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RE:LIVE - Walker, Hall and Booth recall classic 1997 cup final between Cardiff and Swansea

CRTV | 26th May 2020

The classic 1997 Swalec Cup final between Cardiff and Swansea was the latest subject of our RE:LIVE series, and we were joined by three Arms Park legends in the form of Nigel Walker, Mike Hall and Andy Booth.

The Blue and Blacks were the winners of the final match at the old National Ground, Cardiff Arms Park, lifting the national cup for the final time until last year's triumph over Merthyr.

While Booth was wearing white that day - coming up against Wales number nine Rob Howley - it was Walker who produced one of the defining moments of the classic encounter.

The former athlete - who competed in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles - crossed for a stunning invidiual score, which shifted momentum after a strong first half from Swansea.

Walker, who now works as National Director at English Institute of Sport, recalls a memorable occasion between two fierce rivals and remembers that individual score.

The Wales international said: “I remember that it was a sell-out, and they knew it would be a sell-out weeks before because of the anticipation of the spectators to see Cardiff and Swansea laying into each other.

“There were three teams at the time - Llanelli, us and Swansea. They were easily the two biggest games of the season from a Cardiff point of view.

“Alec was an unbelievable coach. I remember meeting him and he asked me how many sit ups I did at night.

“I said I did 500 a night and he said that if I did 750 then perhaps I’d be at the Olympics Games instead of talking to him. That was the first thing he said to me!

“I saw Stuart Davies coming, as I was evading the tackle before and I was telling myself, ‘get your feet up!’

“I looked to pass when I saw him coming but I managed to accelerate a bit.

“But probably my favourite try was the one I scored against Bath in the quarter final in Europe.”

Also on the scoresheet that day was international centre, Hall, and on that day he was up against his rivals for a Wales jersey, Mark Taylor and Scott Gibbs.

However, Hall's try, crafted from a wonderful team move which included contributions from Lee Jarvis, Justin Thomas and Walker, proved decisive in Cardiff's victory.

Having tasted defeat in the Heineken Cup final against Toulouse a couple of seasons earlier, Hall says victory was sweet over Swansea and he paid tribute to the input of the coaching team.

“The night after the game would’ve involved a lot of beer and heading to Kiwis, probably," added Hall.

“The unique thing for us, of course, was having the Cardiff Rugby Club right next door to the stadium.

“We would take the cup back to the clubhouse, and the clubhouse would’ve been absolutely rammed.

“It was a marvellous atmosphere when you went back with all the supporters there.

“They were memorable times and a great night.

“Despite all the build-up and the tension during the game, there was still a lot of respect at the final whistle.  

“We were playing international rugby with a lot of these boys and people like Scott Gibbs and Mark Taylor you did have a lot of respect for.

“However hard it was on the pitch, you did manage to shake hands after, even though I’m sure Swansea would’ve been bitterly disappointed.

“There was no in-between on cup final day. You are ecstatic at the emotions of lifting the cup. We did that in ’94 and ’97 but we lost the European cup final here in ’95 and that was horrible, losing to Toulouse in extra time.

“We had a great coaching team of Alec Evans, Terry Holmes and Charlie Faulkner. 

“I always remember Alec Evans came and we had problems with the coaching teams before with big personalities.

“His first game was at Aberavon away at the Talbot Athletic Ground.

“We all had our new tracksuits on and were jogging around the pitch with all the crowd booing us. And he said: ‘That’s what we want, we want to be hated.’”