Tales from the Water Cooler: Cliff Morgan, a superlative stranger to self-aggrandisement

 

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In such a week, when humanity’s most base traits again see us wobbling on the cusp of wider misery in the Middle East, it took the unremarkable death of an 83-year-old Welshman to remind us of a moment of timeless, uncontained delight.

Those of you unfamiliar with Cliff Morgan should Google “greatest rugby try of all time”, for which this honey-toned son of the Rhondda provided the commentary. Even if rugby usually leaves you cold, it’s impossible to watch Gareth Edwards’ score for the Barbarians against New Zealand in 1973 without feeling the fizzing fingers of delight slaloming around your vertebrae like the dancing boots of Phil Bennett, whose elusiveness started the move.

Watching the action during that holy minute-and-a-half, the thrill is made even more golden by Morgan’s commentary, calling out the names of the players involved and squeezing in as many superlatives as he can.

Thankfully, there are some folk who remain strangers to self-aggrandisement and while Morgan’s efforts during that match will make it live forever in sports broadcasting, speaking about it years later, he was quick to point out that he only worked on that particular game because the usual commentator, Bill McLaren - who he described as “the greatest” - had flu. How serendipity can transform us.

As Morgan said in the immediate aftermath of the try: “If the greatest writer of the written word had written that story, no one would have believed it.”

Well, Cliff Morgan made us believe it, with nothing more than his voice.

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