As part of his mission to re-watch some classic moments in Welsh rugby history – and ponder them in the era of lockdown Britain – Harri Morgan has now stepped out of his time-machine in 1987. Margaret Thatcher is prime minister, Whitney Houston is No.1, and little Harri is watching Wales v England through the bars of his cot.
What are my memories of Wales v England at Rugby World Cups? I have two absolute classics.
They have different narratives, context and outcome, but both were important days in my experience as a supporter of Welsh rugby.
In 2003, Wales may not have come out on the right side of ledger, but a ‘caution to the wind’ game plan that was executed with precision and skill gave us hope.
Not just for one night in Brisbane, but for the next chapter. Who knows how it would have played out for a future World Rugby player of the year called Shane Williams, but for his performance that night?
Then, 12 years on, there was that visit to Twickenham – to the back yard of the host nation – a venue where in the now infamous words of Chris Robshaw, ‘we back ourselves’.
As it played out, Wales pulled off a smash and grab victory in the face of adversity. Adversity that saw replacement scrum half, Lloyd Williams thrown onto the wing as an injury replacement. We know the rest. Diolch, Lloyd.
But, there is a third Wales-England chapter, or should I say first chapter, to the story of arguably rugby’s biggest rivalry at rugby’s biggest competition. One that I must admit was not previously on my rugby radar.
For that we go back to the June 8, 1987, to Ballymore Stadium in the suburbs of Brisbane. The prize for whoever took the spoils in the last eight tie at the home of Queensland was a semi-final with joint hosts, New Zealand, who had comprehensively overcome Scotland.
If my search was to find, and re live ‘classic matches’ then I’m not sure this quite fits in that column. Although, admittedly that is subjective.
The opening two or three minutes, should be followed by a simple warning that ‘it doesn’t get much better’. Had I known, I might have hit the ejector seat early doors.
England kick off, belting the ball dead in-goal. Ideal, I think. Scrum to Wales on half-way. Wrong. Instead it was a 22 drop-out, which gave England first possession. Was everyone opting for this kick off strategy? Seems a no-brainer.
With their first possession, England again opt to send the ball into Wales’ dead ball area – this time by hoisting the ball high into the Brisbane sky.
Paul Thorburn failed to pluck it from the air and would have been relieved that a red jersey was first to ground the ball. In hindsight, this was perhaps England’s best attack of the first half.
Wales also venture to the skies with their first possession – Jonathan Davies sits extremely deep before pumping it into the air.
The depth of his half-back partner, which is a constant, is a none-issue for Robert Jones. I remember being told as a kid that Jones was the best passer in the game and on the evidence of this game, I’m happy to go along with that.
In the absence of modern day video analysis, it seemed both coaches had been paying attention to the weather forecast when devising their game plan.
Thorburn misses an early penalty, and Davies attempts a drop goal that inadvertently turns out to be a great attacking kick, as it rolls toward the corner flag, giving Wales great field position.
Moments later. Davies shapes for another field goal, but quickly remembers the result of his previous effort.
Instead, he drops the shoulder, steps of his left and heads toward the English goal line. The outside-half is halted five metres out.
Wales recycle the ball, but knock-on as they try and put the ball through the hands. Scrum to England – one metre from their own line.
The Welsh front row consisted of ‘Geography’ Dai, Alan Phillips and Anthony Buchanan. David Young had joined the squad mid-tournament, having been conveniently located in Canberra, where he had been playing club rugby.
They put the shunt on the English pack and the ball squirts out of the side for Cardiff flanker Gareth Roberts to pounce upon and open the scoring.
I think England were down to seven men at the scrum, with Nigel Redman forced to advance from the second row and unable to handle the heat. I say ‘I think’ due to the notable lack of replays.
Thorburn whacked over the conversion.
🏉 In the fourth match of their 1987 Rugby World Cup, Wales lined up against England…
And what a quarter final it was! pic.twitter.com/ApeSygD3P8
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) September 4, 2019
It was 6-0 to Wales at the break. Jonathon Webb missed two penalties for England, with fly-half Peter Williams of Orrell, attempting a drop at goal.
His radar might have been more finely tuned than his opposite number, but the lack of any take-off rendered his attempt a failure.
Wales open the scoring in the second-half with a try for Robert Jones.
The Welsh scrum-half flings a wide pass to Jiffy, who is stationed a fair distance, laterally on this occasion, from the ruck.
He turns the ball to Bleddyn Bowen on the scissors. The Welsh midfielder perfectly exploits the gap between the back line and the ruck that has been facilitated by Jones’ range of passing.
Bowen finds Richie Collins going full steam in support, Collins releases the ball in contact and Jones toe ends the ball over the top and beats his opposite number in the race to dot down.
Thorburn whacks the conversion, but it goes wide.
With the going soft, at best, Wales are happy to kick and back their defence as England force their hand.
Their biggest threat is seemingly referee, Mr. Rene Hourquet of France. His decisions are arbitrary, and there is never an instant indication as to who is the beneficiary.
Well, that’s if you call having a penalty a benefit. I only noticed in the second-half that the team who kicked the penalty to touch weren’t rewarded with the throw-in to the line out. Although, most line-outs are, to a certain extent, a lottery.
It is via a penalty, this time in a kickable position, that England open their account with only four minutes remaining – Webb succeeding with his third attempt.
They had to find a converted try at the death to avoid being knocked out of the inaugural Rugby World Cup.
As it was, in search of that score, Williams throws a pass that is perfectly read by John Devereux, who the commentary team describe as the vanguard of the Welsh defence.
The commentary team, incidentally, sound like they are dialling in from the local phone box.
Anyway, ‘the vanguard’ intercepts and canters home to book Wales’ place in the semi-final.
I can imagine, I’d have been going bonkers at the time. In reality, I was probably asleep or filling up another nappy.
A classic result for fans of Welsh rugby – perhaps. But, Barbarians v All Blacks of 1973, it certainly was not.