From The Vaults

23 January 2017
Rugby's Greatest Upsets Part 2 - Wales v New Zealand, 1905

New Zealand had set down a marker of quality when defeating a tired and injury ravaged British Lions side at the tail end of their tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1904. The tourists had comfortably defeated Australia in three straight tests prior to the game but the New Zealand pack brought a new level of physicality to the contest.

Having seen off the visitors it made sense that New Zealand send out its own expeditionary force and the New Zealand Originals arrived in Plymouth quietly in the early autumn of 1905. Little was expected of them to the extent that when they defeated Devon 55-4 in their opening fixture some British newspapers reported the score as being to the home side's advantage.

It was the start of a mini-tornado, the start of the All-Blacks and one of the most formidable and enduring traditions in sport. Over the next two months Dave Gallaher's side defeated every English side put in front of them, many without conceding a single point. By the time they arrived in Edinburgh for their first test-match they had accumulated 612 points to just 15 in return.


New Zealand team on the cliffs at Camborne, 1905

The British press, who had at first taken only a passing interest, were by this stage in raptures, devoting more column inches to the visitors than many of the important affairs of state that were taking place at the time. They were particularly taken with the New Zealander's intimidating attire and the Daily Mail took to making casual reference to the 'All-Blacks'.

Scotland were defeated by 12 points to 7, following which, over successive weekends Ireland and England were brushed aside 15-0. By the time they arrived in Cardiff the All-Blacks had grown in stature to be counted amongst the gods. Schoolboys knew each of the first fifteen by name and hungrily sought their autographs as the touring All-Black bandwagon rolled into town.

Wales however were not the type of side to be cowed by reputation alone. They were that year's Home Nations Champions, having secured a Triple Crown. With the likes of Teddy Morgan and Rhys Gabe they were on the cusp of what would come to be regarded as the first golden age of Welsh rugby. The mystique that had grown around the touring New Zealand side allowed the Welsh side to assume their comfortable, if slightly erroneous, identity as 'plucky minnows'.


Wales team, 1905

Throughout the tour New Zealand had been negating half the opposition pack by scrumming down in a 2-3-2 formation. To counteract this Wales assigned floating props to seal off the loose-head. The advantage gave Wales forward ball and led to several chances in the early part of the game.

On 23 minutes Dicky Owen's clever feinting run sent Teddy Morgan through for a try. New Zealand came back strongly but the Welsh held on to lead 3-0 at half-time.

The second half was more one-sided with wave after wave of All-Black pressure only relieved by a combination of desperate defending, full-back Bert Winfield's kicking and the usual chorus of voices from the stands. With ten minutes remaining a surging run by Billy Wallace set Bob Deans, the bustling All-Black centre three-quarter, free. He needed only to cross the try line to level the scores but instead made for the posts to allow for an easier conversion. The detour allowed Morgan and Gabe to haul him down inches short of the line.

A dispute then arose about whether Deans actually reached the line or not but the referee determined that he had not. In the aftermath of the game the local press revelled in their victory. Playing on the mystique that the touring side had generated they proclaimed the result an act of giant-killing at the hands of 'gallant little Wales'.

Read Rugby's Greatest Upsets Part 1, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.