Obituary: Clem Thomas

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The Independent Online
It was the laugh that distinguished Clem Thomas, writes Tony O'Reilly [further to the obituary by Robert Cole, 6 September]. Part upper-class; part working-class; a cross between a real chuckle and just the hint of a tease. It was the sort of laugh that made you think he doesn't give a damn, but then again he just might.

I first met him as a very young 18-year-old Lion at Eastbourne as we prepared for the 1955 tour of Africa - or South Africa and Rhodesia as it was then called. He was kind, generous and tough. And then I remembered that he had marked Paddy Kavanagh - one of the legendary brothers - out of the game against Wales a few weeks earlier. Every time Kavanagh ran at Cliff Morgan he either waltzed with Clem or had to run round an obstructing Thomas to get at the Welsh Wizard.

Need I say that Morgan had one of his greater games for Wales. Clem, Russ Robbins and Jimmy Greenwood of Scotland are among the great back rows that ever played for the Lions, and, were it not for his appendicitis, we might well have gone one better than split 2-2, a historic series with Africa in that startling summer of 1955.

Since then, he had never aged; the same boyish enthusiasm, the same Socratic questing spirit, the same toughness to ask the hard question as a journalist and often of a friend. The Welsh as always knew him better than anyone. Leighton Jenkins said to me once, "Watch him," as the Barbarians played Swansea during the Easter tour. "Watch him," he said, "as he lets the opposing out-half go for the gap and then catches him by his collar as he goes through." And he said, "The out-half's legs do run up an invisible wall."

He lived life to the full and he enjoyed every minute of it - and right, I'm sure, to the end. I will treasure him in my box of memories. A memory of a big, fast, tough, generous, rawboned Welsh flanker of the highest class. They don't come better.