The England v Wales game that ‘shamed rugby’ amid fears someone would be killed

It’s been labeled the most explosive 13 minutes in rugby history, the day an England versus Wales clash threatened to erupt into a ‘bloodbath’. The day Welsh flanker Paul Ringer was infamously sent off at Twickenham.

February 16, 1980. Wales had won 17 and drawn four of the previous 25 games in the greatest period of dominance in the history of the fixture. England were fed up of being losers.

Both teams had won their opening fixtures and Wales traveled to Twickenham hoping to kick-off an assault on an unprecedented fifth successive Triple Crown. What happened over the following 80 minutes rocked the world of rugby and grabbed the sporting headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Paul Ringer became only the second Welsh player to be sent-off with the game less than 15 minutes old. He left the field with his head hung in shame, hands on hips and booed to the rafters at a passion-packed Twickenham. He became vilified in the English media, yet canonized at home.

Max Boyce wrote a song about Ringer, there were signs daubed on the Severn Bridge crossing claiming ‘Ringer is Innocent’ and badges were sold in their thousands protesting his innocence.

The Irish referee Dave Burnett said ‘enough is enough’ after Ringer had bowled over England outside half John Horton as he cleared from his 22. Yet the irony was that it was one of the most innocuous of incidents in an otherwise bloody battle.

The Daily Mirror carried the back page headline ‘Someone Will Die’ following the match, as the England team doctor hit out over what happened.

The Wales v England game sparked some big headlines in 1980

Wales scored two tries, England kicked three penalties to win 9-8 and it was Bill Beaumont’s chariot that went charging on to clinch a first Grand Slam in 23 years.

Welsh rugby’s image was tarnished and defeat at Twickenham sparked a demise from which it took a long time to recover.

Forty-two years on, this is the story of what unfolded in the words of those who were there.

How those grisly 13 minutes unfolded in detail

Welsh rugby writer John Hopkins was at Twickenham reporting for the Sunday Times.

He was as shocked as anyone by what unfolded and a week after the game produced an article that outlined the misdemeanours in that crazy opening quarter.

“We went to study a full tape of the game at the London Weekend Television studios and played back each incident so we itemise the flare-ups. It was a revealing exercise,” he said.

Here is his analysis of what happened in the build-up to the dismissal of Paul Ringer:

1) The first explosive moment – John Scott v Paul Ringer

Cardiff No 8 Scott tires to drag opposite number Eddie Butler out of a loose scrum. Ringer rushes in to help Butler, but Scott fends him off. No blows are struck.

The referee blows for a scrum.

2) Backs clash – Mike Slemen v Gareth Davies

England wing Slemen calls for a ‘mark’ after gathering a kick but then gets caught in the face by Davies’ elbow as the Welsh outside half follows up. Slemen claims it was deliberate, Davies claimed it was “just one of those things”.

The referee awards the mark.

3) Line out mayhem – John Scott v Terry Holmes, Geoff Wheel v Bill Beaumont

Wales win a lineout and the English forwards pour through onto scrum-half Holmes. His Cardiff clubmate Scott hits him twice before Jeff Squire pulls the Englishman to the ground.

Wheel and Beaumont then square up.

The referee calls captains aside and issues a warning. Next guy’s off!

4) Scrum Punch – John Scott v Eddie Butler

Holmes is scragged at the base of a Welsh scrum, but he doesn’t have the ball. Butler has it and is tackled by Steve Smith and then punched by Scott.

The referee misses the incident.

5) Wipe out – Dusty Hare v Dai Richards, Steve Fenwick and Paul Ringer

Gareth Davies hoists a towering up-and-under and Wales center Richards arrives before the ball and buries the English full-back.

Fenwick is next to arrive to add his power to the tackle and, finally, Ringer drives into the loose maul to gather the ball and dives his knees into Hare’s side.

The referee penalizes Richards for an early tackle.

6) A kick for a kick – Maurice Colclough and Allan Martin put the boot in

Fran Cotton and Graham Price have a tete-a-tete at a scrum and English lock Colclough kicks through from the second row at Price. Martin instantly responds by kicking England hooker Peter Wheeler, who emerges to show the referee he has been injured in the face.

The referee orders the scrum to be re-set.

7) Shoulder charge – Clive Woodward v Dai Richards and Paul Ringer

The two opposing centers jostle for the ball before Ringer comes running in and vigorously shoulder-charges Woodward off the ball.

The referee had already blown for offside.

The sending off – John Horton v Paul Ringer

England win a lineout and Steve Smith passes to Horton, who kicks into the Welsh half. Ringer has broken off the back of the line-out and is hurtling towards Horton, trying to charge down his kick. He gets there a fraction too late and one of his outstretched arms catches Horton on the cheek. It’s the 13th minute of the game, the referee has had enough.

Dave Burnett, in his third international, sends off Paul Ringer.

Paul Ringer is escorted off the field
Paul Ringer is escorted off the field

The head count

Roger Uttley (England): 10 stitches in a facial wound picked up in the first-half when Geoff Wheel kicked out at a loose ball and accidentally caught the England back row man instead.

Alan Phillips (Wales): 6 stitches in a cut mouth.

Bill Beaumont (England): 3 stitches in a cut eye brow.

Maurice Colclough (England): 3 stitches in a cut lip.

John Scott (England): 3 stitches in a cut head.

Steve Smith (England): 3 stitches in a cut right eye.

What do those involved recall of the day?

