In this edited extract from the book, Murdoch: The All Black Who Never Returned, Ron Palenski details one of the most controversial chapters in New Zealand sport.

The atmosphere in Cardiff on international match days is always electric. This day, it seemed to be on a turbocharger.

There were reasons for this — the Welsh always believe they can win, for without belief there is nothing, but this time they really thought they would.

The mighty All Blacks had shown feet of clay against Llanelli and in England, and even the matches against Cardiff and Gwent, as hard and bitter as they were, showed the New Zealanders were not unassailable rugby gods.


It's worth remembering too that at this stage in New Zealand-Wales rugby history, the record was close.

This was the seventh match between the two in Wales and the score stood at three-all — Wales won in 1905, 1935 and 1953, and New Zealand won in 1924, 1963 and 1967.

Bryan Williams recorded in his diary of the team's arrival in Cardiff from Porthcawl: "The crowd in the foyer of the Angel and in the streets was thick. Just walking through them one could hear all their snide remarks, and it made us all the more determined to win."

The climate in which Keith Murdoch would be dispatched home was building.

Everyone who could cram into the Arms Park for this most anticipated of encounters did so.

The ground was said to be at its capacity of 55,000, but always when the desire is so hot, a few more can always squeeze in somewhere, somehow.

All Blacks in Great Britain 1972-1973 - Keith Murdoch taking the field against Wales at Cardiff Arms park. Photo / Supplied
All Blacks in Great Britain 1972-1973 - Keith Murdoch taking the field against Wales at Cardiff Arms park. Photo / Supplied

It wasn't just the Welsh who wanted in. So too New Zealanders. In the way things happened then, the Welsh union allocated 450 grandstand seats and 1550 standing-only tickets to the New Zealand High Commission to distribute as it wished.

It was loud when Ian Kirkpatrick led the All Blacks on to the ground; it was deafening when Delme Thomas led the Welsh on just moments later.

There was silence when Joe Karam kicked two penalty goals in the first 10 minutes but when John Bevan, on the Welsh left wing, returned a kick from Sid Going the chant began, "Wales! Wales! Wales!"


Then came the moment that stunned the Welsh. Bevan again cleared and Williams threw into the lineout about halfway between the Welsh 10-metre line and halfway.

Read more: The mysterious life of All Black Keith Murdoch

Peter Whiting took the ball, crouched and passed it back to Going.

He kicked high over the top, giving himself the right time to follow up and nab Bevan as he tried to take the ball.

It went loose, JPR Williams ran across and mistimed a flykick at it.

Whiting kicked the ball on a little, Murdoch scooped it up like a cricketer fielding on the boundary and ran about 15m for his one and only test try.

In a tight match, it was a crucial try.

Karam, in his first test, kicked three penalty goals for the All Blacks to lead 13 — 3 at halftime and in the second half, a resurgent Welsh could have won the game, or at least drawn it.

With the Llanelli song Sospan Fach booming around the ground (no loudspeakers involved, merely Welsh lungs), Bevan scored a try, then Karam and Bennett kept the penalty goals coming.

Wales needed a break and they thought they had it when Williams scored at the end of a move he had begun himself, but Johnson said his momentum had not taken him over the line.

No Welsh would agree and even to objective New Zealanders, it looked like a fair try.

It would have made it 19 — 17 to New Zealand with the kick to come.

Wales got up to 19 — 16 when Bennett kicked a penalty goal after a late tackle on Gerald Davies; he had a chance to draw the match after a similarly late charge on Williams, but missed.

New Zealand rugby union player Keith Murdoch (1943-2018) as he leaves the country. Photo / Getty
New Zealand rugby union player Keith Murdoch (1943-2018) as he leaves the country. Photo / Getty

Even the All Blacks could see they had a fortuitous win.

And so began the last few hours of Murdoch's rugby life.

The formal test dinner was at the Angel and as the players were milling about, waiting to enter the dining room, Murdoch stood in a small group that included manager Ernie Todd and one of the heroes of the afternoon, Karam.

Todd noticed that Murdoch's blazer pocket had lost some of its stitching and was in danger of falling off.

