Nations 1972: A Championship abandoned and an emotionally charged return to Dublin

After Bloody Sunday, Wales and Scotland decided not to play in Ireland. This meant that not all fixtures could be fulfilled.

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Former players and officials of rugby recall their thoughts at the time. They also look back at the amazing events that took place in 1972, when England traveled to Dublin.

The story began on the 30th January 1972 when 13 people were killed by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment in Londonderry during an attack on a civil rights march. Protestors were protesting against a new law that gives authorities the power to detain people in Northern Ireland without trial.

Bloody Sunday will be forever associated with the worst events of the Troubles. Three days after the incident, some of the victims in Derry were buried. The British Embassy in Dublin was set on fire and destroyed.

The Five Nations of 1972 opened on 15 January, 15 days before Bloody Sunday. Ireland and Wales were strong sides. The anticipation among rugby fans was high. However, the sport soon fell apart like so many other sports.

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The campaign began with Ireland’s victory over France in the outskirts Paris on 29 January. They would play England at Twickenham the following day.

Willie John McBride (ex-Ireland captain and ex-British and Irish Lions captain) recalls being accompanied at all times by an armed guard.

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“I was receiving notes and funny things about my northern Protestant playing for Ireland. But I just kept going.”

The match ended 16-12 in London with Ireland winning. Their final fixtures were against Scotland and Wales, with two wins from two.

Following the events at the British Embassy in Dublin on February 2, a feeling of nervousness developed among the camps from both Scotland and Wales. Following the match on 5 February, which saw a win by Wales 35-12, officials from both unionIreland and Scotland had to deal with a nervousness. Officials from both countries had won the championship in 1949. In 1972, they had a strong team. They and the Welsh were the strongest contenders for the title by mid-February.

The Welsh Rugby Football Union (WRU), despite promising their Scottish counterparts the best, was unable to fulfill their national ambitions and delayed making a decision about whether or not they would play in Dublin.

Wales was able to win a second consecutive Grand Slam after beating England 12-3 at Twickenham and Scotland in Cardiff. This feat had been only three times in Five Nations history.

Sir Gareth Edwards, former Wales scrum-half says that while we were keen to play from a sporting perspective there were more serious matters. It was extremely difficult for us to focus on rugby. Many of us thought only about getting married and many people wanted to have children.

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“We were friendly with many of the Irish players. We tried to get information from them and asked their opinions – they were very concerned.

“I knew quite many of the Irish boys, and when we went to tours later on, they’d say: “You should have been there.”

Gerald Davies, a British and Irish Lions supporter, was among the first Welsh players not to play in Ireland. He stated that it would be unfair for his family. After receiving a threatening email claiming to come from the IRA, Prop Barry Llewellyn also pulled out.

On 11 March, Wales was scheduled to play in Dublin. The WRU held a special two-hour meeting on 23 February. Secretary Bill Clement confirmed that they had made a decision to meet again with the IRFU.

The Welsh wanted to explore the possibility for a neutral venue. Many IRFU officials thought that agreeing to it would mean accepting that Scotland had right to stop playing at Lansdowne Road.

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Wales declared that they would not fulfill the fixture after a meeting with the WRU on 27 February. The hope of another Welsh Triple Crown or Grand Slam was dashed. Ireland was also denied championship glory.