Gerwyn Williams: Rugby full-back who helped Wales beat the All Blacks

Shortly before Gerwyn Williams died, the Welsh Rugby Union went some way to reuniting him with one of his most treasured possessions. His first Welsh international cap, which he won when he made his debut for Wales against Ireland in 1950, had been proudly presented to his old school, Port Talbot Grammar, many years before.

But Williams's cap went missing some time in the Sixties. More than 40 years later, the WRU took the decision to offer him a replacement and it arrived in January as he entered the last throes of his battle with cancer.

Williams was a classic full-back who featured in one of the greatest victories in the history of Welsh rugby, the 13-8 win over New Zealand at Cardiff Arms Park in December 1953 which remains the last victory by Wales over the All Blacks. By that point, Williams had already played a part in two Grand Slam campaigns.

While the try scorer Ken Jones and his provider Clem Thomas always take the headlines for creating that piece of history, the Wales skipper Bleddyn Williams never forgets the key role played by his namesake.

"Gerwyn was a very good full-back – neat and tidy in everything he did and very sound under the high ball. While Ken Jones ran in the try that helped us to win that game, it was Gerwyn who helped me in the closing moments to hold up the New Zealand outside-half Brian Fitzpatrick and save a try," Bleddyn Williams recalled.

A talented all-rounder at Port Talbot Grammar School, from where he won a Wales Under-15 rugby cap against England and a Welsh Schools cricket cap, he went to Loughborough College after serving in the Royal Navy between 1941-46.

While he was at Loughborough he won the College welterweight boxing title and played in the College XV with his future Welsh international team mate Ken Jones. But it was from London Welsh that he won the first two of his 13 caps. He made his international debut in the Triple Crown decider against Ireland in Belfast, having joined an unbeaten Welsh team halfway through the 1950 Five Nations championship. Wales were hoping to take their first Triple Crown in 39 years and the 25-year-old full-back got embroiled in a nail-biting affair.

There was no score in the first half and then a try for Wales by Ken Jones was cancelled out by a home penalty (both were worth three points at the time). Three minutes remained when Malcolm Thomas was sent racing to the left corner on a quest for glory.

He dived for the line, was bundled into the corner flag, yet credited with the try by the Scottish referee RA Beattie. Wales had ended the long wait for the Triple Crown and Williams had got his career off to a flying start.

The Grand Slam game against France was a formality, Wales winning 21-0. Williams retained his place for the next 10 matches. Included in that run was a full house of four victories in the 1952 Grand Slam and an appearance against the South Africans in 1951. In fact, Williams played four times against the Springboks, for Llanelli and the Barbarians, and also in the only side to beat them on their tour, London Counties.

Williams spent three seasons at Stradey Park playing for Llanelli and at the same time launched his teaching career at Ardwyn Grammar School in Aberystwyth. He spent two years there before moving on to Harrow County School in 1952, where he made an immediate impact by coaching the 1st XV to its first unbeaten season.

His playing career, at both international and club levels, came to an end when he dislocated his shoulder in the opening championship fixture of the 1954 Five Nations against England at Twickenham. He picked up the injury in the first-half trying to stop Ted Woodward scoring England's first try.

He had treatment at half-time and bravely returned, but Wales went on to lose 9-6 and Williams was forced to retire from playing. Not that he ever left the game. That year he became an Assistant Master at Whitgift School in Surrey and remained there for 30 years, the vast majority of that time as Chief PE Master.

In 1968 he helped to coach the Cambridge University team that won the Varsity Match at Twickenham and he also wrote four books on rugby – Modern Rugby (1964), Schoolboy Rugby (1966), Tackle Rugger This Way (1968) and Tackle Rugger (1975).

Rob Cole

Gerwyn Williams, rugby union player and coach: born Glyncorrwg 22 April 1924; married 1944 Josephine Sangwin (two sons); died Clare, Suffolk 10 February 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas
film
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Content Manager

£26000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Content Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will b...

Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee