Category Archives: Reviews

delmethomas

Cawr o Gymro

Petai rhyw greaduriaid o blaned arall yn glanio yn eich gardd cefn ac yn gofyn i chi beth yw Cymro, man a man i chi ofyn iddyn nhw fynd i bentre Bancyfelin yn Sir Gâr a ffeindio Delme Thomas. Dyma gawr o ddyn. Cawr o ran maint ond hefyd cawr o ran ei gymeriad; boi ei filltir sgwâr ond yn un sydd wedi teithio’r byd; caled a gwydn ar y cae rygbi ond yn gyfaill tyner oddi arno.

Wel, dyna sy’n amlygu ei hun yn ei lyfr, Delme, ta beth. Alun Gibbard a fu’n helpu ysgrifennu hanes ei fywyd. Cam naturiol i Gibbard, efallai, ar ôl cyhoeddi’r hanes am awr fwyaf Delme, sef buddugoliaeth Llanelli yn erbyn y Crysau Duon yn 1972, Who Beat the All Blacks? Ar ôl y llun enwog o’r sgorfwrdd ar y Strade’r diwrnod hwnnw, y llun o Delme’n cael ei gario gan y dorf yw’r un mwya’ cofiadwy, mae’n siwr. Ac yntau’n gapten ar y tîm, fe wnaeth, gyda Carwyn James, ysbrydoli’i gyd-chwaraewyr. Fe wnaeth hynny drwy ei esiampl ar y cae ond hefyd trwy ei araith cyn y gêm.

Mae dwy bennod wedi eu rhoi ar gyfer y gêm fawr honno ond mae’n dweud y cyfan am y dyn nad yw e’n rhoi gormod o sylw i’r araith, er i eraill wneud ar y pryd ac ers hynny. Mae’n rhoi mwy o sylw i’w gyd-chwaraewyr ac yn arbennig i’w hyfforddwr, Carwyn James, am y fuddugoliaeth chwedlonol. Yn wir, mae yna dipyn o sylw i Carwyn yn y llyfr. Carwyn fel hyfforddwr ond hefyd Carwyn fel person. Roedd yr hanesion hynny’n rhai darllenadwy iawn. Roedd e’n amlwg yn gwybod sut i drin pobol, p’un ai’n ddyn a oedd yn feistr ar y maes chwarae neu’n fenyw â oedd yn cyd-weithio ‘da fe yng Ngholeg y Drindod. Mae’r hanes amdano yn ymwneud â’r cymeriadau gwahanol yn un o uchafbwyntiau’r bywgraffiad.

Ond nid gyda’r Crysau Duon mae’r hanes yn dechrau. Yn hytrach gyda Delme’n cael ei ddewis i fynd ar daith y Llewod i Seland Newydd, ac yntau heb chwarae dros ei wlad. Hyd yn oed wedyn, y peth sydd amlycaf yn y bennod cyntaf yw nid y Llewod ond y filltir sgwâr. Bancyfelin. Cartre’ i dri Llew erbyn hyn wrth gwrs, gyda Mike Phillips a Jonathan Davies, yn ymuno â Delme. Anodd credu heddiw bod taith Llewod yn parhau cyhyd. Mae hi hyd yn oed yn anoddach dychmygu Alun Wyn Jones yn cael ei ddewis i chwarae fel prop mewn gêm brawf dros y Llewod, ond dyna a wnaeth Delme. Wrth ddarllen y llyfr, dyna un o’r pethau sy’ mwya’ trawiadol: cymaint mae rygbi wedi newid.

Mae’r newid hwnnw yn cymryd tipyn o sylw’r awdur. Mae ei farn ar pa mor galed yw’r gêm heddiw’n ddiddorol. Er bod yr ‘hits’ yn galetach, mae’n argyhoeddedig bod rygbi’r gorffennol yn llawer mwy peryglus. Heb lumanwyr i ymyrryd â’r chwarae a heb y camera, roedd yr hyn a ddigwyddodd pan nad oedd y bêl yno neu yn y ryc a’r sgarmes dipyn mwy brawychus. Newid arall sydd yn ddiddorol yw’r newid hwnnw o fod yn chwaraewr i’r hyn a ddigwydd ar ôl ymddeol. Bu Delme am gyfnod hir yn yr ysbyty yn dioddef o iselder. Yn ddigon o ddyn i fod yn onest am hynny, mae’n adrodd yr hanes yn dyner ac, eto, yn ddiolchgar iawn i eraill gan dynnu sylw oddi arno’i hunan. Mae’r gonestrwydd hynny a’r modd mae e wedi ymdopi yn ddigon gafaelgar i’r darllenydd.

