Game changer

Believe it or not, I’d only just finished reading Ross Reyburn’s biography of John Dawes when I heard that Cliff Morgan had passed away.

Dawes and Morgan are two giants of Welsh rugby, inextricably linked by this moment. Many people have said that it’s Morgan’s voice that makes “that” try so special, but without “Syd”, and the perfect dummy he threw the Kiwi defender, the try would never have been on.

dawesAs book titles go, “John Dawes, the man who changed the world of Rugby” is a bold statement to make. But the arguments the author makes are strong ones. Dawes was a modest chemistry teacher who happened to find himself in Surrey in the late 60s. As a talented rugby player from the Newbridge club, he was looking for a local side to play for. Naturally, he settled upon London Welsh RFC. In those days the old club was high on hwyl but distinctly lacking in commitment and quality.

Within a few months Dawes had changed all of that. He was made captain of the first XV and London Welsh were transformed into a real rugby force. Of course it helped that Syd had the likes of Gerald, Merve, JPR and John Taylor to help him, but Dawes was the architect of London Welsh’s transformation.

Soon even the clubs back in Wales had to take London Welsh seriously. They were no longer the “posh” exiles in England. London Welsh were beating Neath, Newport and Cardiff on a regular basis.

Like Carwyn James, Syd was never to make the impact on the international stage that he deserved, with two huge exceptions. However, in the stampede to lavish plaudits on Carwyn James, Dawes’ contribution to the British Lions’ triumphant 1971 tour of New Zealand is often overlooked. Sure, Carwyn was the arch strategist, but Dawes was the master tactician on the field. He may have lacked the eloquence of the Llandovery schoolmaster, but he made up for it with simple, clear-headed tactical thinking and encouragement.

London Welsh and the Lions shared the same philosophy when it came to rugby: play with your heads up and use your talented back line to run through (and more often) around the opposition. It was no coincidence that Dawes was the common denominator in these two teams.

Ross Reyburn has carefully recorded Dawes’ impressions and memories of that golden era, most of them written down just after the time they happened in the early 1970s. It is only now that they have seen the light of day. Several chapters have been added by way of post-script, with Dawes offering some very telling observations on the current state of professional rugby and its increasing reliance on power over skill. Dawes is not alone in bemoaning the negative influence rugby league has had on the mother code in the professional era.

When you watch that grainy clip of “that try” today, it’s easy to view it as an isolated moment, trapped in time, without context, without a before or after.

In fact, the rest of that match contained a number of other fabulous moments of skill from both sides, and it’s worth watching in its entirety. Cliff Morgan wasn’t even due to commentate on the game until Bill McLaren was taken ill on the morning of the match. As it turned out, the match will be remembered as much for Morgan’s voice as the events on the pitch. For me personally, Cliff Morgan was the voice of Radio 4′s “Sport on 4″ when I was growing up. Alongside Noel Edmonds, Chris Tarrant, Lenny Henry and Sally James, Cliff Morgan was my “Mr Saturday Morning” when I was a boy.

The other crucial thing to remember is the context of that game in 1973. Dawes was on the verge of retirement, and almost didn’t get selected for the match. Carwyn James had said a few inspiring words (notably to the relatively young Phil Bennett) before the game, so this match was very much the end of an era rather than the beginning. Carwyn’s greatest successes were behind him, as were Dawes’. Syd went on coach Wales and the Lions, whereas Carwyn was never asked to coach his country. It reminds you that rugby was as much about personalities as it was about talent and experience in those days. Some things never change.

John Dawes: the man who changed the world of Rugby is published by Y Lolfa.


Punching above our weight

Rugby is regarded as our national sport by many people in and outside Wales, in spite of the fact that there are more football players and fans in the country than those who play or follow rugby. But all over the world, Wales is seen as being synonymous with rugby union. Why is this?

These days both sports are professional, with a strong commercial imperative. They have a product to sell, and that means getting bums on seats and selling merchandise. Success on the pitch brings popularity and revenue for both games, but this wasn’t always the case.

Until the mid-1990s, rugby was still an amateur game. There were always stories about car-park takings finding their way into the boots of star players on a Saturday afternoon, but the official line was that rugby union players could not make money from playing, or even talking or writing about their sport.

This meant that rugby players had to make their living in a day job, often at the local pit or steel works, sometimes the local school or doctor’s surgery. As a consequence, rugby’s international stars were accessible. They rubbed shoulders with their fans in workplaces, pubs, village streets and chapels. They remained “one of us.”

How has rugby union managed to maintain its popularity and status in Wales when there has always been so much more money in football? Because Welsh rugby has punched above its weight.

