By David Williams
Easter wouldn’t have been Easter in Wales without the traditional Barbarians tour throughout the 20th century.
The tourists played Penarth on Good Friday, Cardiff on East Saturday, held their golf day at Glamorganshire Golf Club in Penarth on Easter Sunday and then rounded off their trip with consecutive games against Swansea and Newport.
The Baa-Baas first played in Wales on 31 March, 1891 against Cardiff. They faced Newport for the first time and year later and then turned their Easter jaunt into a full-blown, four-match tour in 1901, when they added Penarth and Swansea.
They eventually ended fixtures with Penarth in 1986 as the demand on players grew. Fixtures ended with Swansea in 1994 and their annual trips to Wales were finally abandoned in 1996, a year after the game turned professional, after they had met Cardiff and Newport for the last time.
Many of the greatest players in the world got their first experience of playing for the Baa-Baas at the Athletic Field, in Penarth.
Up to 6,000 fans would cram into the Victorian venue, standing on duck boards around the touchlines as the whole of the seaside town turned out in style.
It was always a 3.30pm kick-off and a large majority turned up as it was one of the few places you could get a drink on a Bank Holiday.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Penarth players to pit themselves against household names.
For a number there was the never-to-be-forgotten moment of savouring victory. The final two wins came in 1976 and 1980 and Phil Bennett appeared for the guest side in both matches.
The former Cardiff and Wales prop Mike Knill was captain in the last win in 1980, which was Penarth’s centenary season, and the 29-22 victory made up for the fact he had been in the Baa-Baas team four years earlier when they had fallen to a 36-30 defeat in one of the greatest games ever seen at the historic venue.
Brendan McAloon, with 14 points from the boot, and Steve McCann, with two high-speed tries, were the heroes 40 years ago and Dennis John was the brains behind the triumph four years earlier.
The 1976 win was all the sweeter because the England back row man Dave Rollitt had played in the Bristol side that had beaten Penarth, 61-7, the previous weekend and was expecting a similar outcome with the Baa-Baas as he packed down alongside Tommy David and Richard Creed.
In 1971, it was a try by scrum half Paul Cosh and the big boot of No 8 Wally Carter, who kicked a vital penalty in the dying moments, that sealed a 15-12 win.
Great Penarth stalwarts such as Alan Stamp, Phil Helmore, John Evans, John Huw Williams, the Edwards brothers, Mike and Keith, all wrote their names into local folklore that day.
Stamp and Helmore were back for more in 1976, when former Cardiff lock Lynn Baxter was captain of a side that also included another former Cardiff player, John James. Bob MacPherson, another legendary character, was at No. 8, while lock Henry Bohlen, who made more than 400 appearances for the Seasiders, had one of his best games.
It was one of the most magical days out in the rugby calendar, a true David v Goliath match in which the underdogs always gave of their best and enjoyed every moment of their rare successes. It was what the amateur game used to be all about.
For the record, there were 11 victories for Penarth in their 75 games against the Barbarians and a further four draws.
There were wins in 1904 (5-4), 1905 (8-5), 1906 (5-0), 1912 (3-0), 1913 (8-3), 1914 (8-3), 1920 (12-10), 1960 (10-8), 1971 (15-12), 1976 (36-30) and 1980 (29-22). The draws were in 1910 (10-10), 1921 (10-10), 1955 (3-3), 1959 (6-6).