Recalling day North left mighty All Blacks ‘gobsmacked’ at Otley

FORTY years on, it remains one of the most remarkable results in rugby history – the mighty All Blacks being brought to their knees in the overcast West Yorkshire market town of Otley.

Branching out: Spectators watching the North defeat the All Blacks in 1979.

As is still the case now, it was rare for a formidable New Zealand side to ever be defeated.

But it was not even England who enjoyed the famous high. It was the North – a regional representative side plucking only the best players from Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland and such like – who produced the stunning 21-9 triumph on November 17, 1979.

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The epic victory, which involved greats such as Bill Beaumont and Fran Cotton, is now firmly etched in rugby folklore and it is hard to imagine anything similar occurring in the modern day.

Peter Squires, the former Harrogate and Yorkshire winger who won 29 caps for England and had toured New Zealand with the British Lions two years earlier, was on the bench for the North at Cross Green that day.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he recalled: “It was a great experience, a fabulous win.

“I remember how it was a gloomy day weather-wise but the ground was packed.

“I think it held about 8,000 but they always say it’s a big game when people are hanging out of trees.

“Well, there were people hanging from trees trying to watch it at Otley that day.

“I was on the bench. I was coming towards the end of my international career and (Orrell’s) John Carleton was taking over from me on the England right wing.

“He was a good player. Obviously it was disappointing but I think because John was playing instead of me I accepted that as he was such a fine player.

“You’re still part of the squad. I actually can’t remember if anyone ever looked like being injured.

“You only went on through injury in those days – there was no tactical replacement – and you can’t wish anyone an injury!

“You just sit there and accept it. But I was part of it all and it was probably worse for me; I was nearly playing but also watching.

“That made it even more thrilling what happened.”

It was the only time New Zealand, led by legendary captain Graham Mourie, suffered defeat on their entire 11-match tour and, just a week earlier, they had vanquished Scotland 20-6, outscoring them four tries to nil.

Moreover, the week after those unbelievable scenes in Otley, the All Blacks – with 11 of the side that lost at Cross Green – beat England 10-9 at Twickenham.

It was just the 13th time in 10 tours dating back to 1905 that the All Blacks suffered defeat.

Squires, who also played first-class cricket for Yorkshire CCC, added: “It was like an international preparation for us.

“With people like Billy Beaumont, Fran Cotton, Roger Uttley and Tony Neary, we had a lot of international players so it was similar.

“But it was in a totally different venue – Otley compared to Twickenham. In many ways, that probably counted for the Northern Division; the atmosphere was just so unique. Fantastic.

“And, although, the North didn’t have the big clubs, northern rugby was very strong. County rugby was what it was all about.

“New Zealand were surprised at how it turned out.

“They never expected to lose – especially in that game – so I think they were gobsmacked.

“But I don’t remember anything untoward and they accepted it as good sportsmen, very much like the All Blacks are taught to be good sportsmen now.

“Our back-row – Uttley, Neary and Peter Dixon – played particularly well on the day. They were tremendous.

“But the pack had to go well to beat the All Blacks. They held their own very well and people like (half-backs) Steve Smith and Alan Old then rose to the occasion.”

Strangely, Sheffield fly-half Old – who scored a try along with Sale centre Tony Bond (2) and Smith – was the only member of the starting XV who played for a Yorkshire club.

Captain Beaumont, who went on to lead England to a grand slam and the Lions in South Africa, still rates it his most memorable 80 minutes on a rugby field.

Although Squires did not get on the field, he had already enjoyed his own historic moment against the All Blacks.

The 68-year-old, who met up with North team-mates for a 40th anniversary dinner at Cross Green last night, said: “I beat them with England in Auckland in 1973.

“We were the first England side to defeat them on their own territory – and I scored a try.”

Trying to quantify the size of the feat in 1979, though, remains a difficult task.

Squires added: “It is hard to (compare).

“The game is very different now. A lot of the rules are very different.

“The main thing is it was amateur then and is professional now but it is still rugby – and still beating the All Blacks.

“England have rarely done that let alone anyone else.

“It was a tremendous performance and such a memorable day.”

So memorable, in fact, that people will still be talking about it another 40 years from now.