The Arms was synonymous with Welsh rugby and the All Blacks played many matches against the Welsh prior to it being pulled down to make way for the highly impressive Millennium Stadium. The stadium was also the home of the 1958 British Empire & Commonwealth Games. But to most New Zealand sports fans, the Arms is a rugby venue, and it was one of the great venues to watch rugby.
Matches between the Welsh and New Zealand were traditionally exciting
contests with passionate crowds. Each team’s supporters have always been respectful of the others knowledge and desire to win. Only in New Zealand and Wales is rugby the country’s number one sports so matches between the two nations have always been ferocious – and occasionally controversial.
It was at Cardiff Arms Park, that rugby’s most controversial moment happened. In 1905, the New Zealand team had won the first thirty games on tour including tests against England and Scotland. They had outscored the opposition by 753 to 22. Wales were the best team in the UK having recently won the Triple Crown, so New Zealand’s first ever match at Cardiff Arms Park was dubbed “The World Championship” pitting the two best teams head to head. The match also started with the crowd’s rendition of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (Land of Our Fathers) which is the first ever time an anthem was sung before a rugby test. Wales took the lead with a try through Teddy Morgan. Then, New Zealand’s Billy Wallace broke free but was caught by Willie Llewellyn. He passed to Bob Deans who then headed for the try line.Rhys Gabe gave chase and so did the referee.To the day of his death, Deans claimed he had made the try line but was pulled back while Gabe was equally positive he was short.The referee blew “no-try” and Wales were victorious.
Thirty years later, Wales beat New Zealand again at Cardiff Arms Park, 13-12.
It was third time lucky for the Welsh when the All Blacks returned on the 1953 tour. In the All Blacks 400th ever match Gareth Griffiths for Wales ignored medical advice and played through the pain of a dislocated shoulder and the men in scarlet won 13-8 with a late try by Ken Jones. The Cardiff Arms Park omens had not been good leading up to that 1953 match. A month before the test, at Cardiff Arms Park, the All Blacks suffered a very rare event – a loss against a club or province.
It has only ever happened eight times in the UK and in November 1953, Cardiff beat the All Blacks 8-3. Wales have not beaten the All Blacks since that game in 1953. The All Blacks did lose 23-11 at the Arms in 1973 to the Barbarians. That match will always be remembered for “that try” in which Gareth Edwards scored the try of the century.The Barbarians ran it out from almost their own goal line.Cliff Morgan’s commentary made the try even more memorable: “This is Gareth Edwards, A dramatic start, what a score…If the greatest writer of the written word would have written that story no one would have believed it.”
The All Blacks have however beaten Wales ever since 1953. On tours in 1963, 1967, 1972, 1978, 1980 and finally in 1989 were all victories to New Zealand at Cardiff Arms Park. It was close in 1978 (13-12 with a controversial late penalty kicked by Brian McKechnie after Andy Haden had duped the referee) but in 1989 New Zealand scored four tries and won 34-9. After 1989, New Zealand would not play Wales again on welsh soil until 2002, by which time the
Millennium Stadium was being used.
As well as rugby, the stadium was home to the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, in 1958 and New Zealand sent a team of 52 men and 12 women to compete. Both the Opening and Closing ceremonies were held in the stadium. The Games were the first ever which featured the Queen’s Baton Relay. Roger Bannister carried it out from Buckingham Palace’s gates and Welsh rugby player and sprinter Ken Jones carried it into the stadium as part of the opening ceremony. The Closing ceremony was a proud moment for all Welsh people. The Queen was ill and could not attend the closing ceremony but in her message, she made her son Charles, the Prince of Wales. At the time Cardiff Arms Park had terraces and room for 60,000 spectators but in preparation for the Games, seating was installed, so 34,000 people watched the athletic events. They saw New Zealander Murray Halberg win the Men’s 3 mile race and Neville Scott finish third to take bronze. Halberg’s margin of victory was about 60 yards and he won by almost ten seconds. He took more than twenty seconds off the previous Games record and he had run the third fastest three mile race ever. Valerie Sloper won the Women’s Shot Put. Sloper also won a bronze medal in the Discus behind her compatriot Jennifer Thomson. Mary Donaghy in the High Jump also won silver as did Les Mills in the Men’s Discus. Dave Norris (Men’s Triple Jump) and Merv Richards (Men’s Pole Vault) both won bronze medals.
In the first ever Women’s Rugby World Cup held in 1991, NZ lost 7-0 in the semi finals to the eventual winners USA at Cardiff Arms Park.
When Kiwis Fly: A Sports Tour of Great Britain is the first book to shine a spotlight on 140 leading UK sports venues and to profile the New Zealanders who have succeeded there.
When Kiwis Fly tells the stories of sporting dreams, hopes, disappointment and redemption. It is the story of New Zealand growing up as a nation in the sporting venues of Britain.
When Kiwis Fly covers traditional sporting venues such as Lord’s, Old Trafford and Wimbledon and some venues which many readers will not recognise – Pedestrianism at the Royal Agricultural Hall in the 1880s, Stone Skimming in Scotland and the west London concert venue where the Kray brothers boxed.
You can learn more about the Kiwis who are succeeding every week on the sports fields of Britain and purchase a signed copy of the book at www.whenkiwisfly.co.uk.
The Author: Duncan Perkinson is a New Zealand sports writer who moved to the UK in 2002. After originally living in London he now lives “up north” in Wirral, near Liverpool, part of the UK’s glorious ‘Golf Coast’. He is married to Jeanette, is a proud father of two — and his three favourite sporting venues are Anfield, Wimbledon and St Andrews.