Out of the shadows

Before I start, a confession: I didn’t know that much about Dai Morris until I picked up this book. “That hard back rower from Neath” was about the sum total of my knowledge of the man they called “The Shadow.” Turns out he wasn’t from Neath at all; he was from Rhigos.

Now I know a bit about Rhigos. It’s that place at the top of the Cynon valley that always gets snowed in during the winter. I’m always hearing that on Radio Wales.

If you went by weather forecasts alone, you might come to the conclusion that Rhigos is an inhospitable place. But you’d be wrong. Dai Morris tells a familiar story of a small Welsh village, battered by the elements and the iron fist of the industrial revolution, a village which got back up after the knocks and started again. They’re all over Wales, these villages, and every so often they produce quiet, honest, strong men like Dai Morris and his great friend Delme Thomas. Quiet men who stood up and left their mark on the world.

The story of Dai’s progression goes thus: Rhigos; Glynneath; Neath; Wales…. but never the British Lions. Many players and pundits of that era have offered plausible explanations for the fact that Dai Morris never reached the pinnacle (in those times before the World Cup, at least) of a Lions tour. None of them doubt that he deserved a place. Dai tackles the issue head on, as he did every opponent on the pitch. I’ll leave that in his huge, capable hands.

“Shadow” is probably one of the most apt sporting nicknames there’s ever been. Barry John and Gareth Edwards were so sure that Dai Morris would be there, at their shoulder, at the right moment, that they can probably count the number of times he wasn’t on one finger.

Dai certainly had no time for the WRU blazers back then, and like many of his team-mates he would often come straight off a shift at the local pit and onto the rugby pitch. Even when he played for Wales in Paris on a Saturday afternoon, he’d be back to the day job come Monday morning. In the modern era, one wonders if there’s much more to life than rugby, endless gym sessions and lunches in Nandos, for our professional players. There was certainly a lot more to life in Dai’s days. Tough work with modest rewards.

For me it’s not the tales of derring do on the rugby pitches of Wales, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere which made this book so enjoyable to read; it’s the picture it paints of the shy, home-sick boy from Rhigos, with his love of horses, his family, his friends and his landscape that bring the story of Dai Morris to life. There are many Welshmen who will recognise those traits in themselves and their friends, and smile. Quietly.

“Shadow: The Dai Morris Story” is published by Y Lolfa.