David Clegg Relives The Climax To The Million Pound Game In The Company Of The Key Players Involved
The confusion, which followed the end of normal time, was eventually sorted out and preparations for the start of extra time got underway. Most significant in this was that the toss to determine ways and kick off, absolutely crucially, was won by Michael Dobson.
“It was a good toss to win, especially with the breeze behind us and the slope in our favour,” he concedes. “It was one of the first tosses I’ve won, because I haven’t won many, this year, in my time as captain.
“We chose ends, which meant they had to kick off to us, so everything was in our favour, as it turned out. The wind was quite strong, and that was a determining factor.
“We had expected to have to kick downtown for field position, at the end of the first set, but we made good progress down the field to be almost at half way, by the end of it. I went to dummy half for the last play the ball, and Gaz [O’Brien] was alongside me squaring up to kick it into the corner.
“I knew he has a pretty big boot on him, though, and with the wind behind us I thought it was worth a crack at goal, so I just said, ‘Go for it’, and he did.”
It is also worth noting Michael’s involvement in the previous fifty-three seconds. Not only had he taken the kick-off, he had then taken the drive up on the tackle prior to Josh Jones’s offload, and then supported the break upfield to be involved in the handling, following Niall’s play the ball – some considerable yardage in such a few seconds.
“In those circumstances you just have to give it your all and push up in support of everything,” he explains, “and it came off. I think it was just our day. When you are fighting for your lives you’ll push yourself through the pain barrier to achieve it, and I’m sure everyone was on board with that.
“Even when we received the kick-off following Niall Evalds’s try, I still firmly believed we had the time and ability to win it. It was the confidence that comes with knowing we had the momentum by that time, but we also knew we had the pace in the side to score long-range tries.”
Probably the most unsung hero of the whole proceedings, though not by the players who have brought his name to the fore during our meetings, was Weller Hauraki, who popped up in various roles and guises, as this frantic period unfolded.
He, it was, who ensured that Josh Griffin got the ball in good position to make his break, but then showed considerable speed to follow up, and was first to get behind Niall, at dummy half, for the play-the-ball.
“Josh was screaming my ear off for the ball,” he recounts, “so I got it to him as soon as possible, which it is fortunate we did, because he ended up breaking the line with me following him up.
“I haven’t been dummy-half on many occasions in my career, but you just do what you can for the team. It was a very quick play-the-ball and I was the nearest so I just went and took up the position.”
Fast forward to the final play of extra time, and it was to be Weller, himself, who, having been the player to take the final carry-forward on the fifth tackle, gave his side the benefit of yet another quick play-the-ball, leading immediately to the Golden Point.
“I’d played the whole game so I was pretty tanked by that point,” he confides, “but I just knew that if I ran as hard as possible and then got a quick play-the-ball, it would help get a good kick away.
“Once I’d played it, all I could hear was Michael Dobson screaming out to Gareth O’Brien, ‘Go for it; go for it,’ so I looked up and saw Gaz sprinting off celebrating, and that was enough for me to know we’d won.”
As indeed we had. But that drop-goal, that remarkable drop-goal, had still needed kicking. Step up Gareth O’Brien.
Gareth had already had two attempts at goal following those two late tries, but for differing reasons, he had not been able to slot either of them over. With the first, time was, of course, of the essence.
“I knew the clock was running down, so I wasn’t too bothered as to how successful this one was,” he reflects, “but with around two minutes left, it was worthwhile having a quick shot at it, and if it had gone over, all well and good. As it was I just had to get back for their kick, as I knew there would be enough time for only one more set for a possible score.”
The second attempt brought rather more pressure with it, and some of it far from welcome.
“For me, as a right footed kicker, a kick from the left side is much easier than this one which was from the right, added to which the wind was coming straight at me. I’m still disappointed that I couldn’t have finished the game off there and then, but at least we had the extra time to try and get the win.”
Those were not the only adverse conditions, as, besides having to deal with a quite hostile crowd trying to put him off, a bottle was hurled onto the pitch towards him.
“I heard it land,” he recollects, “but to be honest you have to blank everything out. Even had it hit me it would not have been an excuse for missing with the kick. Things happen which are out of your control, and you just have to be professional and try to deal with it.”
The most off-the-cuff kick of the whole game, however, was the one that did go over. Just how off-the-cuff it was, is evident by Gareth’s recount.
“I was lined up as first receiver from Michael Dobson, intending to put in a kick to their line, with the hope that we could then force an error in their half. It was all down to Dobbo really. I heard him yell from dummy-half to have a go, and I knew exactly what he meant by that. I also knew there was quite a strong wind behind me, so I thought ‘Why not?’ I thought there was probably a one-in-twenty chance it would go over.
“I knew once it had left my boot that I had struck it very well, and it seemed to be in the air for ages, before it went over. At that point I just ran off in complete delight. All our fans started running on to celebrate, whilst all us players were hugging one another and celebrating, ourselves. It was all very emotional, especially when my dad came on to me with tears in his eyes.
So, ‘He who dares wins’ must surely be the most apt of quotations for that incredible final play to the most remarkable of games.
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