Rugby Union: Llewellyn a lasting symbol of the Dragon's defiance

Twelve years after England last lost in Cardiff, the most capped Welshman in history predicts a home rebirth.

There are elephants in regressive hypnotherapy who might struggle to name when Wales last beat England at home. Doubtless a few of the more pedantic would raise their trunks with an indignant snort and claim "1999", but although, technically, this was a "home" fixture, it was played on English turf, at a place called Wembley. Sorry, Dumbo, try again.

The answer is 1993, a mythical time when union was still, bizarrely, referred to as an "amateur" sport and the Welsh capital, even more bizarrely, was still referred to as a rugby "fortress", having repelled the English all but once in the previous 30 years. That seems incredible now, although a faded, dog-eared copy of a Welsh newspaper from the time confirms it is so, with its front-page picture of a cherub-cheeked lock being carried off by a delirious redscarfed throng. Whatever happened to that young man, you may wonder, with his smile beamed straight from heaven, his head full of Grand Slam dreams and his heart packed to bursting point with hwyl? What is he now: an accountant, bank manager, after-dinner speaker, pundit, journalist?

Er, no, he's a professional rugby player and when Mike Ruddock tonight names his team to face England - in Wales' equivalent of a Presidential address to the nation with an announcement from the coach live on BBC Wales - the name Gareth Llewellyn will almost certainly appear in the second row, all 6ft 6in and 35 years (and 11 months) of him. Yes, he was that local boy in a photograph and his memory of that day, 12 long years ago, is as fresh as a daffodil in the mind of by far and away rugby's longest-serving international.

Same as any Welshman recalling that Five Nations afternoon, Llewellyn starts with the one moment that seemed to typify that era of Dragonhood defiance. "Well, I remember Ieuan's try obviously," he says of the touchdown by Ieuan Evans that came after the Lions wing had chased what looked a lost cause in a kick ahead from the flanker Emyr Lewis, before Rory Underwood fatally dillied and dallied to allow the Welsh captain to make up a full 10 yards on him and hack the ball on for what was to prove the decisive score. "How couldn't I? But what I remember just as well was being under the cosh for the whole second half. You know, it was a "defend-athon" for 40 minutes as we protected that 10-9 lead. We somehow managed to keep them out, but it was so desperate at the end that I can see Brian Moore trying to get the ball on the touchline to take a quick throw-in and our hooker Nigel Meek kind of harassing and stopping him. And then the referee grabbing the ball and blowing up and the whole of Cardiff going mad.

"At that time, they never used to stop the crowd from coming on the pitch, so we had a mass pitch invasion and, for some reason, I was the one who was carried off. Yeah, it all went a bit crazy," his voice tailing off into the nostalgia of it all. "What a brilliant memory."

"A brilliant memory," and a very exclusive one too, the former steel- worker having appeared against England 13 times and won just the once. "But what a once," he says. Nevertheless, there is a palpable hint of regret as he surveys an international career that began as a 20-year- old in 1989 against Buck Shelford's unstoppable All Blacks. "Think about it. I've never started a game against England as the favourites, and that one win from a dozen or whatever games it is, is not much of a return is it?" he said.

It might have been enough for many to give up - indeed, it was enough for many to give up, including Gareth's brother and fellow international lock, Glyn. But Llewellyn Jnr stuck at it, moving around wherever the advent of professionalism took him, from Neath to Harlequins, back to Neath-Swansea and now to Narbonne, south-west France, when the Welsh region released him at the end of last season.

During this period, the most capped Welshman in history has entered and exited the international scene many times. It is little short of a modern sporting miracle then, that not only will he be winning his 93rd cap on Saturday but that he also recently recorded his personal best in a fitness test. "Yeah, it's nice to know that at 35 you're still improving," he says with a smirk. But how does he keep on doing it? Blood transfusions, religion, yoga, drugs?

"I love playing international rugby, playing rugby full stop," he says. "And then there's the friendship of the players; just being with the boys has been the best part of it. The game's always stayed fresh, too. But if you'd asked at the start of my career, obviously I would never have dreamt I would still be playing a decade and a half later, but then as sport is becoming more and more professional, you see more and more people achieving things like gold medals in their mid-30s. They're looking after themselves better, they've got better sports science back-up and yes, perhaps there is a lot more to gain. So they're pushing themselves that far further."

Too far, claim that ever-present legion of Welsh critics who believe Ruddock should look to his youth, despite the fact that he will name at least six players aged 25 or under in his starting XV this evening. "Look, it's the same for me as with the youngsters in the team. It's whether you're up to it that counts," he says. "If you're good enough, you're old enough and if you're good enough, you're young enough. It's that simple."

Although stressing England remain favourites, Llewellyn is adamant this Welsh team is good enough. "In all my years, this is the best group of players I've played with by the far. The most talented, the most organised, the most of a `unit'. The last two times we've played England we've outscored them in tries. Everyone tells us that if we Welsh forwards can get enough ball for our backs - well, let's just wait and find out on Saturday, shall we?"

After waiting 12 years, another few days won't make a deal of difference to Wales' jolly evergreen giant.



7 February 1993

Arms Park

Wales: Try I Evans; Conversion N Jenkins; Penalty N Jenkins. England: Penalties J Webb 2; Drop goal J Guscott.


18 February 1995

Arms Park

Wales: Penalties N Jenkins 3.

England: Tries R Underwood 2, V Ubogu; Conversion R Andrew; Penalties Andrew 2.


15 March 1997

Arms Park

Wales: Try R Howley; Conversion J Davies; Penalties J Davies 2. England: Tries T Stimpson, T Underwood, R Hill, P de Glanville; Conversions M Catt 4; Penalties Catt 2.


3 February 2001

Millennium Stadium

Wales: Tries R Howley, S Quinnell; Conversion N Jenkins; Penalty N Jenkins. England: Tries W Greenwood 3, M Dawson 2, B Cohen; Conversions J Wilkinson 4; Penalties Wilkinson 2.


22 February 2003

Millennium Stadium

Wales: Penalties C Sweeney 3.

England: Tries W Greenwood, J Worsley; Conversions J Wilkinson 2; Penalties Wilkinson 2; Drop goal Wilkinson 2.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own