As the rain sluiced the valleys and the All Blacks sloshed
through their first serious practice of the week, Bryan
Williams mused on his warm memories of touring Wales and how
the game has changed.
Forty years ago, conditions were similar as a young BeeGee
visited for the first time.
He was in the All Black side beaten by Llanelli 9-3 at
Stradey Park. Several weeks before the All Backs touched down
for this trip in Europe, he and wife Lesley travelled the
hour west from Cardiff to celebrate that day.
They were entertained by Derek Quinnell and his family,
reminisced with Phil Bennett and Delme Thomas and others as
part of a 1200 group who took part in a commemorative dinner.
Llanelli was the All Blacks first stop in Wales in 1972 where
the legendary Carwyn James had prepared his men to take on
The historic result is folklore in Wales which has been
denuded of international success against the All Blacks since
1953. Lots of talk since, lots of hope but few games where
they had a shout.
The game has changed in Wales and so have players.
In his playing kit, Williams was considered a robust package
of 1.79m and 93kg at his heaviest whereas by comparison
Daniel Carter is the same height but a few kilos heavier.
Diet, fitness, weight-training and genetics have produced
larger players throughout the rugby world. Wings also seem to
be following that pattern.
The All Blacks have Julian Savea at 1.92m and 103kg this
weekend against Wales although on the other flank the
versatile Cory Jane contradicts the big is mandatory theory
at 1.83m and 89kg.
They will be duelling with two massive wings for Wales with
the more experienced but still only 20-year-old George North
standing 1.92m and weighing 109kg.
On the other flank the older Alex Cuthbert is 1.98m and
103kg. Think All Black lock Ian Jones on the wing, he had the
same dimensions Cuthbert brings to his work in the No14
Big men on the flanks and they are not scarce in the modern
Williams, now the NZRU president, mentioned a few names just
to show it was not only a modern trend.
When the Lions toured New Zealand in 1971, they had David
Duckham and John Bevan who were large and skilful men on the
Duckham was the dasher and more dangerous while Bevan had
brutish strength although the prince of them on that tour was
the sleek and gifted Gerald Davies.
Springboks like Ray Mordt and Gerrie Germishuys were not
small nor JP Pietersen these days while Joe Roff and Stirling
Mortlock were powerfully-built Wallaby wings.
The All Blacks viewed Scotland wing Tim Visser whose 1.94m
and 110kg chassis claimed two tries in Edinburgh a fortnight
ago while Nick Cummins and Alesana Tuilagi have filled out
the flanks and some, playing for the Wallabies and Samoa.
Had Hosea Gear started this week for the All Blacks he would
have brought 104kg of muscle to his work on the flank.
There has been a shift back towards the larger wings, after
that period a few years ago when the rules did not favour
attack and teams decided it was better to play without the
ball in their own half and hoofed it high or long.
Those tactics encouraged the All Black selectors to use
versatile players on the wing, people such as Jane, Israel
Dagg, Ben Smith, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Richard Kahui for more
Now the game has changed again. International teams are not
just looking for territory or the sideline, they want to
build continuity and use their big men on the flanks to
finish some deals.
Alternatively, they use big wingers to crash through inside
channels to get over the advantage line or challenge loose
forwards who have drifted too wide on set piece defence.
Then there are the hybrids, the dancers and opportunists like
Jane and Bryan Habana, Gonzalo Comacho and Vincent Clerc who
delight crowds and torment opposition.
Just as BeeGee recalled when he said men like Gerald Davies
were the hardest to defend and contain because of their
twinkling feet, balance and speed.
- By Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald