BOOK OF THE WEEK: A celebration of dash, flair and fun

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The Independent Online
Beyond The Fields of Play

by Cliff Morgan with Geoffrey Nicholson

(Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 18.99)

Cliff Morgan was beyond doubt one of the greatest outside-halves of all time. While it is never possible to make a direct comparison between players of different generations, those still watching rugby today, who are old enough to recall Morgan at his peak, will testify unhesitatingly as to his right to be included in any hall of fame constructed to celebrate the most gifted wearers of the No 10 jersey.

This book is a celebration of Morgan's life which, as the title suggests, has encompassed very much more than rugby. Strictly speaking, it is not an autobiography, because it was written by Geoffrey Nicholson, who was the first Rugby Union Correspondent of this newspaper. Morgan put his thoughts down on tape and Nicholson has woven them into a vivid tapestry on which is emblazoned Morgan's colourful tale. In a period that has seen more rugby books than ever - and, to the best of my knowledge, I have read them all - this is the best by some distance.

Nicholson was fortunate in having so much rich material to work with. But he has captured every ingredient of Morgan's life, from his boyhood days in Trebanog to the unforgettable part he played for the Lions on their remarkable tour to South-Africa in 1955, where the Test series was drawn 2-2.

The first international, at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, was won by the Lions 23-22. Morgan scored a try in a breathtaking match, which has forever been referred to as the greatest Test. Recalling that August day 42 years ago, Morgan said: "To me that game epitomised what rugby and the whole tour were about - adventure, style, passing the ball, and, about the most important thing in rugby, taking chances."

Morgan's big chance came well after his reputation had been made as a match-winning playmaker for Cardiff and Wales, when Ireland's incomparable Jack Kyle - newly married and freshly qualified as a doctor - was unable to go on tour.

Morgan became the Lions' inspiration as he side-stepped and twinkle-toed his way into the pantheon with a whole raft of remarkable performances. He went on to win 29 caps for Wales - a record which stood for 37 years until Neil Jenkins broke it with his 30th cap against France in March 1996 - before leaving the game to become and outstanding radio journalist and head of Outside Broadcasts for BBC Television.

If Ned Gribble shaped Morgan's rugby future while young Cliff was a pupil at Tonyrefail Grammar School, then the 1995 Lions' tour shaped Morgan's attitude to sport. It should have dash, flair and style, above all, it must be fun.

Those elements have been a guiding light for Morgan and, like the romance he feels for sport and his own humility, they are reflected in every chapter of this delightful book.