When Australia’s rugby players and coaches were looking at who to go on their 1992 European tour, they could have been forgiven for a certain fear of meeting a particular team.

Neath had rocked New Zealand three years earlier in a thunderous encounter in the gnoll. To say that the Welsh club had a reputation for, uh, energetic play at the time is akin to pointing out that the barbarians are known for playing the ball.

The Welsh All Blacks played hard on and off the pitch.

One “game” played on the team bus for away games was to beat another player. Anyone who felt they had blown too softly got slapped by everyone else. It was said at times that some players practically got off the bus with a concussion.

They also trained with a unit known as murderball, which split the squad into two teams for an inside-goal unit. As someone said at the time, the emphasis may have been on “murder” rather than “ball”.

It was like this.

In any case, word had reached Australia that Neath would not be a routine opponent.

Matthew McCarthy, who played the fly half for the Welsh All Blacks that day, told WalesOnline: “I scored 10th against Australian Tim Wallace and met him again five years later when he was with Saracens.

“He told me they weren’t looking forward to coming to Neath at all when they watched videos of the game we’d played with the All Blacks three years earlier and talked to New Zealanders about the hot time in Neath.”

It shouldn’t be any different for Australia.

They won, but the game was marred by fighting and controversy. It was certainly not a one-way street. Brian Williams, Neath’s relentless prop, was badly trampled and had to be stitched in a head wound before rejoining the fight.

He ended the game with a battered and injured face, but never complained.

That wasn’t his style.

Neath tries scorer Brian Williams on charges against Australia

The Dwyer charge

However, Australian players and coaches protested during and after the game. One of her allegations was that she was traveling the world at breakneck speed and making headlines.

Neath, as the Wallabies head coach at the time, Bob Dwyer, said, was the “pocket theft capital of the universe”.

For those in doubt, Dwyer did not claim that there was a spate of travel bag thefts in the Neath area. His claim was that the opposition committed a testicle dig that day.

Distraction after a nasty match in which Australia had not played with the usual dexterity? Or were Dwyer’s comments justified?

Australian trainer Bob Dwyer called the Lions scammers

Former Australian Coach, Australian Coach Bob Dwyer

A skipper speaks

Gareth Llewellyn, who was Neath Skipper that day at the age of 23, went on to say to this writer, “It was a shock to me when Bob Dwyer said that.

“I don’t know if there was an incident, accidental or otherwise. But I know nothing was said among the players after the game.

“There was no discussion of who allegedly did what Dwyer claimed. The question wasn’t even asked.

“I guess people were like, ‘it’s just a case of a whining Aussie.’

“Before that, there was never a plan to go out and grab people by the nuts to get them back from their game.

“Nobody else has compared these allegations to us in other games.

“We played as hard as anyone, but we certainly weren’t cheap dealers.”

Sled claims

Evidence from other Neath players suggests Australia wasn’t angels all those years ago.

As the ’92 Class of the Welsh All Blacks put it, there was more sledding than there was on a cold morning at Winter Sports Park in Wisconsin.

Throughout the game, the Australian players, McCarthy in particular, tried to get under the skin not only by heaving the then 21-year-old Fly-half a series of ups and downs, but also making sure that each of them was accompanied by a few choice words.

“I felt like I was being targeted by Australia that day,” said McCarthy.

“I had a bit of small man syndrome, but at six feet you felt a little small with so many massive men on the field.

“They didn’t stop sledding me during the 80 minutes.”

The 6ft 8in, 19st Andrew Kembery, who suffered very little from small man syndrome, also remembers the non-stop chatter of tourists.

“I vividly remember the amount of permanent barracks,” he said.

“Everything that was against them and every perceived injury, the barracks and the verbalization were constant.”

Under-the-belt tactics not on Neath’s to-do list

Neaths Andrew Kembery fighting Australia during the time Michael Brail has a disagreement in the gnoll.

But it was Dwyer’s comment after the game that got the most attention.

Neath had played the game hard throughout the club’s history, but below the belt, as Dwyer claimed, tactics were never on The Gnoll’s to-do list every season.

“When I saw the allegations, I just had no idea what he was talking about,” said McCarthy.

“We were all unaware of this. Nothing was said by their players during the game or after the final whistle.

“Back then, if you hit the ground with the ball, you were fair kicking, and your legs and back were guaranteed to have a few bumps and bruises.

“The only unwritten rule was nothing about the head or the lower regions.”

He continued, “We knew we were at our best when it got delicious in the storms.

“But the Aussies do it as much as our strikers.

“The allegations of pickpocketing were completely unproven.

“Nothing sneaky or scary had gone on. That was only published as a spontaneous comment. “

Kembery agreed, saying, “I felt we should show some respect for the wallabies, and I’m not talking about dirty play because I certainly haven’t seen or felt any sneaky nastiness.

“Australia was certainly no whiter than white and we went out on the field that day to win, not to be intentionally violent.

“We didn’t take a step back, but we certainly weren’t dirty.

“The bag snap thing seemed like a childish statement.”

The strange afterword

The matter had a strange afterword, however.

Eddie Butler, then rugby correspondent for the Observer and for the BBC, was among those who were unfazed by and criticized aspects of Neath’s approach. He offered Neath rugby boss Brian Thomas the right of reply to BBC Wales.

But the showdown never made it onto TV screens.

Thomas is said to have turned up at the BBC Wales studios with Leighton Davies, the Neath coach, and Steve Flower, a former Newbridge striker, at the studios of his hospital.

The verbal tournament between Thomas and Butler is said to have taken place in front of the camera but was never broadcast.

Butler said at the time, “I should do an opinion article after the Neath-Australia game.

“My overall impression was that Neath was a shame. Dwyer blamed all of the blame on Neath, and I agreed with him.

“I didn’t think it was entirely fair that Neath had no right to reply. I thought Brian plus two people would arrive at the studio, but seven came. “

To Butler’s credit, when he met Flower in the television studios, he apologized.

“I apologized for what I did eight years ago,” Butler said at the time.

“I wasn’t proud of it then and I’m not proud of it today.”

Kembery also criticized the BBC commentator’s coverage of Neath.

“As much as I like Eddie, I thought he did a hatchet job to Neath,” he said.

“I just know that after the game nothing was said among our players about having the wallabies by the eggs.”

The truth is out there.

A French referee who didn’t speak English added to the mix.

It’s hard to remember that Neath has been accused of pickpocketing since then.

But it’s not hard to remember the turmoil surrounding the game.

Dwyer was added to the rugby lexicon.

To this day, Neath still thinks he screwed up.

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