Carolyn Hitt on 'We Beat The All Blacks'

30th November 2012

Carolyn Hitt on WE BEAT THE ALL BLACKS in the Western Mail

Those of us who were knee-high to a Space Hopper when Llanelli beat the All Blacks in 1972 found a new rugby hero this week - Roy "Shunto" Thomas.

Comic sparks lit up the documentary celebrating the 40th anniversary of the day the pubs run dry every time the former steelworker opened his mouth. The Scarlets hooker endured one of the longest periods of bench-warming in the history of the international game but he had his moment in the sun on the rain-clouded day his club triumphed over the might of New Zealand.

As he recalled his memories of the 9-3 game, Shunto bubbled with so much hwyl, passion and nervous energy he looked pumped enough to take the field 40 years later. We heard how Delme Thomas - after his usual pre-match delicacy of raw eggs and sherry - galvanised the Stradey dressing room with an inspirational team talk. The veteran of three Lions tours, a Welsh Grand Slam, and 25 international caps told his men he would "give it all away just to win this game today".

While Grav "cried like a baby" and Gareth Jenkins was ready to run through the dressing room wall, Shunto burned with let me at ‘em fervour: "We was on fire like. Marvellous!" he beamed.

"And we wouldn't let him down. We wouldn't let him down" And he didn't, although coach Carwyn James wasn't very impressed with the hooker's response to the haka. "I gave them a clap. Carwyn said ‘What were you doing? You're not supposed to clap the haka!"

But that was the last bit of respect Llanelli paid New Zealand, puncturing their aura of invincibility by taking an early lead and refusing to surrender in the face of some truly thuggish rugby from the men in black. As Delme would later tell The Western Mail: "We squeezed them and never let them go."

The town celebrated this historic victory with positively Bacchanalian carnage. Shunto partied hard into the early hours. "I think it was about four o' clock in the morning, could have been half past four. The police came in and said ‘Roy how you getting home?' Well I'll have to wait until later on to drive - I wasn't falling about," he recalled.

The boys in blue, however, had plans for the tipsy Scarlet hero. Operation Homecoming was planned with as much precision as a Cold War spy exchange at Checkpoint Charlie.

"No, no,' they said ‘you're having a police escort all the way to Penclawdd. Is your wife with you?' Yeah. ‘Come outside now. Jump in the car. I'll be in front. Police car behind. When we get to Loughor bridge I'll be pulling in. We can't go across. You go across and the Gorseinon boys will be the other side, one in front, one behind all the way to Penclawdd.'" Forty years later Shunto is still incredulous: "I can't see that happening again - marvellous!"

Judging from the Twitter response to this beautifully made documentary, a generation too young to say I Was There wished quite a few things would happen again 40 years later as Wales face the All Blacks.

Read more: Wales Online



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