Obituary : Clem Thomas

While the rugby world was celebrating the saving of the Five Nations Championship yesterday, it was also mourning the death of one of its most flamboyant characters. R.C.C. ("Clem") Thomas first took the game by storm as a rampaging back row forward for Swansea, Wales and the Lions before turning into one of its most revered and fair critics.

Born in Cardiff in 1929, Thomas was sent to Blundells School in Tiverton, Devon. He was one of the few schoolboy players good enough to be recognised outside his homeland and picked to represent his country. His debut for Wales came at Cardiff Arms Park in 1946 when the Welsh Secondary Schools Under 19 team defeated the English Public Schools side 11-9.

At the time he was described as "a hardworking, fast and intellingent wing-forward". He never lost those qualities in his senior career, yet added a steely, uncompromising edge to his play.

He won three more Schoolboy caps in 1946 and 1947, never ending on the losing side, before going up to Cambridge. He won a blue in their 1949 defeat by Oxford, yet a year earlier had helped the students rob Cardiff of its 18-month ground record with a magnificent triumph at the Arms Park.

He first played for Wales in the final game of the 1949 Five Nations Championship against France at Stade Colombes, Paris. It proved to be an inauspicious start for the 20-year-old as Wales slumped to their third defeat of the series and picked up the Wooden Spoon. He had to wait three years and 12 games for his next international, which proved a far more agreeable experience.

This time Wales ran out as 14-3 victors over Ireland at Lansdowne Road. Thomas scored a try and made another and Wales became winners of the Triple Crown. He quickly developed into a permanent fixture, and captained his country nine times in 1958 and 1959, leading them to five wins.

Arguably his most famous moment came in the 1953 international at the Arms Park against New Zealand. He had been in the Swansea side that had held the All Blacks to a 6-6 draw a week earlier, but played a major role in helping Wales to go one better on 19 December 1953. The game was locked at 8-8 with five minutes to play when Thomas, who had earlier done duty as an emergency wing while Gareth Griffiths was having his dislocated shoulder replaced, snatched up the ball on the All Blacks' 22 on the south- stand side.

He looked across the field to the wide open spaces and let fly with the most famous cross-kick in post-war rugby. Ken Jones, Wales' Olympic sprinter on the wing, raced in to gather the bouncing ball, swerved past the New Zealand full-back Ron Jarden and scored at the posts.

Wales won the game 13-8 and Thomas joined the ranks of those Welsh immortals who have played on a winning side against New Zealand - Wales has not won against them since.

For Swansea, he played in the sides that fell to narrow defeats against the 1951 Springboks and 1957 Wallabies, but he led the Welsh team to a 9-3 triumph over Australia in 1958.

The determination of the man was best epitomised by his refusal to return from the British Lions tour of South Africa in 1955 after having his appendix removed. Although he missed the first two tests, he went on to play a vital role in the 3rd and 4th tests, helping the Lions share the series, including the 9-6 win in Pretoria.

His 26th and final cap came against France in 1959 - like his debut, a defeat in Paris. No sooner had he hung up his boots than he picked up the pen and begun a career in journalism.

A wholesale butcher by trade, he also worked as the Observer's chief rugby writer for almost 35 years. Two years ago he stepped across the broadsheets to write for the Independent on Sunday.

He was twice rewarded in the annual Whitbread/Rugby World Honours for his services to journalism and could light up any press box or press conference. He wrote the book Welsh Rugby with Geoff Nicholson in 1980 and was in the process of proof-reading the official history of the Lions.

A larger-than-life character, in the 1970s he twice stood as a Liberal candidate, for the Gower and Carmarthen constituencies and in 1979 as an MEP, for Wales Mid and West.

Richard Clement Charles Thomas, rugby player, journalist and businessman: born Cardiff 28 January 1929; married 1954 Ann Barter 1954 (three sons, one daughter), 1980 Joyce Rowley; died Swansea 5 September 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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 People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

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