Rugby Union in Wales – Part 1

Rugby Union in Wales – Part 1

The national sport of Wales is Rugby Union. It is the dream of nearly every child growing up in Wales  to one day wear the famous red shirt and run out onto the pitch at the National Stadium, before handing out a good old fashioned thrashing to their fiercest rivals, England. It has been the case for many years and any miss-justice that the Welsh feel has gone against them in dealing with the English, is stored in the nations memory banks, so that retribution will hopefully be carried out the next occasion that the two nations meet on the rugby field.

The Welsh team singing the National Anthem at the Principality Stadium

Representing the Welsh rugby team is more than just the 80 minutes of rugby being played. The build up to the game and the coverage in the local media is intense. The day of the game sees the crowd arriving early to sing songs, and when the national anthems are being played the home team is lifted by a rousing rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

Of the 131 matches that the games have been played between the two nations England have 62 wins ad Wales have 57. To put this into perspective, Wales pick from just over 3 and a half million people, while England can choose from a population of over 53 million. The simple fact is that the Welsh are very good at this sport and they regularly produce players that are among the best in the world.

The reputation for their rugby comes from the performances from the national team in the early 20th century. Wales were the top side in The British Isles between 1899 and 1910 winning the Triple Crown twice and finishing runners up on three other occasions. In 1905 they beat the visiting New Zealand national team, the All Blacks, and this was their only defeat on their 35 match tour. The second golden period for the Wales team was between 1969 and 1979 when the side contained a large group of players that could get in any side in the world. During this period the side only lost on seven occasions, winning three Grand Slams and three Five Nations titles.

Another try for Gareth Edwards

At the start of this period the side was inspired by their fly half Barry John. He was the player who drove the team forward with his accurate kicking and his even balanced running. It was a day of mourning in Wales in 1972 when it was announced that he was retiring from the game at the age of 27.

John was so revered in Wales that the high levels of expectation simply got to him, and he could not cope with the pressure that was put on top his shoulders. However, Wales had another great player to take the number 10 shirt, and that was Phil Bennett the fly half who was playing his club rugby for Llanelli RFC. Bennett was only a small man but his was quick and well balanced. He possessed an incredible side step, and it was due to his piece of magic that led to one of the greatest tries ever scored, during a game between the Barbarians and the All Blacks in Cardiff in 1973. The try was eventually scored by Gareth Edwards but it was started by Bennett.

Gareth Edwards was the scrum half who played with both John and Bennett. Many people regard Edwards as the greatest scrum half to play the game. He was as quick as any player on the pitch and his passing was fast and accurate. He scored 22 tries in 53 appearances for Wales and as also the stand out performer for both the British Lions and the Barbarians.

There were other famous Welsh players from this era including Mervyn Davies, John Taylor, JJ Williams and Dr JPR Williams. The list was endless and it was a mystery how these players were emerging from such a small population. But that also was the secret behind the success.