Bill Cleaver

Wales outside-half who retired into mining

William Benjamin Cleaver, rugby player and mining engineer: born Treorchy, Glamorgan 15 September 1921; Production Manager, South Wales, National Coal Board 1953-58, Area General Manager, No 2 South Wales Area 1958-69, Deputy Director, South Wales Area 1969-85; Secretary, Contemporary Art Society for Wales 1972-91; Vice-Chairman, Welsh Arts Council 1980-83; married 1943 Mary Watkin (one son, two daughters); died Cardiff 29 September 2003.

The former rugby outside-half Bill Cleaver was a member of the 1950 Triple Crown-winning Wales team and the British Isles tourists (later known as the British Lions) to Australia and New Zealand later that year.

He won 14 caps for Wales at outside-half, centre and full-back between 1947 and 1950. His class as a utility back could be seen by the fact that, in three wins over the 1947-48 Australians, he was at full-back for Wales, centre for the Barbarians and fly-half for Cardiff.

During the Second World War years he played with Billy Darch as his half-back partner for Cardiff, but then the pre-war cap Haydn Tanner joined the club, and they teamed up in a brilliant partnership for club and country. In 1950 Cleaver was the ideal man for the new Wales skipper John Gwilliam to control precocious talent such as Lewis Jones and a Twickenham win was followed by the Triple Crown, Championship and Grand Slam.

On tour Cleaver admitted to being a poor trainer, but he appeared in 10 provincial matches and three tests against New Zealand before Jones was flown in to take over. He played twice more in New Zealand and was an amusing touch-judge in Ceylon on the trip home.

Called "Billy Kick", he claimed that after dropping a goal for Wales at Swansea he was cheered, but said: "Two weeks earlier many of those had booed me for Swansea against Cardiff."

In 1947-48, with Bleddyn Williams and Jack Matthews outside him at centre, Cardiff scored 182 tries in 41 games, losing only twice, but on his return from the tour he played only once for his club and also was at scrum-half to partner Jackie Kyle of Ireland for the Lions against Cardiff in a 14-12 win.

At 29, Cardiff's Blond Bomber disappointed his fans by retiring and concentrating on a coal-mining career. He became manager of North Celynen Colliery, then Deputy Director of Mining for the South Wales Coalfield from 1969 to 1985. "My professional career in the coal-mining industry was always as important to me as my sporting ambitions," he said.

Billy Cleaver was proud that he had made one appearance in Llanelli colours, back in 1940 as a teenager, while he also appeared briefly for Treorchy, Pentre, Newbridge and Bridgend before making 141 appearances for Cardiff between 1945 and 1951.

Howard Evans

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