Lewis Cannell

Northampton and England rugby player

Lewis Bernard Cannell, rugby player and radiologist: born Coventry 10 June 1926; MD 1958; married; died London 19 March 2003.

Lewis Cannell made his rugby début for England against France at the age of 21 in the last game of a miserable 1948 Championship. The English recorded one draw and three losses in what was to be Ireland's first and only Grand Slam.

He did not taste success until his fourth Test, when he scored a try at Twickenham to help England to a 8-3 victory over France in February 1949, running on to an Ivor Preece pass and going straight in his usual style like a shot out of a gun. The following month he ran from inside his own half to put the veteran Dickie Guest over against Scotland.

He played all eight Championship games in 1949-50, including the 1950 opener against Wales, who gained only their second-ever win at Twickenham, but he played alongside three new caps in the England threequarter line.

Cannell's partners in those years were his fellow Oxford University students Brian Boobyer (still seen at Twickenham internationals) and Clive van Ryneveld, who later skippered South Africa at cricket.

Cannell had begun his rugby at St Richard's College, Droitwich, and then Northampton Grammar School, before winning Blues at Lincoln College, Oxford in 1948, 1949 and 1950. He joined the Royal Air Force as a pilot officer, appearing also for the Combined Services, as well as his club side, Northampton, and the East Midlands. Then, his medical studies took him to London, to St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, which also happened to have an outstanding rugby team. In his spare time he appeared for the London Counties and Middlesex.

Cannell was left on the sidelines by England in 1951, but returned to play against South Africa and Wales in 1952, losing both matches, and at the end of the Springbok tour he joined Bleddyn Williams in the centre for the Barbarians, playing outside a young Cliff Morgan.

Recalled for the first three matches of England's title-winning 1953 campaign, he scored a try against Wales at the Arms Park for a fine 8-3 win. It was the only try of the game and playing outside the splendid Martin Regan, he ran well to outwit the Wales defence at the River Taff end for a memorable score.

This was the second and final try for England and against France that year, he was joined for his 13th cap at centre by the young Jeffrey Butterfield, possibly England's greatest-ever player in that position. Though he missed the seasons 1954 and 1955, he returned to the side in 1956 to play against Ireland, Scotland and France and in two matches of England's Grand Slam season in 1957, partnering Butterfield in all those five games.

However, the 6-0 win over Ireland at Lansdowne Road in February 1957 was to be his last of his 19 Tests in the England colours. He had played on and off for 10 seasons at the top level. He was a dark-haired, smart centre, who held the England midfield together and was a more than able tackler, though the essence of his game was that he was a neat and capable performer.

Bleddyn Williams, possibly the greatest centre in the world during the Cannell years, said:

Lewis was a classical centre, who I played both with and against, though never for the air force, as he joined later than I did. He was a good timer of the pass and punter of the ball. He and Butterfield were the great English centres of that era and, though not a big man, he was always difficult to pass when he played for Northampton.

In 1969 he moved to South Africa to become a radiologist at Addington Hospital in Durban and in later years worked at Stoke Mandeville.

Robert Cole