Mervyn Davies: Rugby union player considered by many as one of the greatest from Wales

 

You know you've really made it as a rugby forward if you get praise from South Africa and New Zealand. In both countries they revered Mervyn Davies as if he was one of their own. And why not? The former London Welsh, Swansea, Wales and British & Irish Lions No 8, instantly recognisable from his trademark headband, wiry hair and gaucho style moustache, beat the Springboks and the All Blacks in their own back yard in an era when British rugby ruled the world.

"I've always said he was the one player who probably had the biggest impact on that 1971 Lions Test series," the former All Black Sir Colin Meads said. "For years so much of our play had revolved around throwing to Brian Lochore at the back of the line-out, but Mervyn dominated that area of the game for the entire series and stopped us playing. I met him several times in the subsequent years including a guest appearance on an episode of This is Your Life, in his honour. They kept me holed up in a hotel room in Llanelli for two days before the programme because they said everyone will recognise you and know why you're here.

"But I was happy to travel from New Zealand for such a great player and a marvellous man. He is one of the great players of Welsh and world rugby."

Davies' was a remarkable international career that was brimful of success but was cut short when he was at the peak of his powers. Having played 38 consecutive internationals for Wales, won three triple crowns and two Grand Slams, captained his country to eight wins in nine games and helped the Lions win Test series in New Zealand and South Africa, it all came to a shuddering, sudden end.

The venue was Cardiff Arms Park and the occasion was the Welsh Challenge Cup semi-final. Davies' Swansea side were taking on Pontypool when the giant No 8 keeled over after a line-out and lay prostrate on the field. He had suffered an intra-cranial haemorrhage.

It wasn't the first time he had collapsed on the rugby field. The first time was in 1972 when he was playing for London Welsh against London Irish. Davies remembered being sick and, as he says: "It was as if the All Blacks pack were doing the Haka inside my skull."

At that time it was thought to be meningitis, but had he been diagnosed correctly, surgery would have corrected the problem and he would have been force to retire then. Instead, he was able to get four more great years on the field.

After a period in a coma, he spent months in hospital and saw his life turned upside down. Having been one of the most physical athletes the rugby world had seen he found himself learning how to walk again. He couldn't trust himself to cross the road in safety, such was the paralysis down his left side.

"From competing against New Zealand one minute to not being able to beat my one-year-old son at tiddlywinks was a hard battle to come to terms with," he said. The fact he managed for a further 36 years before he finally had to give in to lung cancer spoke volumes about his character and fighting ability. Affable in appearance and outlook, he had steel coursing through his veins.

"He loved playing and you could totally rely on him – he was totally uncompromising. As a captain he led by example, was tremendously courageous and never opted out of anything," John Dawes, the captain who ld him into battle for club, country and the Lions said.

"Had it not been for his brain haemorrhage, he would have led the 1977 British and Irish Lions to New Zealand and I think we might have won the series. His would be one of the first names down on the team sheet for any greatest ever Wales and Lions XVs."

Born in Swansea, rugby was in his blood; his father had played for Swansea and for Wales in an uncapped services international. Even so, his first foray into the club scene wasn't auspicious.

"I remember being in a selection meeting at London Welsh shortly after he had joined the club when it wassuggested Merve should be elevated from the Dragons to the Druids," Dawes said. "The third team captain, Glan Richards, told us he had 'this big lad, long and thin, who will win you some line-out ball, but isn't very good'. By October he had made his debut in the first team and in January he was in the Welsh side."

"Merve the Swerve" also played eight consecutive tests with the Lions. He won three Triple crowns, two Grand Slams and two Lions Test series. He was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2001 and was regularly voted Wales greatest ever No 8 and captain.

"When people like Colin Meads point to him being the biggest thorn in the side of the New Zealand team in 1971, rather than Barry John, who was getting all the plaudits, you so how highly he was rated by his peers," Gareth Edwards, who played in all 38 Welsh internationals and Lions Tests with Davies, said. "His delivery of line-out ball from the tail was critical to the Lions' success in 1971 and revolutionised the game.

"He worked at the coal face in a way that maybe the players of today wouldn't really appreciate. Firstly, he had to fight for his life at the line-out, then it was a free for all at the rucks and mauls when anything could happen to you. But he was outstanding in all those areas. He was like an octopus in the way he used to use his long arms to somehow deliver the ball back from the line-out. He was only slight in stature, and a bit gangly, but he was a fine all-round player who ruled the roost at the line-out, was strong in the tackle and powerful at the mauls."

After his playing days were over, Davies became a highly regarded after-dinner speaker.

Thomas Mervyn Davies, rugby union player: born Swansea 9 December, 1946; played for London Welsh 1968-1972, Swansea 1972-1976, Barbarians, Surrey; won 38 caps for Wales 1969-76, eight caps for Lions 1971-74; twice married (one son, one daughter from first marriage); died Swansea 15 March 2012.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
news

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
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

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week