Sometimes, you just know a rugby team are not going to be beaten.
Think Argentina before they played France in the opening match of the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Tears filled the eyes of Mario Ledesma and other Pumas players before and during their national anthem. They were not going to leave the field as losers that day.
Then there were the Lions before the second Test against South Africa in 1997.
When the players formed in a huddle after taking the pitch, it wasn’t tour skipper Martin Johnson or especially confident and silver-tongued others such as Keith Wood and Lawrence Dallaglio who led the final address before the match started.
It was Scott Gibbs.
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It was Gibbs jabbing the air and laying down the law, telling his team-mates what would need to be done for them to win that day. In the Welsh rugby clubhouse where this writer viewed the match, watchers were transfixed by the sight of the boy from Pencoed taking charge and pointing the way.
The atmosphere crackled around that room 7,000 miles away from Durban.
Through sheer force of personality and desire to come out on top, Gibbs had stepped forward to lead.
What exactly did he say?
His midfield partner Jeremy Guscott later revealed: “Johnno pulled us into a huddle on the half-way line while we waited for the Springboks to come out and Gibbsy started jabbing the air shouting: ‘We have to raise our intensity.
“‘They’re going to come at us with everything they have but we have to smash them back.
“‘We have to be better than last week. We have to play harder than we’ve ever played before.’
“Then he stared us all in the eye. ‘This is ours.’
It turned out to be.
were wonderfully committed.
If Dallaglio has ever played better, someone ought to tell us about it. Some of his defensive work that day was off the scale. Tim Rodber and Richard Hill tackled themselves to a standstill, too.
South Africa gave it the full kitchen sink treatment.
But with Neil Jenkins nailing his goal-kicks and Guscott staying majestically calm outside Gibbs, it was to be the Lions’ day.
Standing above everyone else was the Welshman who had addressed the players before kick-off.
That was the thing about Gibbs.
He walked the walk.
The Swansea RFC player steamed into tackles as if his life depended on it.
You thought to yourself that had he been on scene up the road at Rorke’s Drift when 4,000 Zulus pondered their next move back in the day, the home side that day might have opted to sue for peace rather sharpish.
When Gibbs drove through Os du Randt for the entire tour’s iconic moment, leaving the giant Springbok prop in a heap on the floor, it can only be imagined how important that single episode was in terms of galvanising the rest of the Lions team.
The Wales international came back from that tour as man of the series and a focus for media attention.
But here’s the thing: it didn’t change him one jot.
(Image: Ben Stevens)
A private individual off the field, he still kept himself to himself. He still called things as he saw them, seemingly with no filter. He still lived his life as he wanted to live it, not as others expected him to live it. He continued to have no time for fools.
A jazz fan, he once told how he preferred the role of a drummer in a band.
“The drummer is the most understated member of a band: while others cavort and show off, he gets on with his job and crowds relate to that,” he said.
“That is how I see myself, getting on with it in the background.”
Away from the crowd, he could be hugely helpful, once offering himself as a stand-in interview replacement to two journalists at the Bluebell Hotel in Neath after David Campese reckoned he didn’t have the time for a chat that had been pre-arranged by event organisers. “You can talk to me if you want,” Gibbs told us, with no small degree of modesty. He then gave us 20 minutes of his time.
At his peak on the pitch, he was a sight to behold.
Maybe that peak came on June 28, 1997.
It was the day when Gibbs made the earth shake, both with words and deeds.
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