‘What a score!’ – Edwards’ great try and Morgan’s magical commentary remembered 50 years on

The Barbarians vs New Zealand match in January 1973 was just two minutes old when Gareth Edwards scored what is still widely thought to be the best-ever try in rugby union; Cliff Morgan’s commentary is equally revered; memories of that famous Cardiff afternoon are again being shared this weekend…

By Philip Barker

The statue of Sir Gareth Edwards in the St David’s Centre in Cardiff city centre

It may come as something of a shock but this weekend marks half a century since ‘The Try’.

You know the one – Sir Gareth Edwards hurtling headlong over the line to score for the Barbarians against New Zealand in Cardiff.

That sublime moment has been celebrated ever since, and rather like in last month’s FIFA World Cup Final, it was just one delight of many in a match that had everything.

In 1973, the Barbarians’ match against the All Blacks was keenly awaited, partly because the 1971 Lions had won a series in New Zealand.

The New Zealand prop Keith Murdoch had been sent home after an incident at the Angel Hotel in Cardiff earlier in the tour.

When the Barbarians selected 13 Lions, it prompted All Blacks captain Ian Kirkpatrick to tell Terry O’Connor of the Daily Mail: “They have stacked it against us by selecting 13 Lions so we are forced to think of this as an international rather than a Barbarians team.”

In The Times, Peter West pondered: “They may be forgiven for believing they have been asked to finish their tour of the British Isles by playing an extra international.”

The match began with that supreme try by Edwards. The television images show him diving headlong to score.

“This is Gareth Edwards, a dramatic start, what a score! … Oh that fellow Edwards!”

The Barbarians scored two further tries in the first half before the inevitable assault by the All Blacks early in the second, but a further try by JPR Williams sealed the Barbarians’ victory at 23-11.

“As a model for the modern game, the match represented the acme of achievement illustrating the heights that could be reached in playing rugby. The match set such a high standard of excellence that it will forever be a yardstick by which games of rugby football will be judged,” Nigel Starmer Smith, renowned for his own fine television commentaries on rugby and hockey, concluded in his superb history of the Barbarians in 1978.

The television commentary by Cliff Morgan was also a masterclass of everything that is good in broadcasting.

It is even perhaps part of the reason that the Edwards try remains so well known.

Many can still recite the sequence word for word that captured the action.

“I never get tired of Cliff Morgan’s commentary!” – Phil Bennett, who began the move for Edwards’ try

Morgan had been an outstanding rugby player in his own right.

He won 29 caps for Wales and toured South Africa with the Lions in 1955.

From the Radio Times

He had already forged a career in broadcasting in both sport and current affairs and had been one of the original captains on A Question of Sport.

On this day, his talent as a commentator was seen to great effect.

As the match ended and the crowd streamed onto the field to acclaim their heroes, Morgan said simply: “This has been a great occasion, let me not say a word now as we listen to this crowd and we watch some of the greatest players of the decade, indeed of all time.”

The New Zealand song of farewell ‘Now is the Hour’ could be heard as the pictures, directed by Dewi Griffiths, showed Edwards chaired off the field before another camera inside the tunnel – then no doubt considered quite revolutionary – showed the players trooping in.

Morgan’s economy of words remains a model for anyone who picks up the microphone even today.

The match itself was superbly summed up by Vivian Jenkins in the Sunday Times.

“Magic, sheer unbelievable undiluted magic!”