Fel cefnogwr Llanelli fy hun, mae’n anodd peidio closio at Delme. Ac yntau’n Gymro Cymraeg i’r carn ac yn chwaraewr heb ei ail, mae hwn yn fywgraffiad sydd yn mynd y tu hwnt i ddisgrifio un gêm bwysig ar ôl y llall. Fe fyddwn i wedi hoffi petai e wedi sôn mwy am ambell i hanes, fel y teithiau i Dde’r Affrig y bu arnynt yn ystod cyfnod apartheid, ond dyw e ddim yn gwneud. Beth sydd yma yw hanes Cymro. Llyfr am un ohonom ni. Mae’n werth ei ddarllen.

Llyfr Delme yn cyhoeddi gan Y Lolfa.

 

Two sides to every story

You’re probably bored to death with me moaning about the current crisis in Welsh rugby. “Leave it Dan! It’s not worth it! Get a life!”

Unfortunately I’m a glutton for punishment, so instead of retreating to the pub to watch Cardiff City and drink a few festive pints of ale, I’ve been sitting at home reading about, er, Welsh rugby.

pooler1On the face of it, a book about the Ospreys and a book about Pontypool RFC might not seem to have that much in common. The Ospreys came into being in 2003, long after Pooler’s final glorious flourish in the late 1980s had finished. But in fact the stories of these two famous rugby teams are intertwined, and they tell us all we need to know about the current malaise which is afflicting domestic rugby in Wales.

The Pontypool front row of the 1970s are still the stuff of legend. The reputations of Bobby Windsor and Graham Price in particular stretch all over the globe to this day. These were men who made the All Blacks’ front row look like schoolboys. Not many Welshmen can claim that accolade.

The Pooler style was considered to be the antithesis of the flair exhibited by the likes of Carwyn James’ Llanelli and John Dawes’ London Welsh in the 1970s. It was deeply unfashionable, but it worked. The same could be said of  Warren Gatland’s brand of rugby. But it worked too, and it still does. Sometimes.

Ray Prosser’s name may not be as well-known as Carwyn James’, but Pross was the man who shaped Pontypool in his image and invented the hard-nosed and hard-booted brand of rugby which enabled the boys from the playing fields of West Monmouthshire Grammar to punch (often literally) above their weight.

What’s this got to do with the Ospreys? Well, the cynics among us might say that this is the story of the death of one kind of rugby and the birth of another. The decline of a community-based, ostensibly amateur game and the rise of a corporate, professional one.

10yrsospreysOver the past decade the Ospreys have provided Team Wales with a large proportion of their firepower, often at the expense of the region’s own progress. There have been a lot of trophies: Celtic League and Anglo-Welsh. But still no Heineken Cup. The “one true region” is still a work in progress.

The conclusion we are drawn towards in reading both these books is that Welsh regional rugby has been caught between the two stools of Team Wales and club rugby. Team Wales has flourished in the past decade, whereas club rugby has withered on the vine. In the middle we have the regions, the perennial also-rans whenever they venture outside the narrow confines of the Celtic League.

So what’s the answer? To find that I think we need to look at the Pooler story. When they were at their strongest, they were fearsome and teams from all over Wales and beyond were afraid to play against them. Can we say that about any of our regions or clubs?

Where did that reputation come from? It came from competitiveness. The environment where our top teams were playing against teams which challenged them and excited their supporters. Opposition that put boots on the pitch, bums on seats and feet on the terraces. The problem we have today is that a lot of our domestic rugby isn’t competitive, challenging or exciting.

On a positive note, tickets for the seasonal derby fixtures between our four regions are selling like hot cakes. These fixtures draw on the traditional competitiveness of near neighbours. Games which mean something.

