Vivian Jenkins

Rugby player, cricketer and journalist
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Vivian Gordon James Jenkins, rugby player and journalist: born Port Talbot, Glamorgan 2 November 1911; married 1940 Susan Fraser (died 1984; one son) died Harpenden, Hertfordshire 5 January 2004.

Hailed as one of rugby union's greatest full-backs, Vivian Jenkins went on to become one of the best writers on the game, as the rugby correspondent for The Sunday Times.

One of Wales's all-round sportsmen, Jenkins was the first player to score a try for his country from full-back and he also played county cricket as an amateur for Glamorgan. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living Glamorgan cricketer, and president of their former players' association, and the second oldest living Wales rugby international and British Lion, behind the 96-year-old Harry Bowcott, his fellow Welshman.

Educated at Llandovery College and Jesus College, Oxford, Jenkins became a double Blue, playing at centre for Oxford in 1930, 1931 and 1932, winning two and drawing one, and then figuring in the Varsity cricket match at Lord's in 1933. He played county cricket for Glamorgan between 1931 and 1937, scoring 1,328 runs at an average of 17.94 in 44 matches and taking two wickets at 27.00. He also kept wicket for the county and stumped seven batsmen in addition to taking 17 catches.

He made his county début against Middlesex at Swansea in 1931 and notched a career-best 65 against Surrey at The Oval the following year. But cricket was Jenkins's second love and it was at rugby that he excelled. Despite starting his rugby life at centre, Jenkins developed into one of the finest full-backs in the game almost by accident.

Bridgend decided to switch him from centre to full-back for their Boxing Day trip to meet Newport at Rodney Parade in 1932. So impressive was he that the Welsh selectors picked him for the Possibles in the final Welsh trial and, three weeks after his début in the position, on 21 January 1933 he was lining up to win the first of his 14 caps against England at Twickenham.

It was to become one of the most famous days in Welsh rugby history as a Wales team led by Watcyn Thomas, and boasting seven new caps, won for the first time at Twickenham after a 23-year wait. It may have become known as Ronnie Boon's match, the Cardiff wing scoring all his side's points in a 7-3 triumph, but it was the first international outing for three remarkable sportsmen. Jenkins, Wilf Wooller and Maurice Turnbull all played first-class cricket together for Glamorgan as well as rugby for Wales, and Turnbull also went on to play cricket for England.

That proved to be a season of mixed fortune for Jenkins. He had his first conversion kick in Test rugby overruled by the referee after the Welsh touch judge had raised his flag at Twickenham, missed the next match against the Scots with a septic arm and was then in a team well beaten in Ireland. He was unfit for the opening game of the 1934 championship campaign, when England won 9-0 in Cardiff, but returned to kick two conversions in a 13-6 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield and then became the first Welsh full-back to score a try as Wales beat Ireland 13-0 in Swansea.

While Welsh fans had waited 152 games, and 54 years, to see a full-back cross for a try, they had to wait another 33 years, and another 108 games, before Keith Jarrett managed to match Jenkins's feat.

Jenkins and Wooller went on to achieve even greater fame for their exploits in the 1935 victory over the New Zealand All Blacks. Jenkins, who ended with 36 points for Wales in his 14 appearances, converted two of the three tries, while Wooller helped to set up two of them.

In 1938, Jenkins was one of eight Welshmen included in the British and Irish Lions side to tour South Africa and was Sam Walker's vice-captain. He was picked for the first Test, landing three long-range penalties, one from eight yards inside his own half, to give the Lions early hope, but in the end they were well beaten. His tour was hampered by hamstring trouble, although he ended it as the second-highest points scorer with 50.

His towering punts and deadly accurate goal-kicking always punished opponents, while his defensive attributes were magnificent. Although first capped from Bridgend, he played the majority of his club rugby at London Welsh, where he became a revered figure.

It was after leaving Oxford, and taking up a teaching post at Dover College in Kent, that Jenkins joined the Exiles and he went on to captain them in 1936-37. His international career came to an end when he retired after the 3-0 defeat by England at Twickenham in 1939.

He joined the staff of the News of the World and began his new career by covering motor racing. He joined the Territorial Army in August 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, serving in the anti-aircraft command and rising to become a captain. He played for the Army and Combined Services teams and played for the Army against France in Paris in 1940. He returned to work for the News of the World in 1946 and covered the MCC cricket tours to Australia and New Zealand in 1946 and to the West Indies in 1947.

In the Fifties he moved to The Sunday Times to take over from the Welsh-born English international scrum-half Dai Gent. On its launch in 1972 he became the editor of the Rothmans Rugby Yearbook, holding the post for 11 years, and he wrote a number of other books on rugby, including Lions Rampant (1956) and Lions Down Under (1959).

Robert Cole

Comments