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Sport The day Graham Price stunned the rugby world with a 70m debut try people couldn't believe

22:50  21 january  2021
22:50  21 january  2021 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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The way Graham Price tells it, the wonder is they weren’t tempted to skip the man-of-the-match award when Wales played France back in the day and instead cut to handing out Victoria Crosses.

Rewind to 1977, when Welsh rugby’s champion No. 3 lined up against the forbidding figure of Gerard Cholley.

What was the Frenchman like? Maybe a few lines from Raymond Chandler’s description of his character Moose Malloy will do the trick: “He was a big man, but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck.

“His skin was pale and he needed a shave. He would always need a shave...he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel cake.”

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In ’77, the French giant set the scene by glaring across at Price as the referee prepared to start the game. “We were lining up for kick-off and you look across at your opponent, to size him up,” Price says.

“There was Cholley. He was a bloody mountain.

“He pointed at me, shook his fist and pointed to the ground.

“What did I think? I just had to get on with it.

“He was a champion boxer for the French forces and he didn’t take prisoners.

“I’d say he was the hardest player I faced. Maybe he was the hardest player of all time.”

But the French respected Price to the point where they had illegally taken him out of the game in Cardiff a season earlier amid claims of an eye gouge.

He’d been identified as a threat having made his debut against them the previous year as one of six new faces in a winning Wales team. The anniversary of that encounter, for which the word ‘legendary’ seems fair, passed by with little fanfare this week.

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Wales won 25-10 with Price scoring a famous try that saw him sprint 70 metres upfield before crashing over. “They’ll never believe it in Pontypool,” reckoned Nigel Starmer-Smith in commentary.

Well, they did believe it. At the next club training session, Ray Prosser said to his star prop: “Pricey, if you had enough energy to run that distance at the end of the game, you obviously weren’t pushing hard enough in the scrums.”

The comment was delivered in jest: the late, great Prosser may have known how to keep his charges in check with occasional put-downs, but he also knew he had front-row gold in Price, a prop who was years ahead of his time.

Tight-heads were not supposed to hurtle upfield for tries. Many barely ran at all in those days, seeing their work as starting and finishing at set-pieces.

But Price was an athlete, a Welsh Schools champion at shot and discus. He trained conscientiously and sometimes drank orange squash in the Pontypool clubhouse. He built his strength and honed his technique against seasoned veterans. He absorbed the lessons and became a prop without peer who could pretty much do anything in darker recesses of the game.

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The journalist Huw Richards once spoke to the former referee Roger Quittenton, who told him: “Any decision about a scrum has an element of guesswork. You just hope that is informed guesswork."

But there was an exception, said the Englishman. "If Graham Price is in the scrum you know that if something happens it is almost certainly because of him, since he can do pretty much what he likes against almost any opponent."

That day in Paris in 1977, Price had to be at his very best with Windsor nodding the ball back and the French tight-head Robert Paparemborde having a field day against a Wales side missing Charlie Faulkner — “the selectors thought we could do without him, but we couldn’t,” remembers Price.

Frequently, the scrum went down, with the referee sometimes penalising the hosts instead of Wales despite Price being at the heart of the chaos. Had he not been playing that day Wales would have lost more heavily than they did.

People remember the try on his debut in 1975 more than anything else about him.

But for many years the silent tough man from Pontypool held sway as arguably the world’s greatest prop, full stop.

He was known as an inscrutable hard-man. Bath front rower Gareth Chilcott used to reckon if came across Price’s grave in a cemetery, the headstone would bear the inscription: “What are you looking at?”

But today the authentic Welsh great is as amiable as they come, his days of thunder long behind him.

He was the rock on which so much of Wales’ success in the 1970s was built.

Those who played with and against him will know his worth.

After he threw the ball in the air when scoring on his debut 46 years ago this week, Ray Gravell reckoned the said ball never came down.

The same should be said for Price’s reputation.

In Wales’ 140-year history as a Test nation, there haven’t been many better Welsh forwards.

This week, marking his day of glory, those who witnessed Pricey in his pomp will be tempted to raise a glass and toast him.

It would be well-deserved, indeed.

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