Obituary: Alun Pask

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The Independent Online
Given how exceptionally gifted a player Alun Pask was, there was a curious sense of unfulfilment about his rugby career. He was one of the great forwards of the Sixties and, briefly, a distinguished captain of Wales but was contentiously denied the ultimate honour of leading the British Isles.

If ever there were a rugby player ahead of his time it was Pask, who gave expression to a sense of athleticism and ball-handling skill quite out of keeping with the norm during his own era, though these days rather commonplace. There was no finer sight in the game than Pask, 6ft 3in and 15st, in full cry with the ball clutched in one hand in a manner which came to be associated with the Fijians. Indeed his capacity as an attacking forward sometimes gave rise to doubts about his willingness to perform the more prosaic defensive duties, though there were a number of notable international occasions when he gave the lie to this misconception.

Pask came out of the dour school of Monmouthshire rugby, was a Welsh Secondary Schools international in 1955 and then had his skills refined at Loughborough Colleges, an eminent rugby academy which has nurtured international players for all the home countries. For a time he was unable to win selectorial favour but eventually after being a travelling reserve on 13 occasions made his Wales debut as a late replacement flanker against France in Paris in 1961, scoring a try. He went on to win 26 caps, all but two in his preferred position of No 8.

It did not take him long to win wider favour. He was a Lion in South Africa in 1962, playing in the first three Tests but missing the fourth because of a cracked rib and earned a worthy reputation as a cerebral type of player reliant more on pace coupled with tactical and positional sense than on brute force, rapier as opposed to bludgeon.

His versatility was such that he could catch and kick as well as any back - a rare accomplishment for a Sixties forward - but if he is remembered for one event more than any other it is his cover-tackle on the French wing Henri Rancoule in the 1962 game in Cardiff. It was, as one account put it, "a spectacular piece of self-advertisement" when Pask turned to give chase and then caught one of the fastest men in rugby, thereby saving the game for Wales (who won 3-0) and propelling himself into the Lions tour party.

By 1965 Pask was the Welsh pack leader in the team captained by Clive Rowlands which beat England, Scotland and Ireland to win the Triple Crown for the first time in 13 years, capturing the imagination when he took over with complete assurance as emergency full-back against the Irish.

When Rowlands was dropped in 1966, Pask was the obvious choice as successor and, accompanied by two other players from the Abertillery club, Haydn Morgan and Allan Lewis, he led Wales to victories over England and Scotland, scoring a memorable try at Twickenham with a swallow-dive to the corner which was immortalised in a widely reproduced photograph.

With Wales two-thirds of the way to another Triple Crown, Pask was the clear favourite to captain the Lions in Australia and New Zealand at the end of that season but his prospects instantly evaporated when Wales lost narrowly in Ireland and the home win over France that followed made no difference.

Pask made the tour, but only as a humble lieutenant. At the time Wales had notoriously never had a Lions captain and he was widely presumed in the Principality to have been the victim of a hidden selection agenda. Indeed the choice of Mike Campbell-Lamerton of Scotland in preference to Pask was shown to be misconceived when Campbell-Lamerton could not hold his Test place, though for the games against New Zealand in Wellington and Auckland it was another Welshman, David Watkins, rather than Pask who was given the captaincy.

This was the beginning of a rapid deterioration in Pask's fortunes. He continued to captain Wales in the next season but after two more matches the leadership was passed to Watkins, under whom Pask played one match before the shock of the early death of his brother David persuaded him to retire there and then, aged only 29.

Steve Bale

Alun Edward Islwyn Pask, rugby footballer: born Blackwood, Monmouthshire 10 September 1937; Welsh international 1961-67 (26 caps, captain 6 times); British Isles tours to South Africa 1962 (3 Tests), Australia and New Zealand 1966 (5 Tests); died Blackwood, Gwent 1 November 1995.