Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
3 September 2014
ATHLETIC PARK in Wellington, New Zealand, was a much loved headquarters of the game in the Capital city for over a 100 years. It was finally closed in 1999 and the game in Wellington shifted to the Westpac Stadium in the city centre.
Everyone who played on Athletic Park's surface in its heyday had favourite memories. Here are those of the great lock forward Colin Meads.
MEADS ON ATHLETIC PARK:
He first played for the All Blacks there in the first test match against Australia in 1958. His last game there was in 1973 for the NZRFU’s president’s XV when they beat the All Blacks on their internal tour.
In all Meads played ten test matches on Athletic Park, a record for a New Zealand player and as the ground is no longer in operation his record will not be broken.
“‘From a New Zealand point of view it was my favourite test ground,’ Meads said. ‘Everything seemed to go right there. The ground had such an atmosphere, and was the one I had most success at.’
Meads played in seven winning tests on the park, his other games being a 9-all draw with Australia in 1962, a 20-5 loss to Australia in 1964 and a 13-3 loss to the British Lions, as captain, in 1971.
Meads witnessed two of the best-remembered moments on Athletic Park: All Black fullback Don Clarke’s sideline conversion in a southerly gale in 1961, which helped the All Blacks to a 5-3 win, and Pierre Villepreux’s massive penalty goal for France in 1968, when the All Blacks won 9-3. “‘It was unbelievable, Clarkie kicked it straight across the field and it went over,’ Meads said. ‘Don was pretty confident he’d judged it right, but really it was the biggest bloody fluke around.’
For Villepruex’s kick, some estimates put its distance at well over 60m Meads doesn’t argue. “To me it sounded like about 70 yards. When he lined it up the crowd was laughing and we were saying ‘what a joke.’ But over she went. It cleared the bar with a bit to spare too. Bloody amazing.”
Colin Meads test record on Athletic Park; 1958-71
1958 beat Australia (1st test) 25-3
1959 beat British Isles (2nd test) 11-8
1961 beat France (2nd test) 5-3
1962 drew with Australia (1st test) 9-9
1964 lost to Australia (3rd test) 5-20
1965 beat South Africa(1st test) 6-3
1966 beat British Isles (2nd test) 16-12
1967 beat Australia (75th Jubilee test) 29-9
1968 beat France (2nd test) 9-3
1971 lost to British Isles (3rd Test) 13-3
When the last test match was played on Athletic Park (New Zealand beat France 54-7, 26 June 1999) Colin Meads was asked for his most vivid recollections;
Best Memory; “My greatest memory of playing there was when I captained the President’s XV against the All Blacks in 1973. It was a farewell for me and a great occasion…and we won the game!”
Worst Memory; “We got beaten there in 1964 by Australia. We had won the first two tests but lost the third 20-5 on Athletic Park. It was a thrashing and the last time I featured for the All Blacks as a loose forward.”
It was the Welsh RU's 100th Centennial game. Expectations were high in Cardiff that day for a big home win but Graham Mourie's All Blacks took the cake 23-3!
One of the more prominent Welsh clubs, Aberavon was founded in 1876 and is centred at Port Talbot, near Swansea. After a particularly bright period of play in the 1920s, the Aberavon team became known as the ‘Wizards’. The name stuck and today a wizard is incorporated in the club’s monogram.
With the tough industrial and employment conditions associated with the coalﬁelds and steelworks of south Wales in recent years, so has Aberavon undergone tough times. These days the club is semi-professional and has had only modest success. In 2001 it did win the National Division One club league for the third time.
The club had four famous three-quarters in the 1920s – John Ring, Alun Edwards, Syd Williams and Arthur Bassett – but all later switched to rugby league. The club’s 1984 top try-scorer, Kevin James, also left the district to play league. In 1985 he played for Hull in rugby league’s top match of the year, the Challenge Cup ﬁnal.
Aberavon’s leading cap-winner for Wales is Allan Martin, who played 34 internationals for his country between 1973 and 1981. The big lock also toured with the British Isles to New Zealand (1977) and to South Africa (1980).
Other prominent Wizards from over the years include John Bevan (Welsh international 1975, British Isles tour to New Zealand 1977 and Welsh national team coach 1982–86); Ned Jenkins (21 internationals for Wales 1927–32); Tony O’Connor (ﬁve internationals for Wales 1960–62, British Isles tour to South Africa 1962); and Clive Williams (Welsh international prop 1977–83 who later played for Swansea and toured New Zealand with the British Isles 1977 and South Africa 1980). Billy James (1983-87) is the only club player to have captained the Welsh national XV.
One family which had a close association with Aberavon is the family of Richard Burton. The famous actor used to recall that his father always used to say,‘when I die, do not bury me on a Saturday. If you do you will miss watching The Wizards play.”
The Aberavon team plays in red and black hooped jerseys,
Who played in the 1987 Rugby World Cup Final wearing a hair-piece?