Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks. Each time we play the standard bearers of world rugby, we are reminded of this stat. In 27 efforts, Ireland have lost to New Zealand 26 times. The solitary draw came in 1973, a 10-10 stalemate in Lansdowne Road. At underage level, we have never beaten the Baby Blacks. Mike Ruddock’s U20 side came close last Thursday, but the record remains unbroken. Our women’s team has never beaten the Black Ferns, although they haven’t had a chance to do so yet.
It would appear that Munster are the only Irish rugby team to have beaten New Zealand, with that famous 12-0 victory in 1978. But if you dig a little deeper, there is a dirty secret to be exposed: Ireland beat New Zealand in 1973, by a scoreline of 22-18. How has this result gone ignored you will surely ask? Possibly because the game took place at the International Seven-A-Side Tournament at Murrayfield in Scotland. That’s right, sevens!
On the 7th of April in 1973, the Scottish Rugby Union held the tournament as part of their centenary celebrations. Eight international teams were involved, representing each of the IRB-registered rugby nations at the time: Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, France, Australia, New Zealand, and an SRU President’s VII which included several South African players.
Ireland’s nine-man squad was a talented one. Vincent Becker was a lightning quick winger from Lansdowne who also represented Ireland in the 100 metres. He went on to win two Ireland caps in 1974. Arthur McMaster was a winger from Ballymena, who won 18 senior Irish caps, scoring 2 tries. Seamus Dennison was the the Limerick man who made that tackle for Munster when they beat the All Blacks. He won three Irish caps, scoring one try.
Kevin Mays was London-born but playing out of UCD. The lock won four full caps for Ireland in 1973. Donal Canniffe was the captain of Munster when they beat the All Blacks. In ’73, the scrumhalf was still with Cork Con, before later joining Lansdowne. Fergus Slattery was already a well established Irish international, and a non-capped Lions tourist in ’71. The flanker’s career finished with 61 Ireland caps and four for the Lions.
Hooker Pa Whelan was another involved in Munster’s win in ’78. The Garryowen man went on the win 19 Irish caps. Terry Moore was a big No. 8 from Highfield in Cork. He would end his career with 12 caps for Ireland. Last but not least was the captain, Mike Gibson. The Belfast man’s Ireland career had begun in 1964 and he had already toured three times with the Lions. After 69 caps for Ireland and 12 for the Lions, he went on to become an IRB Hall of Famer.
It was certainly a formidable Irish selection. In their opening game of the tournament they came up against New Zealand and duly dispatched them 22-18, having led 10-6 at the break. It’s unclear who did the scoring for Ireland, with the available records not extending to that detail. The Irish team went on to beat Australia 16-4 in their next game, before securing a place in the final with a 24-12 win over Scotland.
The final saw the Irish face an English team of considerable strength themselves: David Duckham, Steve Smith, Andy Ripley, Roger Uttley, Peter Preece, John Gray, Peter Rossborough and Keith Fielding were captained by the enigmatic Fran Cotton. The English were victorious, claiming the trophy by another 22-18 scoreline. Although the tournament was never awarded official status by the IRB, the Irish team had essentially finished runners-up in the first Sevens World Cup, and beaten New Zealand for the first time in our rugby history.
There’s more to this than just a good story. The 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens takes place in Russia from the 28th to 30th of June, with the likes of Portugal, Hong Kong, Uruguay, Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Tunisia all involved in the party. Following the Italian rugby federation’s recent decision to implement a sevens programme, Ireland are now the only nation in the top 17 of the IRB World Rankings without a sevens team.
The developmental advantages which sevens offers to 15-a-side players are something I’ve written about before, but the fact that sevens is an Olympic sport adds even more value to the calls for the IRFU to get behind it.
Something is amiss…
Photos: Martin Dobey, Stefanie.