Moments of infamy: Prop's fall from grace

By David Leggat

After he hit a security guard at the Angel Hotel, Keith Murdoch was sent home but he disappeared at Singapore.
Photo / Supplied
After he hit a security guard at the Angel Hotel, Keith Murdoch was sent home but he disappeared at Singapore. Photo / Supplied

For one particular group of All Blacks, there's a hotel in Cardiff which will always nestle in the back of their minds when they think of Wales.

It sits just across the road from Wales' giant red rugby theatre of dreams, the Millennium Stadium.

What grandeur it had at one time may be rather faded these days, but no visit to Cardiff would be complete for a New Zealand sports fan without a pilgrimage to the Angel Hotel.

For years it was the rugby hotel in a rugby-mad city in the only major test-playing nation - other than New Zealand - where rugby is the national sport.

Visiting teams and their hosts stayed there. It was the place to get into for the after-match festivities.

But in New Zealand rugby minds, it will always be known as the place from which Keith Murdoch was dispatched into rugby ignominy.

A brief recap. The All Blacks had beaten Wales 19-16 on December 2, 1972, the first test of their long tour of Britain, Ireland and France. Celebrations at the Angel went long into the night.

There are a range of versions of what happened at a late hour. To get to the nub of the matter, Murdoch, an immensely powerful prop forward and a man possessed of a short fuse, punched a security guard.

Two days later he was on his way to Heathrow airport, sent home in disgrace by the team manager, Ernie Todd.

Murdoch never reached Auckland. When the plane stopped at Singapore en route, Murdoch nipped out a side entrance and disappeared.

Some years later he was found living a quiet life in the Australian Outback. He's made trips home since then, but has always managed to stay under the radar. And so the legend was made.

The Angel Hotel is in the heart of the city, across the road from the entrance to Cardiff Castle and the Millennium Stadium, the dominant features of the city.

In the old days, the players would leave the Arms Park - the fabled forerunner to the Millennium Stadium - and walk across the road to the Angel.

Getting a ticket to have a drink in the hotel post-test matches was difficult, unless you were a guest. Even then, 20 years ago, you were allowed a maximum of six per guest.

On the All Blacks' 1989 visit, the tickets were handed out by an elderly porter, who had a zealous approach to his job of keeping order at the front entrance. No ticket, no entry, no right of appeal.

Crowds would gather hoping to squeeze into one of the function rooms, from which at a later hour would emerge marvellous, rich harmonies from the male choirs who had made the annual trip into Cardiff.

Close your eyes and these gnarled men clutching their pints of warm Brains beer could make the heart soar.

The three-storey hotel needs a touch up. A coat of paint wouldn't go amiss and parts of the facade are crumbling.

Inside, it looks much as it did a couple of decades ago, with two skinny lifts either side of the entrance and a chandelier hovering above a grand staircase.

It was originally the Angel Inn, built on its present site in 1666, before becoming the Cardiff Arms Hotel.

The ground took its name from the hotel, which was pulled down in the 1880s and rebuilt.

It could do with some refurbishment now too, but its place in New Zealand's sporting history is secure, if not for the most joyous of reasons.

- NZ Herald

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