With the ‘halt in play’ affecting the 2020 seasons in both hemispheres, a retrospective look at some past players is due. Some of the rugby royalty from the 1970s is as better place as any to start.
Being a child of that era, my own reflection on this generation has been learned over the years. Learned from the adoration which others have spoken of these men. The respect shown towards the act of play and – especially demonstrated in the amateur era – the reverence earnt through their deeds.
The style of play is much different than today. The attitude was no different though, and when viewed retrospectively, the commitment made by these men should be an attribute to which today’s players can hope to replicate.
Class acts from the 1970’s – Rugby royalty
Beginning with a player who might be seen as a Prince of the game, Welsh player Gareth Edwards is often spoken of with high regard. Not only for his passing and distribution skills, but for the character and the manner in which he acted.
A gentleman, in an era when some saw rugby as a battlefield. Edwards certainly took no backward step, yet, his answer was always ‘with the ball’. Wales would succeed under that model (see main picture) in the Five Nations championship. Succes would also come with the British Lions and the composite side, the Barbarians.
His actions within the Baabaas environment have sometimes seen that 1973 try called the ‘greatest ever’. Most who saw it live would not argue, it matches some of the innovative play that many Super Rugby teams display. Yet in the less structured days of the 70s, you won’t find better.
A real class act of the 1970’s is former Scotland captain, Andy Irvine. With a 10 year record of International tests, the fullback was a regular for his national side.
Irvine was a member of the 1974 British Lions tourist to South Africa. One of several tours he was involved in, and while he competed with JPR Williams for a starting role, Irvine continued to develop his game, and was often seen ‘breaking the line’ at speed.
Rugby bastions opened the decade of Rugby in colour
Fast and multiskilled, with a huge sidestep, Bryan Williams was an exciting player who had the huge sideburns to match. Born of Pacific Island parents, his rise to the All Blacks saw a new era that reflected a modern society.
His style was more often mounted from broken play, yet as a finisher on the wing, Williams could outpace and out-step his opponents. His place on the tour of South Africa was monumental in both it’s legitimacy for his acts on the field, if not then to object to the politics of the era.
Up in the northern hemisphere, another player with the same surname was making a huge mark on Welsh rugby grounds. J P R Williams was a quick and elusive runner. Part of a stellar group that took Wales to the heights of success. Multiple Grand Slams and fabulous play were synomous with Williams, Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett, and Barry John.
Where JPR excelled, was within the mixed group of the British Lions. Touring in 1971 with the victorious collective side, his ability to float at fullback and to be found on the wing, the player has highlights that still excite the purist, as much as fans of a decent punt!
The decade saw the tail of several players mighty careers who were colossal with an aura earned through hard graft in the forward pack. That included Willie John McBride. A strong character, in an Irish News article in 2019, he described himself as being “very fortunate” to have played in an era when there were some wonderful players around like Barry John, Mike Gibson, JPR Williams, and Gareth Edwards.
He won 63 caps for Ireland, including 11 as skipper, but it was the British Lions that defined his career. The second-row forward was a Lions tourist on five occasions from 1962 to 1974, helping the Lions beat New Zealand in 1971 and captaining them on an unbeaten South Africa tour three years later.
He added: “In 1971 we were the first team to beat New Zealand in a series and in 1974 we were the first team to beat South Africa in a series. I had a great bunch of men with me”. And that secured McBride’s place in rugby folklore, a part of the rugby royalty of the 1970s.
The late 70’s gave fans passionate rugby heroes
Hugo Porta enjoyed a career that began in the 70’s and extended until 1991. Over 20 years of representative rugby. He was to Argentinian rugby, what Edwards or McBride were to their nations; an epoch. A matriarch, and his deeds on the field earned Los Pumas credit where few had given them before.
When Argentina defeated Australia 24-13 in 1979, it took his team up into new ground. His effectiveness as a placekicker was never in doubt. He developed a reputation for a dropkick, often using it as a reward for territorial gains – one his forwards must have enjoyed again, and again.
Another passionate footballer of the 70s was Jacques Fouroux. A french player who commanded his position in the middle of the action. In a similar model to Edwards, at the base of the scrum, Fouroux was influential for both club and country.
In his final years with Les Bleus, he controlled the side during a fabulously successful era. Winning matches against all comers – including England, New Zealand and that confidence transferred into the 1977 Grand Slam.
Short in stature, yet packed with talent, he was compared to the French general Napolean. But in the 1970s, size was not an impediment. Talent shone through more than is obvious today. And Fouroux, like many of the listed above, used their abilities to excel on the sports field. Each man due his applause and public affection to this day.
While an endless list of names could be read here, the above examples have only illustrated a ‘portion’ of the great talent and the wealth of rugby royalty that ran out onto the park in the 1970s.
If you enjoyed some of these players and wish to partake in a Poll on the greatest amateur era XV, click on this link before March 31, to get in your vote.
“Main photo credit”
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