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Rugby legend rests here

By Don farmer

[email protected]

Tucked away in a quiet spot in Martinborough cemetery is a grave that contains a wealth of rugby history.

At rest is Arthur Flowers Harding, a legendary Welsh rugby player who, among his many claims to fame, played in the infamous 1905 Wales v New Zealand game won by the Welsh who inflicted the only defeat on the Original All Blacks during the first ever tour of the British Isles.

That historic encounter is still hotly debated in pubs whenever Welsh and All Black supporters collide due to a disallowed All Blacks try that could have changed the fortunes of the game, won by Wales 3-nil.

Proof that match will never fade from memory is a plan by British rugby fans, who have booked to follow this year’s Lions rugby tour, to pay homage to Harding at his Martinborough graveside and they will receive an added bonus.

Two of the famous footballer’s granddaughters Gabrielle Roberts and Jane Handley live in Martinborough and, with the help of South Wairarapa District Council, will have the grave in tip-top order to welcome the visitors.

Harding emigrated to New Zealand in 1910 after his illustrious rugby career ended, firstly to Wanganui then to Wairarapa where he became manager of Lagoon Hill Station, and he continued to farm in the area before becoming ill in later life and moving into Martinborough township.

He died, aged 68, in 1947 and is buried in a dual grave alongside his wife Izie Winnifred Harding who was affectionately known as Ping.

Apart from Mrs Roberts and Mrs Handley grandchildren of Harding live elsewhere in New Zealand and he has a grandson living in Florida, USA.

By being a part of that infamous 1905 match Harding guaranteed himself a place in rugby history but there was far more to his career than that.

Described as a nimble and talented forward Harding, who gained the nickname Boxer, won a reputation as an excellent passer of the ball and a handy kicker.

He was capped 20 times for Wales, at times captaining the national team, and three times for the British Isles being a member of the 1904 team that toured Australasia and being named captain of the 1908 Anglo-Welsh side which took on a gruelling 26 match tour of Australia and New Zealand.

It was while he was on that tour that Harding met the women who was to become his wife.

But history has kept alive the 1905 Welsh win to a much greater extent than any of the other games Harding was part of.

With the original All Blacks trailing by three with only minutes remaining in the Cardiff Arms clash the legendary Billy Wallace off-loaded to centre Bob Deans who sped to the try line and touched down.

Scottish referee John Dallas ruled All Black Deans had been stopped just short of the line and would not award the try, a decision that outraged New Zealanders but was stoutly defended by the Welsh.

Les Roberts, husband of Harding’s granddaughter Gabrielle said in his diary Harding had made the remark he thought Deans had scored and that the canny Welsh had pulled him back onto the field of play prior to the referee arriving on the scene.

The diaries, along with Harding’s cap and boots are housed in the rugby museum in Palmerston North.

1 COMMENT

  1. Coming over from Wales to Masterton and to see NZ v Lions, will now include Martinborough in my trip to pay respects to Wales/NZ legend.

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