GARETH DAVIES (Fly half that day)

Davies revealed such was the bitterness between the two teams that they didn’t even patch things up over a beer afterwards.

“It was the most violent game I ever played in,” he said.

“It was horrible, just before the match.

“We went onto the pitch for the team photo and you could sense that things were different – ​​sour even.

“Unfortunately, it was one of the few games in which what had happened on the pitch spilled over into the post-match function. The old adage of having a rough and tumble time out on the pitch and then sorting it out over a few beers afterwards didn’t seem to apply this time.

“What Paul Ringer did was nothing compared to what went had gone on before from both sides. Some of it was skulduggery, other stuff was just reckless.

“It’s my recollection that Paul never touched John Horton – and I was coming up behind him.

“As an outside half you always expected to get a bump from the opposing No 7, just so that he could let you know he was around. I thought it was an amazing decision.

“Paul was an out-and-out openside who made his reputation by intimidating outside halves. That was his specialty. John Dawes used to tell him that his only reason for breathing was to frighten the opposing No 10.

“Sometimes he used to take it too literally. I recall that in the game against France in Cardiff before we went to Twickenham he went looking for the French outside half, Alain Caussade, while we were out on the Arms Park pitch having our photo taken.

“The French had lingered a little longer than usual and were throwing the ball around at one end of the pitch while we were getting ready to have our team shot taken. All of a sudden we saw a red shirt mingling with Les Blues at the other end of the field – it was Paul giving Caussade a piece of his mind.

“There were two incidents in the French game involving Paul that got highlighted over and over again by the BBC, and Carwyn James in particular, and they were raked over again in the build-up to Twickenham. I think that played its part in heightening the tension.


Beaumont has very good reason to remember the day England beat Wales at Twickenham in 1980 – it was his only triumph over the men in red!

It enabled England to progress to a first Grand Slam since 1957.

“It was the only time I beat Wales in my career, yet it was probably the worst atmosphere of any game I ever played at Twickenham,” he said in Behind The Rose.

“It wasn’t an enjoyable sort of game, in fact it was an awful game! But it was a game you just wanted to win. The annoying thing was we didn’t play well.

“Paul Ringer probably didn’t deserve to get sent-off, it was just an accumulation of bits and pieces. I remember going into the Welsh dressing room after the game and going up to the lads that I had known, shaking hands and having a beer. That’s what we did.”

Jeff Squire (with the ball) after scoring
Jeff Squire (with the ball) after scoring


Tough-as-teak Holmes was the man England had to stop if they were to end their six-year long wait for a win over Wales. He was at the peak of his powers and was marked out for special attention by the English back row.

Of all the players who suffered most from the sending-off of Paul Ringer, it was the Welsh scrum half who had to cope without protection. He turned into an eighth forward and played a huge part in keeping Wales in a game in which referee Burnett awarded 35 penalties.

Wales missed seven kicks at goal and England’s Dusty Hare ended with a record of three from seven. Unfortunately for Wales, he was able to keep his nerve and kick the injury time penalty that made it 9-8.

“There was an eerie feeling about the whole day and the game certainly wasn’t played in the right spirit. It wasn’t a good advert for the game – it really boiled over and nobody emerged with much credit,” said Holmes.

“We had beaten them well the year before and this was a British Lions year, so everyone wanted to make an impression. The game was built up by the BBC showing some incidents involving Paul Ringer from our win over France. England v Wales is always such a big clash and that didn’t help.

“But it was all forgotten once the game was over as far as we were concerned. England’s win just allowed him to have the bragging rights when we all got back to the Cardiff dressing room.

“It was a pretty tasty opening to the game and then Paul Ringer got sent-off. He used to try to intimidate the outside half and put the fear of God into him during a game, but his incident with John Horton certainly wasn’t the worst in the game.

“Paul was an uncompromising character who was always very vocal on the field. He was also a very skillful player who often didn’t get the credit he deserved.

“Even though we went down to 14 men, I still thought we were going to win it. We were guilty of not taking all our chances, although I’m still not sure about their last penalty which Dusty Hare kicked to win the game.”


Paul Ringer and John Horton on the sending off…

Paul Ringer

“I was going like a bat out of hell and attempting to charge down the ball. I had my hands up, but he was too quick for me. I couldn’t stop. My left hand missed the ball and the lat of my right hand slapped his cheek. It was nothing – he didn’t even go down. But there had been a warning and, I suppose, someone had to be sent off.

“It was Peter Wheeler who got me sent off. He came over (after the Horton incident) and said: ‘Ref, there’s going to be a bloodbath here if you don’t sort him out!’ That made up his mind for him.”

John Horton

“A fraction after the ball had gone I received a forearm or an elbow. It was just a glancing blow and on television it looked worse than it was. But I think it was intentional. The referee had said that the next time something happened he would send someone off and he did. I’m glad he stuck to his word.”

The shocked reaction from elsewhere

Cliff Morgan (Ex Wales and Lions outside half)

“It was totally against the principles that rugby’s been played under for the last hundred years. It was a bloody disgrace.”

Lord Wavell Wakefield (Ex-England Grand Slam skipper)

“It’s an absolute shocker! I have never seen a game which did such harm to rugby football.”

Dr Jack Matthews (Ex-Wales and Lions centre)

“We used to play hard in my day, but never like that. We never used out boot against the opposition and we never tried to injure anybody. The coaching and the preparation have made it all so intense these days.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.