Read more: My run-in with Keith Murdoch

He mentioned it to Murdoch who said he was going to see about it the following week, after the test.

Karam recalls Todd saying: "Take it off Keith or you'll lose it. I'll get it put back on properly next week."

So Murdoch, with Karam and Todd as witnesses, ripped the pocket off and gave it to Todd.

That simple little episode lays to rest a couple of stories which were circulated after photos of Murdoch appeared "badgeless" in his blazer.

One theory was that he was ceremoniously stripped of the silver fern badge like a 19th-century soldier being drummed out of the army; the other was that Murdoch himself, shamed or angry or both, tore it off after Todd told him to pack up.

Murdoch went into the test dinner, therefore, without the silver fern badge on his blazer.

The dinner was something of a sanctuary for players, officials and the few journalists who were invited.

Once it was over, they moved into a tempest.

The Angel was a mass of bodies, mostly wearing or carrying something red and white, and if the Gwent Security Service had been hired to keep all but guests out, it had singularly failed in its assignment.

The reports about Murdoch's movements after the dinner are hazy and contradictory.

It is known he was briefly at the dance and it's known he was in the team room, where he happily took over the role he enjoyed, that of barman, ensuring his teammates and their guests had the drinks they wanted and were otherwise content with their lot.

The Auckland Star reporter Roy Williams and his wife Ngaire were with Lin Colling and Duncan Hales in the foyer and joined Murdoch, photographer Peter Bush and a couple of All Blacks for a drink.

"Keith couldn't have been happier," Williams wrote.

"And why not? He had scored the All Blacks' only try, which had been the difference between the All Blacks winning or losing the test."

At some point, around one o'clock or so, Murdoch headed for the hotel kitchen.

Again, there were differing reports about the location, but kitchen seemed to be the consensus.

There was also agreement, both at the time and later, that Murdoch was not drunk.

A phrase such as "drunken rampage" had its origins in Fleet St, not in the Angel.

It seems likely that one of the security guards, Peter Grant, confronted Murdoch and attempted to stop him from whatever he intended to do.

An argument ensued, other guards appeared.

Murdoch punched Grant on the side of the head and Grant staggered away, holding his head.

On following days, his black eye became a badge of outrage as he wallowed in his 15 minutes of fame.

Todd had, by his own account, been called away from another area of the hotel by one of the All Blacks, Lin Colling.

"You gotta come down below, Keith's in trouble."

Accounts vary about whether Murdoch hit Grant before Todd's arrival or after.

Biography of All Black Keith Murdoch by Ron Palenski. Photo / Supplied
Biography of All Black Keith Murdoch by Ron Palenski. Photo / Supplied

There were also reports that Murdoch hit Todd as well, but Todd denied that, and no one took them very seriously.

Todd at some stage, worked up as he was, in effect told Murdoch that this was the end of the road. Murdoch's tour was over.

Murdoch was ushered back upstairs. One of the players closest to Murdoch, Colling, told John Brooks, the Christchurch journalist who covered the tour for the Press Association, that he tended a cut on a Murdoch finger, the two of them had a beer and Murdoch curled up in Colling's bed. Colling himself went to Kirkpatrick's room.

As far as can be determined, no journalists saw any of this.

Their knowledge of events was therefore second-hand at best and they had to rely on what they were told. The Herald's Terry McLean said he was told by Graham Whiting, the All Black prop and one particularly close to Murdoch, that Todd had told him he had to go home.

McLean in the morning paced around the foyer, waiting for Todd to return from Mass, and when he saw him, pounced and asked: "Is there any truth in the report that you may send Murdoch home?"

Todd replied: "Too bloody right there is."

Being a sharp operator, McLean then put words into Todd's mouth and asked him if he was contemplating the severest disciplinary action against Murdoch.

"Yes" was the reply quoted.

McLean scuttled off to phone his office, knowing he'd just catch the Monday morning paper and that the Herald would send his story on to the Otago Daily Times in Murdoch's home town.

