Sunday, 7 November 2010

Wales v. All Blacks 1905 - A Famous Sporting Victory

Researching sites and looking for images of my great grandfather, famous rugby player Viv Huzzey, I came across this site: rugbyrelics

The page in question deals with the All Blacks tour of 1905.

Interestingly the scrum back then could involve any number of players:

“A Scrummage, which can only take place in the field of play, is formed by one or more players from each side closing round the ball when it is on the ground, or by their closing up in readiness to allow the ball to be put on the ground between them”. 

The All Blacks beat all comers, until they played the Welsh!

Again the site says:

The critics suggested the ‘colonial’ team would struggle against the West countrymen but the All Blacks thumped Devon by 55 points to 4, Cornwall were next, then Bristol, Northampton & Leicester, in their first five matches the All Blacks scored 197 points with just 4 against. News soon spread of this fantastic team, the qualities of the All Black scrum, the fitness of the players and the role of the forwards, who unprecedented at the time even joined in passing movements with the backs. They blazed a trail through England, Scotland & Ireland, defeating clubs, counties and countries alike !     

I had heard before that this game was the first at which the Welsh national anthem was sung, and what a fixture of Welsh matches it has been ever since then. The report at the time said:

The 16th December arrived, special trains had been laid on for spectators from afar, queues formed at the gates and once opened around 11.00 am the ground quickly filled, at 1.30 pm the gates were closed. Those inside sang and joked while the unfortunate locked out looked for trees to climb and other vantage points. At 2.20 pm the All Blacks took to the field followed a little later by the Welsh team, the crowd roar was almost deafening as Nicholls led his men onto the Park. The All Blacks performed their customary haka then unusually the Welsh team started to sing the national anthem, this was soon picked up by the crowd and soon the whole stadium reverberated to the sounds of ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’. 

The more attentive of you will have picked out the name Nicholls in that report. Nicholls was the Welsh captain who had partnered my great grandfather Viv Huzzey on the wing. Huzzey was the vice-captain who quit to play rugby league when he was passed over for the captaincy.

If history had gone differently it could have been Viv Huzzey leading the Welshmen out to their famous victory against the All Blacks... History is such a fickle mistress!

The Times newspaper of the day (pictured above) had a report on the match:

Wales is the only portion of the United Kingdom in which Rugby Union football is the national game (as it is in New Zealand), and it would be a kind of poetic justice if the victorious progress of the New Zealand team were checked at Cardiff to-day. But, to judge by the indifferent exhibition of the Welsh three-quarters on the Rectory Field last week, the defeat of the visitors is an unthinkable contingency. 

Isn't it interesting how little times (or The Times!) have changed? After all, rugby is still the national game of Wales, and the media can still call games wrong... I would say the Welsh can still stop the All Blacks in their tracks, but that may just be wishful thinking.

I can't help but think though that when Wales stood and faced the All Blacks and refused to turn and/or walk away whilst and after they performed their Haka, they were repeating the national pride and determination which saw the Welshmen first burst into a rousing rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

This is a translation of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau for all my English, American and other relatives, friends and visitors:

The old land of my fathers is dear to me,
Land of poets and singers, famous men of renown;
Her brave warriors, very splendid patriots,
For freedom shed their blood.
Nation, Nation, I am faithful to my Nation.
While the sea [is] a wall to the pure, most loved land,
O may the old language [sc. Cymraeg] endure.
Old mountainous Wales, paradise of the bard,
Every valley, every cliff, to me is beautiful.
Through patriotic feeling, so charming is the murmur
Of her brooks, rivers, to me.

If the enemy oppresses my land under his foot,
The old language of the Welsh is as alive as ever.
The muse is not hindered by the hideous hand of treason,
Nor [is] the melodious harp of my country.

And here is that anthem (be prepared to brush back a manly tear - especially the ladies!). The Welsh national anthem really is the best in the world:

One interesting aspect of the match is the number of All Blacks players with Scottish and Irish names. They also had - unbeknown to most if not all - a secret Welshman on their team, one Billy Wallace.

As I discovered recently, the name Wallace means 'Welshman' in Scots, following the fall of the Welsh Kingdom of Strathclyde, overrun by the Scots who themselves originated in Irish-Ulster, the Royal Family of Strathclyde (and their entourage etc.) moved to Wales, but many Welshmen must have stayed and in the mix that was original Pictish in the Highlands and Islands, Norse settlers of Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland, the Irish-Scots of the South West and now the Central Belt - in what became the land we now know as Scotland.

Was Billy Wallace, a Welshman from Strathclyde many generations removed merely following his genetic code?

Was he, like Arsenal's Welsh goalkeeper Dan Lewis, who let in an arguably "soft" goal to let Cardiff City win the FA Cup in 1927, a Welsh fifth columnist in the midst of the enemy camp! ;-)

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