Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
8 July 2015
This is a piece I wrote for a history of the 1991 Rugby World Cup. I tried to capture with dignity (and fairness!?) one of rugby's most memorable days. Though perhaps Welsh fans might not agree!
This game is recorded in world rugby history as one of the greatest of upsets. The Welsh team ran onto their famous ground with over one hundred years of distinguished association with the game to their credit. As co-hosts to the World Cup they had a great weight of home expectation on their shoulders. Western Samoa had only been a significant rugby participant for less than five years. Surely the result would be a foregone conclusion.
Samoa had not even been in realistic contention to be invited to the first Rugby World Cup four years before. They had only made their first tour outside of other Pacific islands and New Zealand in 1988-89. On that ambitious trip around the world, budgeting was so sparse that players were asked to provide their own blazers. All that the Western Samoa Rugby Union could afford was the official jacket pocket! The captain of the Samoans, Peter Fatialofa, recalled attaching his blazer emblem via the clever use of chewing gum!
In 1991 Western Samoa, as the country was known as then, (the official match programme at the World Cup rather off-handedly called them ‘W.Samoa’) had a population of only 160,000. But with a steely attitude they put their players bodies where their opponents were not prepared to.
Never before was there seen such fierce and determined tackling. Manu Samoa, as they were nicknamed, (after an ancient warrior) thoroughly deserved their 16-13 victory. For the Welsh, to lose their opening game was a disaster. With Australia also in Pool 3 Wales looked doomed to miss out on the quarter-finals.
Quite simply the Red Dragons of Wales faltered in the face of the offensive. Though the margin looks close, in the end there was nothing but abject despair for the home team. For the Samoans the singing and celebrations led to flag waving and sights not before seen by the wider rugby world.
Local humour did shine through. “We lost to Western Samoa,” a clever quip began, “imagine what might have happened if we’d played all of Samoa! A Cardiff newspaper banner the next day shouted ‘Rock bottom!’ Coach Alan Davies said, ‘We thought we could match them for strength but we certainly came off second best.’
Back home in Apia, the capital city, the Samoan population boggled for the first time at the wonder of live TV. A national network had not yet arrived in the tiny country. Instead seven giant screens were erected in Apia Park the main rugby ground and the game was beamed in via satellite in the middle of the night. Young and old huddled under blankets and saw TV for the first time.
Reports from the capital said that for the best viewing of the TV screens, some of the populace arrived eight hours before kickoff. When as many as 15,000 crowded into the ground the most hardened supporters went without toilet visits, because the absence would surely have cost them their seat. For some Samoan children the Rugby World Cup became part of their education. Said one headmaster of a local school, “We are so isolated many of people have never left the islands. As they couldn’t grasp why we had to watch the games in the middle of the night, we had to explain time zones to them.”
When Western Samoa won it was said that “never was there a bigger and prouder celebration.” What a roar must have gone up when the sight was seen of the team doing the ‘Manu Samoa’ war dance before and after the game! Not to mention when the hugely popular Fatialofa, on the live telecast, asked to send a message home to his family, but in the excitement forgot the name of the youngest of his five children!
The Samoans, coached by Peter Schuster and ex-All Black star Bryan Williams, were superior in all aspects of play. To be fair it has to be said they were helped by a try to centre To’o Vaega. The French referee Patrick Robin signalled a try after the Welsh fullback Anthony Clement seemed to have definitely touched down behind the goal line for a defensive 22-metre line drop out. On the other hand when flanker Sila Vaifale scored the second Samoan try the TV freeze-frame showed no fewer than seven Samoans in the picture with not a Welsh player in sight. A further indication of the battering tackling can be seen in the fact that three Welsh players were injured and taken off. Lock forward Phil May dislocated a shoulder. He and the flanker Richie Collins took no further part in the tournament.
British writers, searching for reasons why their giant had been slayed, began to point at the high percentage of Samoan players who were born, raised, lived, or had been schooled in New Zealand. Such criticisms took no account of the historically close social circumstances of New Zealand and Samoa. However it had to be admitted that Frank Bunce, Pat Lam, and Steve Bachop, while Samoans for this tournament later claimed a New Zealand heritage and appeared for the All Blacks. Indeed Lam, in his career had been a New Zealand sevens player first in 1990. Then after 1991 he had switched from Samoa to the full All Blacks for one game and by 1995 was back to lead the Samoans in South Africa at the third World Cup event. Some serious attention to the eligibility had to be addressed. The lock forward Mark Birtwistle was of Samoan heritage but his father Bill had been an All Black in the 1960s.
The teams and the officials result;
FULLTIME SCORE: WESTERN SAMOA 16 WALES 13
Halftime Score: Western Samoa 3 Wales 3
Scoring: For Western Samoa: Tries by T.Vaega and S.Vaifale. 1 conversion and 2 penalties by M.Vaea.
Scoring: For Wales: Tries by A.Emyr and I.Evans. 1 conversion and 1 penalty by M.Ring.