Readers of the two papers may have been startled to read, under McLean's byline: "The manager of the All Black touring team, Mr E.L. Todd, yesterday confirmed that he was contemplating 'the severest disciplinary action' against the Otago prop forward, K. Murdoch. This includes, Mr Todd acknowledged, sending Murdoch home."

Reading the paper at her home in Ravensbourne that morning would have been the first Ellen Murdoch learnt that her son was in trouble.

She would have been saddened, perplexed, worried.

And she would not have been the only one.

In Cardiff, chaos and confusion seemed to take over.

The "alickadoos" ("fishheads" or "suits" in modern terms) of the British rugby unions called into the Angel in the morning to say goodbye to Todd, but when they learnt what was going on they stayed ... and stayed.

There was a meeting between the senior cadre of the All Blacks — Todd and coach Bob Duff, captain Kirkpatrick and vice-captain Going. There was agreement that Murdoch would not be sent home.

Kirkpatrick recalled being emphatic: "No way he's going home — we'll settle this in-house."

There were also phone calls, especially between Cardiff and Wellington.

International phone calls then were a laborious, time-consuming affair: subscriber trunk dialling was still gradually being introduced into Britain and it was still a few years off in New Zealand.

Each time Todd phoned the New Zealand union chairman, Jack Sullivan, he had first to dial the overseas operator in Britain, give the Wellington number and ask to be put through.

Keith Murdoch plays up for the camera. Photo / Getty
Keith Murdoch plays up for the camera. Photo / Getty

A series of clicks and hisses later, sometimes lasting two or three minutes, or even worse an operator's promise to call back when a line was free, Sullivan's echoey voice could eventually be heard.

Given the sensitivity of the issue, it's almost certain that Sullivan would have consulted his deputy, Ces Blazey, and the secretary, Ray Morgan.

Sullivan's equivalent in Britain, John Tallent, one of the "alickadoos" who delayed his departure from Cardiff, also phoned Sullivan.

The role of Duff during this episode, and indeed for much of the tour, has seldom been publicised, probably because Duff was a quiet, austere man who usually kept his thoughts to himself.

Duff was in the team room when the tour changed forever.

Sid Going told him he might be needed downstairs and as he was heading down, Duff told Brooks, Murdoch brushed past him.

Duff asked him what was wrong and Murdoch replied: "Those bastards down there treated me like dirt."

The team went to Birmingham later and that night, Todd called the journalists together.

He told them: "An incident in Cardiff involving one of our players has been investigated and appropriate disciplinary action has been taken."

Further than that, he would not be drawn. He also said he would write letters of apology to Grant, the hotel and to the Welsh union.

Todd that night went out to dinner and Duff, therefore, was the senior man to take the call when Sullivan called.

"He said he understood we had some trouble on our hands," Duff recalled. "I replied that it was nothing we couldn't handle."

In the meantime, Duff had decided who he wanted to play in the midweek match in Birmingham; the players were told the team, then Todd made it public.

Murdoch was in it.

The selection in the circumstances seemed then, and still does 45 years later, to be extraordinarily unthinking.

Asked why Murdoch was chosen, Todd said: "We are playing him because we need him."

It can be confidently assumed that the British officials would have conferred yet again, would have urged their views on Todd yet again, and that Tallent would, yet again, have got on the phone to Wellington.

It is possible that the naming of Murdoch in the very next team while he was being given "appropriate disciplinary action" led directly to the decision to expel him.

Had things been allowed to cool down, had Murdoch sat out a match or two — even with an invented injury — tension might have dissipated and the crisis been eased into the background.

But his selection was provocative, even inflammatory, and probably forced the British hand.

Duff was adamant that the two incidents, the Angel and the selection, were unrelated.

He said he chose Murdoch for no reason other than he was needed for the team.

But it would have been the last straw for Tallent, who told Sullivan that if Murdoch was not sent home, the tour was in jeopardy; if Murdoch was not sent home, they would want the manager replaced.

None of this was made public at the time.

The public comments from Tallent and Sullivan were bland in the extreme.

Todd had called Duff to his room at about eight o'clock on the Monday morning.

