From babe in Arms to demolition man: Rugby Union

Robert Cole talks to the folklore hero who reduced England to rubble as an 18-year-old
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The Independent Online
There are only a handful of matches in the history of rugby that are synonymous with a single player... the Obolensky match... the Hancock match... the Whineray match... and then there is the Jarrett match.

On 15 April, 1967, Wales faced England with an 18-year-old rookie at full-back. Keith Jarrett, normally a centre, had played only 40 minutes in the new position for Newport. But, by the time the final whistle was blown in the international a fairytale had been written and a legend had been born as a 19-point contribution, including a sensational try from the teenage full-back, swept Wales to a 34-21 victory that demolished England's Triple Crown dream.

The stakes will be the same on Saturday - England in pursuit of the Triple Crown, Wales in a fight for pride - but rugby times have changed in the intervening 30 years. After next weekend's big game the demolition men move into Cardiff Arms Park to reconstruct the stadium in preparation for the 1999 World Cup. But the Jarrett match is one memory that will outlive all the alterations.

His captain in that famous game was the Lions outside-half David Watkins, who was also his club captain at Newport. Watkins is in no doubt about the spin-offs such an individual match-winning performance would bring in the new professional era. "If Keith had done that today, it would have made him an instant millionaire, what with boot endorsements, advertising contracts and so on," he says. "It was that outstanding a performance - yet before the match Keith was as cool as anything, he was totally calm and composed."

On the outside maybe, but Jarrett recalls it slightly differently. "I know Dai says that I looked cool, but I can promise you I was very, very nervous," says the man who is now landlord of the White Lion Public House in Chepstow. "After all, I had played only half a match at full-back - and that had hardly gone well. Dai came up to me at half-time and asked me to move back to centre with the excuse that they were missing my penetration."

Watkins recalls: "The Welsh selectors asked us to play Keith at full-back. The game against Newbridge was a real local derby clash with a lot of pride at stake. They made life very difficult for Keith, so much so that I had to go up to him at half-time and ask him to switch back to centre. At that stage I thought I had messed up his prospects of playing for Wales against England.

"We hadn't won a game going into that final match but then there is always a great belief among Welsh players that they can beat England, especially at the Arms Park. My biggest concern as captain was to win the toss so that they didn't kick to Keith. We kicked off and I gave the first two penalties to Keith to kick to touch - even though that was my normal job. When we won a third penalty 45 metres out, I asked him to do the same thing and stick it in the corner but he said, 'I will have a go at goal'. He put the ball down and, even before it went in off the top of the upright, he turned round to me and said, 'I told you so'."

At the time Jarrett was oblivious to the impact he was making. "I heard about one second of noise and then it went deadly quiet for me for the rest of the match. Maybe it was concentration, but I didn't hear the crowd at all. Not even after I scored my try, when the ball bounced nicely for me from Colin McFadyean's attempted touch-kick and I just automatically went for it. The first thing I did when we got back to the changing-room was to ask our physio Gerry Lewis for a fag and I went and sat in a corner by myself, puffing away happily.

"The funny thing about that game was that I thought we had totally outplayed them, but when I saw the video later they had murdered us up front."

Jarrett went on to be selected for the Lions tour to South Africa in 1968 but his trip was ruined by tonsillitis and he lost around two stone because of the illness. He eventually turned professional with Barrow before having his sporting career brought to a cruel end when he suffered a stroke in 1973.

Nineteen points on a spring afternoon in Cardiff has secured his place in history, however, and the story goes that just before midnight at the end of the greatest day in his sporting life a bus driver in the capital, recognising Jarrett walking along the pavement, offered to take him to Newport once he had reported back to the bus depot. At first his boss at the base said no but, on hearing who the sole passenger was going to be, did a rapid U-turn and instructed the driver: "Take a double-decker - just in case Mr Jarrett wants to go upstairs for a smoke."

Cardiff charms: Ten great occasions in a century of memories

The game between Wales and England next Saturday will be the 174th international match played at Cardiff Arms Park since Ireland became the first visitors in 1884. It will also be the last played at the ground as it now is. Demolition work to prepare the way for the new pounds 100m plus Millennium Stadium is due to start later this month. Complete with sliding roof, it should be completed by 1999, in time to host the fourth Rugby World Cup.

1905: Wales v New Zealand

Arguably the most famous match ever played, featuring the try that never was. Dave Gallagher's New Zealand tourists, unbeaten in 27 games, lost to a Teddy Morgan try, but the All Blacks centre Bob Deans swore until the day he died that he was pulled back by Welsh defenders after crossing the home line.

1935: Wales v N Zealand

New Zealand took revenge for their 3-0 defeat in 1905 by beating Wales 19-0 on their next tour in 1924, so this was the unofficial decider. Wales came back to win 13-12 after losing hooker Don Tarr with a broken neck. A second try by Oxford University wing Geoff Rees-Jones sealed victory.

1953: Wales v N Zealand

Wales had won the Grand Slam in 1950 and 1952, but this game gave them a chance to prove themselves on the world stage. Bleddyn Williams's side won 13-8 thanks to a Ken Jones try set up by a Clem Thomas cross-kick.

1958: British Empire and Commonwealth Games

There were seven world records set in the track and field programme of the "Friendly Games". More importantly for the Welsh nation, though, the Queen announced at the closing ceremony that her eldest son, Prince Charles, was to become the new Prince of Wales.

1973: Barbarians v N Zealand

The Baa-Baas beat the All Blacks 23-11 in their tour finale, remembered for THAT try. Gareth Edwards was the scorer, finishing a length of the field move sparked off by three outrageous sidesteps by Phil Bennett.

1978: Wales v France

Wales had won the Grand Slam in 1976, France grabbed it from them a year later and then came the big showdown in Cardiff. They both went into the final championship game undefeated and Phil Bennett led Wales to their ninth Slam, scoring two tries.

1991: Wales v Germany

Ian Rush, the Liverpool striker, scored record numbers of goals for club and country, but few could match his strike against the world champions, Germany, which gave Terry Yorath's side a memorable 1-0 win in a European Championships qualifying match.

1991: Wales v England

Princess Diana had never seen Wales win until she made it third time lucky for her adopted team in their opening match of the 1993 Five Nations series. Will Carling's Grand Slam side had already defeated the French and victory seemed little less than a formality before Ieuan Evans scored a decisive try in an epic 10-9 win.

1993: Lewis v Bruno

The first all-British heavyweight world boxing title fight saw the champion, Lennox Lewis, beat Frank Bruno in the sixth round, in front of 20,000 at 2am on a Saturday morning. Two billion people watched the fight on TV.

1997: Leicester v Brive

The second Heineken European Cup final turned into a rugby spectacular in front of 45,000. Five-thousand Frenchmen witnessed their team outplay the English favourites to win 28-9 in a game rated as one of the best club confrontations ever played.

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