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.

WALES V ENGLAND THE FALL OF `FORTRESS' CARDIFF

WALES 10 ENGLAND 9

7 February 1993

Arms Park

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

WALES 9 ENGLAND 23

18 February 1995

Arms Park

Wales: Penalties N Jenkins 3.

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

WALES 13 ENGLAND 34

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.

WALES 15 ENGLAND 44

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.

WALES 9 ENGLAND 26

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London