"He said he had given further thought to the matter and had decided to send Murdoch home. It came as a bombshell to me; there had been no real thought of banishing him. We thought the dust had settled."

Not long after, Murdoch made his famous comment, "Hooray boys, I'm off" (if he didn't say it, it would have been a nice comment anyway) and the rugby world wondered yet again what on earth was going on.

An undated file picture of Keith Murdoch ex All Black from the documentary Mud and Glory. Photo / 1 News
An undated file picture of Keith Murdoch ex All Black from the documentary Mud and Glory. Photo / 1 News

Murdoch made his comment as the other players waited in the bus to go to training.

They were told what was going on and were given the chance to have a few minutes with Murdoch in his room to say their goodbyes. Most of them took the chance to farewell a mate.

It was a sad, cruel time for them.

This was the one chance Kirkpatrick forever wished he had taken: if he goes, we all go. It was a threat unvoiced, an ultimatum undelivered because of the emotion and speed of events.

It was a thought unspoken and echoed by several players over the years.

The bus left in one direction and Murdoch in another, with Stanley Couchman, the Rugby Football Union liaison man with the team, as a guide and minder.

Todd called a press conference.

"I've called this conference to give you the news that Keith Murdoch is returning home," he began.

"I made this decision, really, for the benefit of the player himself and of the team as a whole. It was not an easy decision to make but I think these are the managerial responsibilities I must face up to."

Todd was adamant that it was his decision alone — it would eventually come out that it was not; he was forced into it — and he added something of a bizarre note when he was asked how Murdoch had taken his dismissal.

"Keith Murdoch took the decision like the wonderful man he is ..."

No one asked the obvious rejoinder, "Well, if he's such a wonderful man, and most of his teammates will say he is, why is he being branded a disgrace and being sent home?"

Murdoch and Couchman left Birmingham by train and after a shade over two hours, arrived at London's Euston Station, where journalists and photographers lay in wait.

Most reports said he said nothing.

But the Daily Mirror reported Murdoch as saying, after being asked if he'd damaged his hands in the confrontation at the Angel: "I'm carrying my bags, aren't I?"

Couchman, wearing a New Zealand Rugby Football Union tie, carried just a briefcase.

Perhaps fittingly, Terry O'Connor of the Daily Mail, was among the journalists at Euston Station.

It was he who had said two months before that "the wild man" was coming when the team was selected and he farewelled Murdoch with a piece in similar vein, saying 'bad man Murdoch' should never have been selected, and he included a nastily gratuitous comment: "It is impossible to converse with Murdoch. I have tried, but he refuses, or is unable, to contribute."

It was indicative of the intense Fleet Street interest in the story that one of the reporters dispatched in a hurry to the station asked another who was already waiting: "There could be a lot of people on this train. How will we recognise him?"

Reports differ about where the pair went next.

One said Couchman took Murdoch to the travel office of T.H. Hamer Ltd, rugby's agent of choice and conveniently across the street from the New Zealand High Commission.

There, they had lunch and waited until it was time to go to Heathrow. (The company was named for one of its founders, Tommy Hamer, who had been Richard John Seddon's private secretary. It was set up in 1920 and handled most sports team bookings involving New Zealand from 1924.)

The other version has it that Couchman took Murdoch to his home at Greenwich for lunch and to wait.

One was on the way; the other, out of the way.

Either way, Couchman delivered his charge to Heathrow and must have pulled a few strings — the rugby freemasonry at work — to get Murdoch whisked through as a VIP and on to the Qantas Boeing 747 without either the airport news agency, or other waiting journalists, seeing him until it was too late.

The news media people would have been upset and so too was the organisation that runs Heathrow, the British Airports Authority. It complained that Murdoch received the star treatment without its knowledge or agreement and it would complain to immigration authorities and to the airline.

Murdoch wouldn't have cared.

He was on QF744 bound for Sydney, via Frankfurt and Singapore.

His tour and his rugby days were over.

Abridged extract from Murdoch: The All Black Who Never Returned by Ron Palenski ($39.99 RRP), Upstart Press.