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 USA by 51-3 at Berkeley, California. The result plus big defeats by Australia in 1914 helped USA concentrate on their own football!
Llanelli and Wales
2 internationals for Wales 1958
A brilliant rugby man whether as a player, coach, lecturer, broadcaster or writer.
Carwyn James had the misfortune to play in the same era as the great Cliff Morgan, and it was not until 1958 that he played flyhalf for Wales, when it beat Australia by 9–3 at Cardiff. James kicked a dropped goal. Later that season he played centre against France, outside Morgan.
It was as a coach that the quietly-spoken James made his mark on world rugby. Without ever having coached Wales, he was elected to guide the 1971 British Isles team in New Zealand. Under his quiet tutelage the Lions played winning rugby against the All Blacks, and James’s innate tactical judgments and expert reading of opposition strengths shot him into world prominence.
His reputation was enhanced in 1972–73, when he coached Llanelli to its famous win over the All Blacks. He was also the guiding hand behind the Barbarians club’s fortunes against the All Blacks in the final game of that same tour — a game said by many to be the greatest game ever played. James later coached with considerable success in Italy, where his influence on the players at the Rovigo club was said to be enormous.
Personal differences between James and some members of the Welsh Rugby Union meant that he never coached the national team, although at the time he was clearly a very good candidate for the job.
After his spell of coaching he turned to writing and broadcasting, where he proved to be very successful, with a turn of phrase that said much for his intellect and rugby wisdom. He wrote several coaching and historical manuals on the game and was an expert interpreter of rugby on television and radio.
James was an ardent Welsh nationalist who turned down an OBE after the Lions tour of New Zealand. He spoke Welsh fluently and encouraged others to do the same.
Carwyn James collapsed and died in the Netherlands in 1983, and was deeply mourned by his friends and colleagues. Many called him a genius of rugby, though it was also said he was a prophet of the game who was never honoured in his own country. The prominent English writer, John Reason, called Carwyn James ‘the best coach the world has yet seen’.
How many players of Samoan-birth or Samoan heritage have captained the All Blacks in tests? Name them.