I can’t remember when, exactly, I first saw this clip from a rugby match played on January 27, 1973 between the Barbarians and New Zealand. Which is strange because I do remember the feeling quite distinctly, goosebumps rising as I watched a sport—rugby union—I only half-understood.
You don’t really need to understand the rules to get it, though. The slick passing and movement would stand out anywhere. What makes it for me is the commentary and the speed of Gareth Edwards, who seemingly appears out of nowhere at the end, smokes every guy on the pitch, and dives over the try-line to score.
The action starts around the 0:45 second mark of this vid; be sure to listen to the commentary, because the enthusiasm is contagious.
It was only the third minute of the match, and if the crowd seems especially amped, that’s because the match was at the National Stadium in Cardiff, and Barbarians were made up of a lot of Welsh players. The crowd increasingly loses its shit as the try develops, before exploding once Edwards scores.
All of that would be enough but it is Cliff Morgan’s commentary which pushes it to the next level. Morgan, who was only doing commentary that day because the guy scheduled to do it got sick, seems to know in real time that he’s watching something special. He just can’t help himself. By the time he gets to “This is Gareth Edwards! A dramatic start! What a score!” there’s a pure, gleeful astonishment coursing through his voice. It’s the kind of exuberance you feel when you’re watching something you think you know well, and something unexpectedly genius happens, something you could never have foreseen.
Edwards is one of the greatest Welsh rugby union players of all time, and in 1973 his talent was already evident—he had first captained Wales at the age of 20 in 1968. And Morgan wasn’t new at this either. A former Wales captain himself, he had been in broadcasting for over a decade. He’d seen some shit. But the greatest moments in sports—this one is often referred to as the the “Greatest Try”— turn everyone into a kid again.
My earliest sports memory is Michael Jordan’s shot over Craig Ehlo that put my Cavs in the trash in the 1989 playoffs, which capped a miserable few decades of Cleveland sports, only for there to be 26 more years of futility. Which is to say that I still watch the last 10 minutes of the 2016 NBA Finals once or twice every month. But the joy there is still underpinned by a childhood’s worth of grief. For pure thrill, I turn to Gareth Edwards and this Barbarians try, because I have no emotional connection to it, and because it never gets old watching great players shock you with their greatness.
The Guardian did a good oral history of this try back in 2013. It turns out when you do a great thing, sometimes you’re the last to know. It also makes you pretty tired.
Edwards: “The noise in the stadium was so loud that I thought it must have been something special. I remember walking back thinking, ‘I wish it was the last minute not the first minute.’”
[Tom David]: “When Gareth scored in the corner I was knackered, to be honest. It was only after I came off the pitch, black and blue, covered in bloody stud marks, as the night went on and the beer went down, I realised what a great, great try it was. ‘Pinch me,’ I thought. ‘Was I really involved?’
Readers from the Commonwealth will be very familiar with this sports moment, I’m sure. And I know there are a lot of technical debates over “greatest try” or whatever. But on a visceral level this one never lets me down. Life mostly sucks these days, but when things go dark I dial up this video, a reminder that sometimes it all comes together. Sometimes every small improbable move comes off. Sometimes you get the privilege of watching great players surprise even themselves.