Gareth Edwards’s try for the Barbarians against the All Blacks is considered rugby union’s try of the century, yet it would never have been scored had that sequence of play happened in modern rugby’s world of Television Match Officials and super slow replays, writes Mark Keohane.
Edwards’s jersey from the Barbarians famous win against the All Blacks is to be auctioned, but it is his try from that match that is rich with romance.
It is a beauty, preceded by some brilliant stepping from flyhalf Phil Bennett in the build-up to Edwards scoring. The halfback pairing were comfortably the best in the world in the early to mid 1970s, with Wales and the British & Irish Lions.
They showcased their brilliance in the Barbarians match, but in this particular instance this spectacular try only stands the test of time because it happened in a world when referees were allowed to make on-field calls, whether they got it right or wrong.
Run of play:
Barbarians lose lineout, Syd Going bangs it downfield.
JPR runs it back, grubbers the ball as he’s tackled around the head by NZ hooker Ron Urlich. (In today’s TMO dominated world of rugby and touchline assistants, the whistle would have gone there and then and Urlich would be off).
Going collects and is high-tackled by flanker Fergus Slattery. (Same thing, if movement was allowed to continue to there, Slattery would be off).
Ball goes wide to Bryan Williams, he bangs a nothing kick deep into Barbarians territory.
Bennett recovers, steps three defenders and passes to JPR who is neck tackled by Williams. (Same thing again, Williams would have been off. Whistle would have gone immediately).
He manages to offload and Barbarians run-exit their 22 through centre John Dawes.
The ball goes through another two pairs of hands before No 8 Derek Quinnell throws a clear forward pass to Edwards, who finishes in the corner.
It is the try of the century.
If that movement had been played today, it wouldn’t have gone past the head high hit on JPR Williams.
It is said that the TMO has improved the accuracy of decision-making. That is debatable; what isn’t is that many a glorious 90 metre tries have been disallowed in the modern era because of the most debatable TMO intervention, be it the possibility of a ball going a fraction forward, or one of 20 technical interpretations that could be argued either way.
Rugby’s romance is in how the Edwards try is remembered but it should be remembered as a try played in a romantic era where the referee was trusted to officiate on what his eyes saw on the field of play in real time.
Rugby’s robotic age will be remembered for how every pass, collision and try was slowed down to a near freeze-frame, the result of which was determined by a person sitting in a room surrounded by several televisions and asking for several different angles from broadcast producers.
Rugby, in the 1970s, was a contact sport played with the acceptance of on-field human error. Rugby, in 2023, is a sport played with the illusion it is a contact sport that allows for human error but in reality it is a sport played on the field but officated from behind a television set.
Watch: The Try of the Century