Victory Dive

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The All Blacks wanted to claim a coveted Grand Slam in 1978, but having scraped past Ireland they were in grave danger of losing to Wales. That was until an extraordinary event won them a late penalty.

The All Blacks were heading for defeat at Cardiff Arms Park on November 11, 1978. It was going to be a bitter pill to swallow.

Losing is always tough but the All Blacks were desperate to claim a Grand Slam on that trip North – that is, they were hoping to become the first team from New Zealand to beat Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales in one tour.

Andy Haden of New Zealand during a match. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

It would be a huge and historic achievement and the determination was fierce. And just how hard it would be, became clear in the All Blacks fifth tour game in Limerick.

It was there, in the South-West of Ireland, that one of the great sporting stories was written when Munster beat them 12-0. It was an incredible result – the Irish province playing out of their skins to take the scalp of the mighty All Blacks.

Only four days later the All Blacks had to pick themselves up to play Ireland at Lansdown Road and try to take the first step towards winning their Grand Slam.

It was a dramatic if unspectacular contest with the scores tied at six-all as the final whistle approached. It looked as if the All Blacks were going to fail at the first hurdle, when Andy Dalton managed to barge his way over in injury time to secure the 10-6 victory.

The Grand Slam was on track. But with a few minutes left in the next test against Wales, it was all but over again.

This time the All Blacks were trailing Wales 12-10 and they couldn't find that killer punch to get in front. Wales were in their prime in the 1970s. Looking back now, everyone can see this was Wales' golden era – a decade of unbelievably talented players and smart coaches kept rolling off the production line.

Wales were ahead that day because they deserved to be. They had played most of the rugby, had broken the All Blacks defence on several occasions and had looked the more likely winner from the off.

The All Blacks could feel the anxiety rising within themselves as the clock ticked down.

The crowd were beginning to believe, too and second by second, the pressure was mounting on the All Blacks. Wales had beaten them before, but not since 1953 and a victory against the All Blacks was always the sweetest nut of all.

They just had to hang on for five minutes and those who remember watching the game live say Wales looked like a side that believed they could. They didn't clam up. They didn't stop trusting their instincts and they didn't stop playing.

With just five minutes remaining, the All Blacks may also have realised that Wales weren't going to implode or make any rash decisions. If the All Blacks were going to win the game, they were going to have to come up with a miracle play. Or at least something close.

A long kick into touch just outside the Welsh 22 gave the vaguest hint of a chance. If the All Blacks could steal the lineout, or at least disrupt it, they could win back possession in a strong attacking position.

But they had a different plan in mind. One with greater risk but greater reward, too. As the ball was thrown in, All Blacks lock Andy Haden tumbled out of the lineout.

These were the days when the lineout was ruled by the law of the jungle and the fact Haden was sprawling across the Cardiff turf suggested to referee Roger Quittenton that the All Blacks lock had been forcibly shoved.

The referee had to make an instant judgement and he was convinced that the All Blacks had been impeded and he awarded a penalty.

Brian McKechnie stepped up and banged it over to put the All Blacks 13-12 ahead and they held on to win.

Job done. Grand Slam on track. But it was a victory marred by scandal as Haden hadn't been pushed. The replays clearly show that. There wasn't a Welshman even particularly close to him when he fell. He had dived and conned Quittenton who was making his test début.

It wasn't pushing the boundaries – it was cheating and he'd got away with it.  

Quittenton contends that the penalty was awarded against Welsh lock Geoff Wheel for pushing the other All Blacks lock, Frank Oliver. That's been a handy explanation, but the replays show that Oliver was hardly touched either and few really believe that's what caught Quittenton's attention and why he gave the penalty.

The Welsh were bitter at the result and outraged at the manner in which was achieved. They felt they had been denied a legitimate victory – that a deliberate act of cheating had prevented them from recording what would have been an historic win.

Few players ever get to know the joy of beating the All Blacks and to be so close and so deserving only to be denied by someone feigning foul was hard to accept. There was anger in Wales about the incident – an anger that would linger for some time.

“No-one has more respect for the All Blacks than me but that was a disgrace, the closest thing I've seen to soccer on a rugby field,” Wales midfielder that day Steve Fenwick said.

Haden, after all these years, is still asked what happened and he makes no pretence. “I don't like losing - you do what you do. It is what it is, you do what you do. I did it because I knew it was necessary at the time.”

His captain that day, Graham Mourie, also admits that the dive was pre-planned. “During the game he [Haden] came up to me and said he was going to do it and I looked at him quizzically,” Mourie has been quoted as saying. “Guilty by silence, but yeah, I think in retrospect it was not something you'd knowingly go out and do.

“I know that some of the players later regretted it and their part in it. But it was equally true that in that crucial, unforgiving minute in the searing heat of Cardiff Arms Park the match was won and the tour continued to its climax.”

The Vault
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The Vault

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