Team 1: WESTERN SAMOA Team 2: WALES
FB Anetelea Aiolupo (Moata’a) Anthony Clement (Swansea)
W Brian Lima (Marist St Joseph’s) Ieuan Evans © (Llanelli)
C To’o Vaega (Auckland, New Zealand) Scott Gibbs (Neath)
C Frank Bunce (North Harbour. New Zealand) Mike Hall (Cardiff)
W Timo Tagaloa (Wellington, New Zealand) Arthur Emyr (Cardiff)
FH Steven Bachop (Canterbury, New Zealand) Mark Ring (Cardiff)
HB Matthew Vaea (Marist St Joseph’s) Robert Jones (Swansea)
8 Pat Lam (Auckland, New Zealand) Phil Davies (Llanelli)
F Apollo Perelini (Auckland, New Zealand) Richie Collins (Cardiff)
L Mata’afa Keenan (Auckland, New Zealand) Kevin Moseley (Newport)
L Mark Birtwistle (Wellington, New Zealand) Phil May (Llanelli)
F Sila Vaifale (Marist St Joseph’s) Emyr Lewis (Llanelli)
P Vili Alalatoa (Sydney, Australia) Laurance Delaney (Llanelli)
H Stan To’omalatai (Vaiala) Kevin Waters (Newbridge)
P Peter Fatialofa © (Auckland, New Zealand) Mike Griffiths (Cardiff)
Tavita Sio (Sydney, Australia) *Garin Jenkins (Pontypool)
Eddie Ioane (Auckland, New Zealand) Hugh Williams-Jones (South Wales Police)
Junior Paramore (Counties, New Zealand) *Martyn Morris (Neath) Tupo Fa’amasino (Wellington, New Zealand) *Mike Rayer (Cardiff)
Filipo Saena (Moata’a) David Evans (Cardiff)
Tu Nu’uali’itia (Counties, New Zealand) Andrew Booth (Cardiff)
Replacements in the match:
P.May was replaced by Martyn Morris (Neath), A.Clement was replaced by Mike Rayer (Cardiff) and R.Collins was replaced by Garin Jenkins (Pontypool)
The All Blacks beat Australia 38-3 at Eden Park. Commentator Bill McCarthy described the action as the cameras rolled.
Cardiff and Wales
53 internationals for Wales 1967–78
10 internationals for British Isles 1968–74
Gareth Edwards was one of the most widely acclaimed rugby players of all time – a brilliantly versatile halfback and a strong physical competitor who captured the imagination and admiration of players and followers all over the world.
Edwards first came to prominence outside Wales as a teenager on the Cardiff club’s tour of South Africa in 1967, where he played in a number of positions in the backline. Once back in Wales his enormous talents were soon focused on scrumhalf play. He was chosen for his country three months before his 20th birthday and was never dropped until his retirement. Ten years later, with 53 caps, he had set a record for most internationals for Wales, which stood until passed by J.P.R. Williams in 1981. Edwards’s tests were consecutive – both a world record then, and a monumental feat.
In all his internationals, he was in the losing side on no more than 15 occasions. He scored 20 tries in internationals, at the time also a Welsh record, although later equalled by Gerald Davies and later still passed by Ieuan Evans and Gareth Thomas. Edwards’ total of 63 internationals was also, in its time of few tests in any year, the world’s highest for a scrumhalf. He was Wales’s youngest ever international captain (20 years, seven months in the match against Scotland in February 1968).
At the time of his debut for Wales, in the Five Nations match v France in 1967, Edwards was a physical education student at Cardiff Training College. Later, he switched clubs to Cardiff and became a successful businessman. Later still, at the end of his playing days, he was a media commentator and reporter on the game.
A master of the spin-pass, Edwards had all the other attributes of the complete scrumhalf. His kicking was skilful, his running devastating to any of the opposition that could stay near his electric bursts, and his competitiveness was relentless. He dominated many matches simply because of his presence on the field. He was a brilliant opportunist and scorer of tries.
Perhaps the only aspect of his game that did not reach the highest level was as a captain. Many people felt he was inhibited slightly as a leader, with the result that other Welshmen came past him to lead the national XV. He did not resent this, rather it allowed him to return his full concentration to the scrumhalf role. In all, he was captain of his country in 13 tests.
Edwards played superbly in partnership with that other great Welsh personality, Barry John. The two were together as a scrum-outside half combination on 23 occasions, then the world record. Edwards was part of the great era in Welsh rugby that followed almost exactly the dates of his career. He also played superbly for the British Isles in New Zealand in 1971 and in South Africa in 1974. Both those series were won during what were some of British rugby’s greatest days.
He took part in and, indeed, scored the try that is often hailed as one of the greatest ever seen in the game. It was for the Barbarians club against the All Blacks of 1972–73 at Cardiff. The capacity home crowd of 60,000 roared so loudly they distorted forever the television recordings of Edwards diving in at the end of a 90-metre movement.
Edwards possessed a most charming and modest personality, and became in his time one of the most revered characters in Wales – and the rest of the rugby world.
In 1997 he was one of the first players inaugurated into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
Stories abound about Gareth Edwards’ prowess at the game. One story has it that on the day of an England-Wales game at Twickenham, one Welsh supporter could not get a ticket so he waited forlornly outside the ground hoping at least to soak up some of the atmosphere and to hear the result. Eventually he became frustrated at not knowing what was happening in the game, so he called up to some people who were in the ground and asked them what was happening. They happened to be English, so they called back ungraciously that all the Welsh team except Gareth Edwards had been carried off injured. This disturbed the already sad Welsh supporter, but he remained typically optimistic. When a huge roar erupted from the ground a few minutes later, he again called up to the crowd. ‘What’s happened, what’s happened?' he said, 'Gareth scored, has he?’
Such a story is typical of the admiration and affection that existed for one of the greatest of rugby men.
What was unusual about Daniel Dubois' play in the second half of the South West France game v Australia in 1967?