If you need a couple of primers in the background to the current situation in Welsh rugby, you should read both of these books. They tell you all you need to know about the past, present and future of our game.

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – the Rise and Fall of Pontypool RFC” is available now.

“Ten Years of the Ospreys” is published by Y Lolfa.

Field of Reames

These days, the word “dapper” has been soiled by its wrongful association with the hipster movement. But to those of us of a certain age, it has honorable origins. For this child of the 70s, the word is synonymous with one person, Thomas Gerald Reames Davies CBE MA (Cantab).

But Gerald Davies (for it is he) is far more than a man of letters with a very good tailor. He is a legend of world rugby. And a very fine wordsmith.

I’ve been a fan of Gerald’s writing in The Times for many years, and it’s always a tremendous pleasure to sit and read his prose. In “The Greatest Welsh Tries Ever”, TGR Davies has a bountiful treasure of material to describe in his lyrical terms. This volume is also blessed with some smashing illustrations; literally, when it comes to the tackles. Did you see what I did there?

But I digress. Over the festive period, many of us long for a few snatched moments of peace and quiet  in the midst of the yuletide throng. For a rugby fan, I can think of no better book to take with me to that quiet corner, to engorge oneself with TGR Davies’ rhapsodic nuggets and anecdotes from the rich history of rugby football.

Ever modest, Gerald has refused to consider any of his own spectacular tries for Wales, the Lions, the Barbarians or London Welsh in his list of 15 top touchdowns. My own favourites are the hat-trick of tries from that fleeting season of Welsh glory in 1988, when we snatched a Triple Crown with a mixture of guile, controlled aggression and athleticism. Give me Ieuan Evans, Jonathan Davies or Adrian Hadley’s tries from that season;  when described by the pen of TGR Davies, they’re all winners for me.

“The Greatest Welsh Tries Ever” by TGR Davies is published by Gomer.

The Special Relationship

It’s been a tough few days to be a Welsh rugby supporter. Having failed for the 18th time to beat a Southern Hemisphere side, the press have been quick to remind us of our weaknesses.

The world was a very different place back in 1905, when Wales and New Zealand first met on the rugby field. For a start, Western Mail journalists had enigmatic pseudonyms, and there were no video replays. The first meeting of these two great rugby nations resulted in a 3-0 Welsh win. These days you could be forgiven for calling that boring, but it most certainly wasn’t. There was controversy, for a start. Did Kiwi Bob Deans ground the ball and score “the try that never was” ? We shall never know.

three_feathersmawr_1

 

The story of that moment and the debate which has swirled around it ever since is just one of many jewels in Roger Penn’s meticulous collection. It must have been great fun putting this book together. Interviewing the protagonists in the 71 Lions tour, the Scarlets’ victory over the All Blacks in 1972, and that famous Barbarians match in 1973.

Many of us don’t remember the time when Wales and New Zealand were still neck and neck at the top of world rugby. That was back before the Second World War, when the running total of matches won stood at three apiece. Since then, there’s been just one solitary Welsh victory.

Let’s not forget the strong Welsh influence on the 71 Lions and the 73 Barbarians, but those don’t count as official Welsh victories. Maybe Newport’s (in 1963) and Llanelli’s (in 1972, in case you’d forgotten) are unofficial Welsh victories.

The fact remains that after the initial decades of parity, our two countries’ fortunes have diverged dramatically.

Wales is still synonymous with a collective passion when it comes to rugby, but does our enthusiasm for the game still pervade our society as much as it did in the early 20th century?

That passion is still undoubtedly there in New Zealand. The All Black ethos is still revered and protected, albeit with a certain amount of commercial influence which is vital in these times of professionalism. It doesn’t seem to have been diluted as much in New Zealand as it has been in Wales.

One of the most striking themes in this book is the enduring kinship between ex-players from our two countries. Men who still travel halfway around the world to attend dinners in each others’ honour and to present jerseys to clubs they visited on tours which happened over 50 years ago. That enduring camaraderie reminds us that, however much the game has changed over the years, rugby still has that ability to build and maintain friendships in spite of the barriers the modern world tries to put in their way.

It would be interesting to explore some of the reasons why two very similar countries’ fortunes have changed on the rugby field since that first game in 1905. That may help us in Wales to wrestle the increasingly annoying monkey from our back.

