As Wales prepare to face their nemesis New Zealand once again, a new book recalls the legendary day when the age-old rivalry began – and the Welsh got the upper hand
Famous Wales win over New Zealand celebrated in new children’s book
Wales v New Zealand. What a fixture, what a rivalry. And of all the 35 Tests between these rugby-fanatical nations, it’s still the very first meeting 116 years ago that stands out above the rest, a match dubbed the ‘Unofficial World Championship’ that passed into legend.
James Stafford, the Cardiff-born founder of cult rugby website The East Terrace, says: “I’ve been fascinated by the 1905 All Blacks tour since I was nine years old and my mother bought me a book on rugby history. This is the game and tour that established rugby as the national sport for both Wales and New Zealand, and was key in defining the role of sport in both countries. It still influences how both nations are viewed today.”
Stafford has linked up with Welsh publishers Y Lolfa to produce a children’s book about that famous match on 16 December 1905, when New Zealand arrived at the Arms Park looking utterly impregnable. Not only had they won all 27 tour matches but they had racked up a gargantuan 801 points against a puny 22 conceded; no one had even managed to score against them for seven games.
The book is called How Wales Beat the Mighty All Blacks and comes in hardback, £7.99.
Standing in the way was a Wales team that had won that year’s Four Nations – they thrashed England 25-0 on their way to a Triple Crown – and which welcomed back the great Gwyn Nicholls, the ‘Prince of Centres’, out of retirement. Nicholls had hung up his boots to focus on running a laundry business and at 32 he’d had no intention of reversing that decision.
However, New Zealand’s march through England, Scotland and Ireland had struck a chord with him. “They call me the greatest,” he thought to himself. “But how will I know I really am if I don’t try to stop these mighty men?”
And so Nicholls resumed rugby and captained Wales to arguably their most famous victory, the only try coming from a training-ground move – yes, they had organised a special practice session – that put wing Teddy Morgan over the try-line.
What grates even to this day for New Zealanders is the non-awarding of a ‘try’ by their centre Bob Deans after Rhys Gabe tackled him just short of the line.
New Zealand were to lose three of their first four clashes with Wales, coming unstuck again in 1935 and 1953, but have reeled off 31 successive victories since. That is some way to take revenge! The most recent meeting was the bronze-medal match at RWC 2019.
Stafford’s book records something else of historical significance. “It was also the first time a national anthem was sung by a team before an international sports contest, as Wales wanted something to respond to the haka with.”
How Wales Beat the Mighty All Blacks is beautifully illustrated by Carys Feehan, Stafford’s niece. Raised in Hong Kong to Welsh parents, Feehan is studying animation at the CalArts University in California. The images are packed with interesting historical detail, such as the kits worn and the different flag used by Wales at the time.
“It was a great experience working with Carys,” says Stafford. “Whilst researching the book with her, we found an old family portrait in my parents’ attic of my great-grandparents taken in 1905. I’d never seen it before and it was such a coincidence that we used it as one of the pictures on Gwyn Nicholls’s wall in the book! We’ve hidden a few other things in the book – my wife, children and I appear in a crowd scene on one page, and my parents are also there!”
Children’s sports literature has gone up a few notches in the past couple of years. That’s partly because the category has been added to the Telegraph Sports Book Awards, with former Wales and Lions star James Hook winning this year with the first instalment of his Chasing a Rugby Dream series.
Now Stafford’s collaboration with Feehan adds to that material.
“It takes young readers on a journey to Wales’ past and blends storytelling, culture, Welsh history, sport and art,” the author says.
“Set against the drama of one of the greatest rugby matches of all time, it showcases the importance of rugby in Wales and teaches children that working hard and not giving up is important and will help them reach whatever goals they may set themselves one day.
“I hope that people enjoy the inspirational story. I think using sport to bring the past alive is a really fun and helpful way to capture children’s imaginations.”
How Wales Beat The Mighty All Blacks by James Stafford is published by Y Lolfa, RRP £7.99.
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