captained the Lions to New Zealand in 1977. Although not in the same class as John, Bennett had the swerve, the sidestep and he could also talk a good game: “Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight a year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you’re playing this afternoon,” he said, before Wales beat England 14-9.

Mervyn Davies:

Grew a moustache to appear more aggressive, Mervyn Davies was voted the greatest Welsh captain, and No.8, of all time by Welsh fans in 2002, his career was cut short by a brain haemorrhage in 1976. He would have captained the Lions the following year. Played 38 consecutive tests for Wales and was another legend of the 1971 and 1974 tours. Died of lung cancer aged 65 in 2012.

Jonathan Davies:

Gifted pivot who could split defences with his step. Also adept at the dropped goal. Didn’t have the calibre of teammate John enjoyed but is the most recent example of a mercurial Welsh playmaker. A rare touch of class on the humiliating 1988 tour, Davies returned home with ideas on how to improve the game based on his experiences in New Zealand. He was ignored, then castigated following a loss to Romania in late 1988. He switched codes and had a successful career with Widnes, Great Britain and Wales.

The Controversies:

1905: If only there were a host broadcaster and a TMO at Cardiff Arms Park, then we might have a definitive answer regarding whether All Black Bob Deans grounded the ball over the line. Referee John Dewar Dallas of Scotland, who was in street clothes and boots without studs, trailed play and believed Welsh back Dicky Owen, who repositioned the ball before the line and insisted: “He forced the ball here.” Wales won 3-0 to deny the All Blacks a Grand Slam.

1963: A 6-0 win was the All Blacks’ first triumph at Cardiff Arms Park – the 19-0 victory in 1924 was staged at St Helen’s in Swansea. A Don Clarke penalty and a Bruce Watt dropped goal proved the difference although the All Blacks dominated. Meads infuriated the crowd when colliding with Clive Rowlands after he claimed a mark in the dying stages. Rowlands was unable to continue, Meads was unrepentant: “I didn’t punch the wee man. What happened was Clive was yakking and kicking the ball, yakking and kicking. Wales had bugger all backs in those days, they kicked it all day. And then our man (Kevin) Briscoe put up an up-and-under and I had a five-yard start, Clive was under it and I got the little bastard. Ran right over the bloody top of him. He put on a good act, 80,000 people booed me and all I did was knee him up the arse. God, the memories are good.”

1972: Keith Murdoch scored the All Blacks’ only try of a 19-16 victory that in doubt until Phil Bennett missed a 27-metre penalty attempt after he wanted to tap and go. While the All Blacks won it was overshadowed hours later by Murdoch’s late night altercation with security guard Peter Grant in the kitchen of The Angel Hotel. Murdoch was sent home. He made it only as far as Australia, where he has lived in virtual seclusion in the outback. On the eve of the tour’s 30th anniversary Andy Haden, Tane Norton, Jeff Matheson, Bob Burgess and Sid Going, taped a series of pleas urging Murdoch to end his exile. Without success.

1978: While Brian McKechnie is best remembered for facing the underarm delivery at the MCG in 1981, he was a peripheral figure at Cardiff Arms Park in one of New Zealand sport’s most unsavory incidents. In November 1978, with the All Blacks trailing 12-10 with three minutes remaining, lock Haden dived out of a lineout in a bid to win a penalty. English referee Roger Quittenton – in his first test – duly blew the whistle, but because Geoff Wheel impeded Frank Oliver. McKechnie was on target from 37m so the All Blacks escaped with a one-point victory that left Welsh players and fans outraged. Captain Graham Mourie admitted he on the eve of the test suggested Haden make a theatrical exit if the game was tight. “I know that some of the players later regretted it and their part in it,” he said.

The Close Encounters:

1905: Wales 3 NZ 0 at Cardiff Arms Park

(See Controversies)

1935: Wales 13 NZ 12 at Cardiff Arms Park

Oxford University wing Geoffrey Rees-Jones scored his second try with six minutes to play after Wilfred Wooller kicked ahead. Vivian Jenkins missed the conversion but the Welsh hung on before a crowd of 50,000 to take a Grand Slam out of the equation, even before England won the tour finale 13-0 at Twickenham.

1967: NZ 13 Wales 6 at Cardiff Arms Park

The All Blacks outscored Wales two tries to nil but the Welsh were left to rue three missed penalties in the second half. “There was not much in it,” opined coach David Nash, who then rather optimistically continued: “We are catching them up fast … I reckon we are no more than two years behind in our coaching.”

1978: NZ 13 Wales 12 at Cardiff Arms Park

(See Controversies)

2004: NZ 26 Wales 25 at Millennium Stadium

Richie McCaw’s first test as skipper – Tana Umaga was rested and one of several changes to the line-up that thrashed Italy seven days earlier – might have ended in defeat had counterpart Gareth Thomas been more adventurous down the home stretch. The All Blacks led 26-22 and were under siege when the Welsh captain instructed Gavin Henson to take a 77th minute penalty rather than press on for a match-winning try. The kick went over, but Stephen Jones kicked away possession the the dying seconds. It was so near (the closest game since 1978) yet so far. A year later the All Blacks won 41-3 at the same venue.

Haka Histrionics:

2006: In 2005, the centenary of the first test between New Zealand and Wales, the All Blacks agreed to perform their haka after the Welsh anthem “Land of our Fathers”. When the WRU attempted to enforce the same run sheet 12 months later the All Blacks took umbrage and did the haka in front of non-playing personnel and management in their dressing room. They emerged to put on a show, winning 45-10.

2008: The stand-off in front of the stands at Millennium Stadium. The Grand Slam champions indulged in a two-minute stare down with the All Blacks after Kapa O Pango. Both teams stood motionless until perplexed referee Jonathan Kaplan was relieved to see Richie McCaw lead his players into position. Wales claimed a moral victory though it only delayed the inevitable: the All Blacks won 29-9.

The Record Holders:

Most individual points

NZ: 162 – Dan Carter (9 tests 2003-10)
Wales: 89 – Stephen Jones (11 tests 2002-2010)

Most individual points (match)

NZ: 27 – Dan Carter at Dunedin June 19, 2010: 2 tries 3 pen 4 con
Wales: 20 – Stephen Jones at Cardiff 6 pen 1 con

Most individual tries

NZ: 8 – John Kirwan (3 tests 1987-88)
Wales: 2 – Geoffrey Jones (1 test 1935)

Most individual tries (match)

NZ: 4 – John Kirwan at Christchurch, May 28, 1988
Wales: 2 – Geoffrey Jones at Cardiff, Dec 21, 1935

Most tests

NZ: 11 – Richie McCaw (2003-14)
Wales: 11 – Stephen Jones (2002-2010)

Overall Test Record:

Played 30 NZ won 27 Wales won 3

First test: Wales 3 NZ 0 at Cardiff, Dec 16, 1905

Last test: NZ 34 Wales 16 at Cardiff, Nov 22, 2014

Welsh victories:

Wales 3 NZ 0 at Cardiff, Dec 16, 1905
Wales 13 NZ 12 at Cardiff, Dec 21, 1935
Wales 13 NZ 8 at Cardiff, Dec 19, 1953

Biggest winning margin:

Wales: 5 at Cardiff, 1953
NZ: 52 at Hamilton, 2003


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