A painting of Gareth Edwards’ Barbarians essay unveiled

Welsh rugby’s golden age of the 1970s coincided with the explosion of color television – cementing the bright red of the Welsh jersey and dazzling rugby in the minds of viewers in the UK and beyond.

As television coverage and live televised matches grew, Welsh players not only became household names, but their skills and greatest moments could be seen by millions more than those who could ever attend a game – and relived countless times.

But what is widely acclaimed as the greatest try in rugby union – scored by the man who was a mainstay in the Welsh side of the 1970s – was scored in the black and white hoops for the Barbarians against the All Blacks of New -Zealand.

Former Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Gareth Edwards lit up the occasion, at the National Stadium in Cardiff, after completing a stunning move started with a Phil Bennett sidestep deep of its 22 and involving seven players.

Edwards was the magnificent seventh, but the only visual and audio memories of it were provided by television footage and the inspired verbal accompaniment of match commentator Cliff Morgan.

“Kirkpatrick to Williams. That’s great. Cover by Phil Bennett. Pursued by Alistair Scown. Great! Oh that’s great ! John Williams, Bryan Williams. Pullin. John Dawes, super model. To David, Tom David, the middle line! Brilliant by Quinnell! It’s Gareth Edwards! A dramatic start! What a note!” was how Morgan called him famous.

Today, even routine interviews are photographed by multiple photographers. Photo: Ben Evans Agency/Huw Evans

Such is the frequency with which the famous essay has been repeated, fans born years – even decades – after Edwards plunged into the muck of Arms Park know every pass and can recite Morgan’s commentary.

However, despite extensive searches, no photographs of the trial exist, and to mark Edwards’ 75th birthday on Tuesday, a painting by Welsh artist Elin Sian Blake has been commissioned which captures him landing.

‘The Greatest Try’ project will include prints of it being sold for charity, with a celebratory lunch planned at Celtic Manor Resort in Newport next January to remember a game the Barbarians won 23-11 .

“If the match had been played at the current Principality Stadium, it would have been captured by at least 10 photographers behind the dead ball line in that part of the pitch,” Edwards’ friend Scott Salter said.

“It would have been the rugby photo of the century! But we checked with reputable agencies, photo libraries and photographers of the time and those more recent. There’s just nothing there, and Gareth doesn’t recall ever signing a photo or seeing a painting of his essay.

The National Wales: Sir Gareth Edwards and artist Elin Sian Blake with the specially commissioned painting to mark his 75th birthday, 50th wedding anniversary and 50 years since he scored Sir Gareth Edwards and artist Elin Sian Blake with the specially commissioned painting to mark his 75th birthday, his 50th wedding anniversary and 50 years since he scored ‘The Greatest Try’ against New Zealand in 1973. Photo: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans Agency

The year also holds special personal significance for Edwards and his wife Maureen, as it marks their golden wedding anniversary after marrying 50 years ago.

Edwards’ professional achievements are legendary – 53 consecutive appearances for Wales, 10 Tests over three Lions tours, including starting all four on each of the 1971 and 1974 title-winning trips to New Zealand and South Africa – but the 1973 Barbarians classic holds particularly fond memories.

“I wouldn’t talk about it without ‘Benny’. Without him, this wouldn’t have happened,” Edwards said, in tribute to his late friend and teammate Phil Bennett.

“I am aware of everyone who was involved in it, but of all the players in that part of the world, he was the only player who could have started all of this.

“I remember I was swearing a few minutes earlier because Sid Going (New Zealand scrum half) sabotaged the ball, Bryan Williams (New Zealand winger) sabotaged it, JPR Williams sent it back. I was running in all directions.

“You’re out of breath in the first 10 minutes of any game because your heartbeat doesn’t stabilize, there’s a bit of tension and you’re a bit nervous, especially in this game.

“Everyone in this part of the world was going to have the opportunity to see what, for all intents and purposes, was the Lions team that had just won the series in 1971. We had all come back as heroes, and the All Blacks came here and they were upset.

The National Wales: Elin Sian Blake's painting of Gareth Edwards marking the Elin Sian Blake’s painting of Gareth Edwards scoring rugby’s ‘greatest try’. Photo: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans Agency

“When that ball came back to Phil I thought ‘he’s gonna kick it to touch it, we’ll have a lineout, I’ll have a little ankle pain and a little breathing’ but just when I thought of all that glorious stuff, I looked up and thought ‘where the hell is he going now’?

“I was trying to get out of the way, initially. All the movement was coming towards me, I could see John Dawes, I could see JPR, so I thought I should get out of the way and let the movement continue, but then, as a scrum-half, I thought I’d better go for it.

“I had started, and John Bevan, our fantastic winger, always reminded me: ‘Edwards, I would have been the hero if I had caught that ball’. I always say ‘yes Bev, but you don’t. probably wouldn’t have happened!’ We always pull our legs over that one.

Edwards traveled the world during his life as a rugby player, and it was a moment for the ages that will always be with him.

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“Wherever I go in the world, people want to talk about it,” he added.

“In the 1990s, I was fishing in the middle of nowhere in Russia – it was three hours by helicopter from Murmansk.

“I lived in a village where the mayor, who was a former nuclear submarine commander, took me home, took out a DVD, put it on the TV and it happened!

“What I loved more than anything was the improvisation and the decisions off the ball. There was a lot of fabulous play from both teams, great improvisational rugby to play with the ball in front of you.

Additional reporting: PA Rugby Union correspondent Andrew Baldock

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