Obituary: Ronnie Boon

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IF EVER a man went down in his country's sporting history for one particular moment of inspiration it was surely the former Wales and Cardiff rugby union wing Ronnie Boon.

It was 1933 and Wales had never beaten England at Twickenham in nine previous attempts. That year, though, it was to be different. England led 3-0 at half time in front of a then record crowd of 64,000 that included the Prince of Wales.

Within a minute of the restart, Boon was on hand when the ball came back from a maul. His reaction was immediate and his drop goal, then worth four points, pushed Wales ahead and just a few minutes later he crossed at the corner before running around from behind the posts for a try.

It seemed at first that Viv Jenkins had added the conversion and the points were registered on the scoreboard only to be deleted from the record books after the match when the referee, Tom Bell of Ireland, said that he had disallowed the goal. It mattered little. Wales had won 7-3 and Boon was a Welsh sporting hero.

Born in Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan in 1909, Boon attended Barry County School, Trinity College, Carmarthen and Dunfermline College of Physical Education, where he began his rugby career. He went on to play for Ayr, Cardiff, the Territorial Army, London Welsh and New Brighton during a playing career that was to bring him 12 international caps.

The controversial match against South Africa at Swansea in December 1931 was among them. Local newspaper reports at the time condemned the decision to allow the match to take place is what was described as "non-stop icy rain" that had turned the St Helen's pitch into a skid pan.

In the Western Mail the following day, "Old Stager" wrote: "We saw a travesty of rugby - an exhibition that did the game no good. South Africa deserved their victory, not because of any skilled rugby by their representatives but because the Welshmen were ill-advised in endeavouring to play rugby of the normal variety under abnormal conditions."

Boon's international career had begun against Scotland in 1930 when his speed and tackling quickly caught the eye of the selectors. He played throughout the 1931 Five Nations Championship campaign when Wales won the title by defeating Scotland, France and Ireland while being denied the Triple Crown when held to an 11-11 draw by England. He scored one of his four international tries in the 13-8 victory over Scotland that year and also scored in the first match of the following year's championship which Wales began with a 12-5 victory over England.

Rugby may have been Boon's major sporting love but he did not confine his athletic talents to the rugby field. In 1929 he became the Welsh 220 yards sprint champion while a member of the Cardiff-based Roath Harriers and went on to run for Wales. His time of 23.4 seconds might not set the world alight these days but it stood for two years until Cyril Cupid of Swansea lowered it to 23.2 seconds in 1931.

Boon also made 11 first class appearances on the cricket field for Glamorgan between 1931 and 1932 but was unable to establish a regular place in the side because of a string of disappointing displays that brought him a total of just 229 runs in 19 innings with a top score of 33 and an average of 13.47. He bowled only 10 overs in the course of those 11 matches and it soon became clear that cricket was not his strong suit.

A full-time physical education teacher, Boon was later appointed as an inspector of schools but despite his heavy workload he maintained a strong affinity with rugby and was secretary of London Welsh from 1961 to 1969. When he returned to his home town he became president of Barry RFC and represented the town on the old South Glamorgan County Council.

He was involved in the running of the Welsh Merit Table, which was in existence before the introduction of leagues, and also served on the Sports Council for Wales. He was granted an honorary fellowship from Trinity College, Carmarthen, in 1990.

Ronnie Boon leaves a son, also named Ronnie, and a daughter, Jennifer, with whom he had lived since emigrating to New Zealand in 1995.

Robert Cole

Ronald Winston Boon, rugby player, cricketer and athlete: born Barry, Glamorgan 11 June 1909; married (one son, one daughter); died Waikupurah, New Zealand 3 August 1998.