Andrew Baldock
“WE ARE wearing the Scarlet shirt, and we are representing our community, our town, our county and our country. We have a chance here of creating history.”
Barely 90 minutes later – on October 31, 1972 – Llanelli captain Delme Thomas’ pre-match rallying cry to his players became reality.
Llanelli 9 New Zealand 3 remains one of the most famous scorelines in rugby union history, and this week at Stradey Park it was remembered in style.
Forty years on, players from both teams assembled in Llanelli to recount memories of arguably the most famous occasion Welsh club rugby has witnessed.
Thomas led a reunion of most of the Llanelli side, including current Scarlets president Phil Bennett and former Wales coach Gareth Jenkins, while former All Blacks wing Bryan Williams was also due to attend.
Some 1,200 guests were present, including Welsh Rugby Union president Dennis Gethin and Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones. Among items auctioned on the night were two original Llanelli jerseys – now signed – from the 1972 game.
Former Wales and British and Irish Lions lock Thomas, who joined Llanelli 11 years before the club’s greatest day, said: “I have never experienced anything in my life like the day we beat the All Blacks.
“It was a wonderful occasion, and the place was absolutely electric.”
Former Scarlets flanker Jenkins was just 20 that unforgettable midweek afternoon as centre Roy Bergiers’ try – it came after a Llanelli penalty bounced back off the bar – underpinned the victory.
“It was the most physical game I’ve ever played in. We had never experienced anything like it at the time as younger players,” Jenkins said.
“The All Blacks have always been formidable, and they were quite formidable that day.
“The result was ours, but it was an experience and a half to have played in such a brutal game and come away with a result.
“The whole town closed for a half-day. It was a great time to remember, it was a great time to be around and a great time to play rugby.
“That was west Wales talent beating the best in the world with the astonishing power of an intensely-vocal crowd in inspiring the players on the field and the connection between our rugby and our community.”
The Scarlets celebrated their centenary year in 1972, and with coach Carwyn James, who had masterminded the Lions’ Test series triumph over New Zealand a year previously, calling the shots, his team delivered.
More than 20,000 spectators packed into the ground – local factories closed early and employees were given a half-day – while it is said not to be a myth that many pubs ran dry and were forced to shut up shop long before closing time.
The whole day, though, was perhaps summed up by Welsh entertainer Max Boyce, with his following description of Llanelli’s greatest victory.
“And when I’m old and my hair turns grey and they put me in a chair, I’ll tell my great-grandchildren that their Datcu (grandfather) was there.
“And they will ask to hear the story of that damp October day when I went down to Stradey and I saw the Scarlets play.”
Llanelli: Roger Davies; JJ Williams, Roy Bergiers, Ray Gravell, Andy Hill; Phil Bennett, Ray ’Chico’ Hopkins; Tony Crocker, Roy Thomas, Barry Llewellyn, Delme Thomas (capt), Derek Quinnell, Tom David, Gareth Jenkins, Hefin Jenkins.
New Zealand: Joe Karam; Bryan Williams, Bruce Robertson, Mark Sayers, Duncan Hales; Bob Burgess, Lindsey Colling; Keith Murdoch, Ron Urlich, Graham Whiting, Andy Haden, Pole Whiting, Alistair Scown, Ian Kirkpatrick (capt), Alan Sutherland.