Wales is truly the mouse that roared. We’ve always had fewer registered clubs and players than the other major rugby nations, and we’re smaller in terms of overall population. In spite of that, we’ve sustained several long periods of success and dominance, notably in the 1970s, when we captured four Triple Crowns and three Grand Slams.

During the 70s, more than any other time before or since, the Welsh rugby team were woven into the fabric of our society, and they have remained there to this day. JPR, Gerald, Barry, Phil, Grav… the list goes on. These men were and still are folk heroes who stand taller than politicians, business leaders, singers, actors and other figures in Welsh life.

The seventies were a time when Welsh football wasn’t doing too badly either! For a proud, small nation like Wales, the feeling that you were the equal, if not the better of your neighbours, was very strong. It was the Bread of Heaven that fed us. There was nothing better than going in to work, or school, on a Monday morning, having beaten England at the weekend. It turned clouds into blue skies. And we were able to do it every year.

In the past decade Welsh rugby has experienced another golden era, with three Grand Slams and a Rugby World Cup semi-final appearance to our credit. This year’s triumphant British Lions were Welsh to the core. We’ve been able to thumb our noses at the people on the other side of the Severn Bridge since 2003.

With the current crop of players still in their prime, it looks as if we’ll be able to continue doing so for years to come. This is a fantastic feeling for those of us who remember the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s, when we were routinely slaughtered by those buggers in the white shirts with the red roses on them.

In spite of a brief resurgence in the fortunes of the national football team when Mark Hughes was manager in the early 2000s, the round ball game has had to wait decades for the dawn of a new era of success. Swansea City’s promotion to the English Premier League in 2011 was the beginning, and it looks like it will continue now that Cardiff have joined them. This new success is definitely no flash in the pan, and it’s backed by serious money and dedicated fans.

We already know that our recent rugby success is no one-hit-wonder. This time rugby is on a level playing field with football, a professional game reaping the rewards of success. Many people are concerned that there isn’t room for two successful sports in a country as small as Wales. They feel that the resurgence of the round ball will be to the detriment of the oval ball.

I’m not so sure. To the Welsh, it doesn’t matter what sport it is, if we’re winning, then that means we’re punching above our weight, and we love that feeling; it makes us proud.


Changes to the Gwladrugby forums

Gwlad has been running as a non-profit-making concern for over 15 years now. The burden of administering the site in terms of cost and effort has grown considerably over time.

The number of admins has stayed the same, and a steady trickle of income from loyal supporters has helped to keep things going.

However, this income stream is unsustainable and we need to seek a more consistent method of funding the site if it is to continue operating.

Alongside this we have had persistent problems with spam accounts, multiple logins, trolling, abuse and other issues which spoil the Gwlad experience for the vast majority of users.

We know many of you are happier to “lurk” and never post any messages, either because you’re worried about getting flamed or abused, or you just don’t think it’s worth the effort. We understand.

For these reasons we’ve decided to change the way in which Gwlad is operated and funded.

From the beginning of September, Gwladrugby is introducing a subscription system for our chat forums.

This means that if you want to post in the forums, you will have to pay an annual fee to be a member.

The forums will be open to all via “guest” read-only access. Non-members will be able to read the forums but not post to them.

The annual fee for 2013 and 2014 will be ten pounds. We will also be changing the terms and conditions of membership. As a subscriber, you will still have to behave responsibly and stick to the rules.

We hope you understand the reasons for these changes. We’ll make a further announcement to advise you exactly when the changes will be happening and what you need to do.


The Admins

WRU Blames Glyndwr Legacy for IT Mess

IT boffins in charge of the WRU’s fixtures and results computer are in a race against time to correct software bugs ahead of the season start.  Yet again the problems revolve around incompatible system requirements with the Colwyn Bay-based state-aid rugby franchise, RGC 1404.

“Our Dragon 32 supercomputer was running lovely until the penultimate weekend of last season when the Gogs posted 20 tries in a home game against the league minnows,” explained Nigel Acne, head of IT support and pornography archives at the WRU.  “When the score came in ‘RGC 1404 134 – Tredegar 0’ the system naturally assumed it was reading an ordering code from a kitchen fittings catalogue and started melting its own processors.”

Similar problems are amassing for Acne’s team in the run-up to this season’s grudge match on October 26th with Tata Steel, played away at the The Rust Bucket stadium.  “We’re working through all the possible outcomes now, and none of them are going through without wiping critical data elsewhere in the system.  For instance, Tata Steel 12 – RGC 1404 40 is coming up as an old invoice docket for an engine propeller in Barry docks.  We need to fix it, or Delyth Does Denbigh is going to be off the menu until further notice.”