“Three Feathers and a Silver Fern” by Roger Penn is published by Gomer.

In Ten Seconds

You don’t have to have witnessed a serious injury on the rugby field to understand how it can literally change someone’s life in seconds. Rugby isn’t the only activity where brutality, danger and camaraderie sit side-by-side. Like soldiers going off to battle, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our mates on the pitch, ready to defend each other in the face of the opposition.

yogi

This book isn’t really about rugby at all, even though the life-changing event which befell Yogi Davies happened to take place on a rugby field. In fact it could have happened anywhere. This book is about the incredible compassion and resilience of people; families, friends and communities supporting someone they care for in their time of need.

Like the event itself, Yogi’s description of his fateful injury is over in seconds. But what followed in the six years afterwards is truly remarkable. In spite of a seemingly hopeless prognosis and near total paralysis, he was able to return home to his family in Bala.

The story of Yogi’s injury, its aftermath, his heroic struggle and determination to resume as normal a life as possible at home with his family is truly inspirational. There are also many moments of light relief. Yogi was definitely one of those characters you recognise from Welsh rural life. A mischievous young tearaway with a generosity and warmth you can’t fail to love. These qualities leap out of the page in Yogi’s own words.

What are the lessons we should learn from Yogi’s story? There’s the obvious ones about ensuring that we’re all trained to try to prevent injuries on the pitch, and also to know how to react in the immediate aftermath when they do occur. But as we know, these kind of accidents can happen to anyone, at any time. The real lesson here is that underneath the fragile muscles, tissues and bones, we show our true strength in the way in which we care for our fellow human beings when they need our help.

Bryan “Yogi” Davies died on Friday 30th August 2013 at his home in Bala.

“The Scrum That Changed My Life” is published by Y Lolfa.

Who beat the All Blacks?

If the lyrics of Max Boyce’s famous song are to believed, there’s only one Welsh team who’s ever beaten the All Blacks. But along with Llanelli, it should be noted that Cardiff, Swansea and Newport have accomplished the feat too.

The story of Newport’s victory on that dank, drizzly October afternoon in 1963 deserves to be told, not least because it features a roll-call of names to rival those of the Llanelli team of 1972. Brian Price, David Watkins and Glyn Davidge to name but three.

allblackandamberIn the end, the game hinged on a single drop goal from Dick Uzzell, but the truth is, an All Blacks side containing Colin Meads, Kel Tremain and Brian Lochore was hammered by Newport that day. That New Zealand side is arguably the greatest ever to leave their shores, better even than the side defeated by the Lions and Llanelli in the 70s.

Yes, it was 3-0, but back then, rugby was a different sport to the one we know today. International tours took months, rather than weeks, and our club sides were still allowed to play the tourists in front of 25,000-plus crowds on a Wednesday afternoon! Don’t forget, the players had day jobs too in those days.

Steve Lewis’ book takes us through the history of those mammoth tours, along with the background of the players involved and the historical context through which we view the match.

This kind of game would never happen these days, for many reasons. It is a shame. Call me an old romantic (I am, guilty as charged), but I would love to be able to watch my local club play an international touring side on a Wednesday afternoon, whatever the weather. These days, we get to see Wales playing the great southern hemisphere sides every Autumn, and it feels like the magic is diminishing every time.

Commentators are forever going on about the “intensity” and “physicality” (that’s not even a word, by the way; why can’t they just say “strength”?) of modern rugby. But back then it was just as brutal. And you could forget about having a couple of days’ “recovery” in the pool or gym after a big game. Back in the 60s and 70s you had to go back to work the morning after, or you risked losing your livelihood.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It provokes strong emotions and makes people forget the stark realities of everyday life. Today, rugby is a professional sport and there’s no time for sentimentality or looking backwards. That’s why stories like this are worth taking time to read. We need to remember that rugby is about a lot more than money, sparkly hats and fireworks. At its heart, rugby is about communities and people coming together to witness great sporting moments; brief occasions where we can put the trials of everyday life to one side and gaze in wonder at this beautiful, brutal game.

All Black and Amber by Steve Lewis is published by Y Lolfa.