Jacob Whitehead runs through the top ten Test tries from the Seventies
60 Years of Rugby World: Greatest Tries of the 1970s
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Rugby World magazine, we’re counting down the top ten international tries of every decade of its existence.
First we did the best tries of the 1960s and up next is the 1970s, a decade dominated by a group of legendary Welshmen whose matches in the hoops of the Barbarians or red of the Lions and Wales produced a host of incredible tries…
Ilaitia Tuisese (Fiji) v Barbarians, 1970
Fiji took on a Barbarians side in Gosforth that would contain no fewer than nine members of the 1971 Lions touring party and put them to the sword, running out 29-9 winners. Around four of their six second-half tries could justifiably be in this list, but the pick of the bunch was Ilaitia Tuisese’s effort.
Coming straight from Phil Bennett’s kick-off, Joeli Naucabalavu rampaged almost 40 metres upfield, before flinging a ten-metre basketball pass to second-row partner Nasivi Ravouvou. He beat three players before handing the ball off to the advancing Tuisese for a sensational try between the posts.
Begin the video at 35:30 to see the talismanic scrum-half Isimeli Batibasaga’s slaloming score moments before.
Gerald Davies (Lions) v New Zealand, 1971
The 1971 tourists are the only British & Irish Lions side to win a Test series in New Zealand, but possibly their greatest try came in their only Test defeat, a 22-12 loss in Christchurch. It’s a masterpiece in simple skills performed exceptionally (see 3:40 on the video).
The try has strange echoes of Elliot Daly’s 2017 Six Nations winner in Cardiff, but perhaps with a little more flair, and far more trailing defenders.
Indomitable full-back JPR Williams took a Sid Going kick and scythed through the New Zealand defence before shipping the ball on to centre Mike Gibson. The Irishman drew the defence before popping the ball to Gerald Davies, the wing appearing from out of shot, and showing great pace to beat two covering All Blacks to the corner.
Ian Kirkpatrick (New Zealand) v Lions, 1971
The Christchurch crowd for the second Test were treated to a special match, as Ian Kirkpatrick scored another sensational try in the very same game as Gerald Davies’s effort.
With the ball seemingly mired in a maul on halfway, Kirkpatrick ripped it away, and with a dextrous shimmy was away downfield. No Lion would have fancied trying to bring down the big back-rower head-on, but Kirkpatrick took that decision for them, using his rangy frame to streak away from would-be tacklers on the outside to secure the victory for New Zealand.
Gareth Edwards (Wales) v Scotland, 1972
Gareth Edwards was bound to make this list. But it’s not ‘that try’ for the Barbarians yet. Feast instead on this sublime individual score, against Scotland at Cardiff Arms Park.
Scooping the ball up from a ruck in his own 22, Edwards beat some lazy defence on the blindside, streaking like a greyhound over halfway. With the sight of Arthur Brown growing larger, Edwards chipped the ball up and over the Scottish full-back, before hacking ahead and beating three defenders to dot the ball down in a mud-soaked corner.
Grant Batty (New Zealand) v Scotland, 1972
Great tries sometimes occur when a player seems to operate on a different plane of time and space to those around him. Think of acrobatic finishes, behind-the-back flicks, a Jason Robinson sidestep. One such example comes from 1972, on New Zealand’s tour of the northern hemisphere (see 9:20 on the video).
All Black centre Bruce Robertson, scarcely 20 years old, ran through his forward pack into a melee of Scottish bodies. With seemingly no escape from this cul-de-sac, Robertson did something nobody expected, dropping the ball onto his foot seconds before he was clattered by a defender.
His grubber into Murrayfield’s huge dead-ball area was perfectly weighted, much to a grateful Grant Batty’s delight, for he only had to flop onto the ball to score the try.
Gareth Edwards (Barbarians) v New Zealand, 1973
Where to start? This try could have an article all by itself. There are so many facets to enjoy, from Phil Bennett’s stepping to the near decapitation of JPR Williams, Tom David’s offload round the back of the defender and Derek Quinnell’s miracle catch.
Perhaps my favourite aspect is that Gareth Edwards appears to intercept the final pass, a spontaneous intervention without which rugby history would be much poorer. And how about the gold standard he sets for diving, feet up, arms outstretched, mullet flowing.
JPR Williams can think himself unlucky to miss out on the list with another outstanding score in the same game.
JJ Williams (Wales) v France, 1974
Wales were ridiculously talented in the 1970s. Winger JJ Williams would come to fame for his tries on the 1974 Lions tour, but his best came in that year’s Five Nations against the French (see 0:50 on the video).
Receiving the ball from a drifting back-line, he dropped a shoulder to ghost past his opposite man. In the same fluid movement he grubbered the ball down the touchline, using his knee to then lob the ball over the charging French full-back. One more favourable bounce and he was over the line for the crucial try in a 16-16 draw.
Jean-Pierre Romeu (France) v England, 1974
The whistle could have gone at least three times in this move, but a beautiful French try was made by two classic pieces of lackadaisical skill (see 20:00 on the video).
It’s hard to conceive of a pick-up as graceful as the one performed by fly-half Jean-Pierre Romeu, who bent like the neck of an arcing swan to corral the loosely bouncing ball. A small dummy created a two-on-two, before he passed the ball to No 8 Claude Spanghero.
The 6ft 5in forward showed a scarcely believable delicacy by flicking the ball behind his back to the looping Romeu, who would slowly jog between the posts for an effortlessly cool try.
Phil Bennett (Wales) v Scotland, 1977
A recent BBC poll saw this magical counter-attack voted Wales’ greatest ever try and Sean Holley analyses it in the 60th anniversary issue of Rugby World magazine.
Wing Gerald Davies produced two sidesteps, a hand-off and an offload to kick the move off, with Bennett then finding himself in enough space to put David Burcher away down the right wing.
Burcher lobbed the ball back inside and centre Steve Fenwick did brilliantly under pressure to pat the ball back into the arms of the supporting Phil Bennett. The fly-half’s final sidestep is almost cruel, dodging two men with a step so violent that they can do little but stagger to the floor in disbelief.
Andy Irvine (Scotland) v Wales, 1979
Andy Irvine had kicked the ball away for Phil Bennett’s iconic 1977 try but made amends in the rematch at Murrayfield two years later (see 19:30 on the video). He embarrassed a chasing Elgan Rees with a sidestep from a loose kick before retreating to the outside backs for the following phase.
Making his debut for Scotland, John Rutherford sat deep as if to invite the Welsh blitz, before ducking inside and dashing upfield. He ran a switch with Ian McGeechan before the now-legendary coach found the lumbering Alan Tomes. The second-row would fire a pass 15 yards with one hand, leaving Irvine merely having to step past JJ Williams to score one of Scotland’s greatest tries.
And a bonus try…
Bryan Williams (New Zealand) v Scotland, 1975
New Zealand is not known for bright sunshine, but the visiting Scottish side may have expected slightly better conditions than those they experienced in the ‘Water Polo Test’ of 1975. Eden Park resembled a swimming pool.
One moment transcended the state of the game, when Scotsman Lewis Dick attempted to fly-hack a loose ball into touch. It got stuck in a puddle on the side of the pitch and was seized upon by All Blacks winger Bryan Williams, who – retreating towards his own line – suddenly turned and beat five defenders on a diagonal run towards the posts to splash down for an improbable try (see 1:20:50 on the video).
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