on 7 September 2013
A great read for anyone with an interest in the London Welsh, Wales and the Lions teams of the late 60's/early 70's vintage. Great to see that at long last John Dawes gets some long overdue credit for his role in turning London Welsh and Wales into the force they were in the '70's, as well as the historic 1971 Lions tour to New Zealand. Full of interesting stories and extremely well written, one of the best rugby biographies of recent times. Shame that there was not more about the 1977 Lions tour (the one that got away) but overall an excellent read and highly recommended.
on 11 September 2014
I joined London Welsh in 1966 and played solely in the lower sides and the first part of this book reminds me of those happy times. Rightly SJD gets plaudits from leading players of the time and I will like to add mine from a lower angle and add to what the author (RR) says. If you don't want a junior player's view stop reading now.
Training was hard. RR claims up to 80 people came I am sure I counted over a hundred several times. One man, neither Welsh nor a rugby player, came up from Brighton just to train. Anyone working temporarily in London staying with me I took training and all agreed they were the hardest session they ever did.
SJD always had us using a ball throughout the session he took. He was always coming up with interesting exercises varying them over the weeks - one was rarely bored when he took it. He did not seem to take it as often as...
RCB Michaelson, a great character other than when taking training. If he knew your name then you were singled out for three hours agony compressed into 2/3 minutes then he wouldn't take pity on one he just selected someone else for torture. One wondered what you'd done to deserve the nightmare that had just happened. Once RCB was nearly nonplussed when he asked Dai Richards to give the training group an exercise; Dai sitting on the ground feet and legs straight out in front of him then lifted his body off the ground. After a moment RCB said "Thanks Dai, but the rest of us are human beings."
We would play touch until the moment one or other of the above would arrive. Whoever it was would emerge from the space between the cricket scoreboard and the corner of the tennis courts out into the training lights. As they appeared through the gloom either "oh good it's Dawsey, oh good it's John, oh good it's Sydney John , Good it's Dawes," or, "oh ..... it's Michaelson."
What this meant was that even down into the club lower sides we were fitter than our opponents but we suffered like the 1st through size e.g. playing for the Dragons v Tonbridge 1stXV (we had 8 wingforwards in the team skilled ball players all but not great front rowers or scrum halves) in the end they won but at one stage we led, causing a touch-line supporter to shout "Come on Tonbridge they are just a bunch of dwarves (he might have said dwarfs).
John Dawes slow? News to me. Admittedly I didn't see the 1st that often but it never appeared he struggled. I saw him often play 7s and that is a game where one might expect it would show someone lacking pace. This lack of pace was never apparent in the Middlesex 7s or other tournaments won by LW when there was ample opportunity for speed merchants over the rounds to show him up. Also in 7s SJD's kick-offs were as immaculate as any professional player one sees now. He would drop the ball just over the 10 yard for our big forward to collect or knock down and yet I never saw him practise kicking at training nor did he ever take such kicks for the 1st XV. He did everything on the rugby field right.
RR talks a bit about the move to Old Deer Park I'd like to say more. If LW had remained at Herne Hill (HH) I doubt they would have been consistently a great running side. RR says the ground there could be muddy. Muddy? I was at school and played a mile up the road, under another Welsh captain JA Gwilliam, and if it rained our ground, London clay, became a cloying, grasping, foul smelling, gluepot (if you see the film Ice Cold in Alex the actor Anthony Quayle is sucked into quicksand - it was something like that).
HH could have reduced the lightening fast Terry & Gerald Davies, Ellis-Jones to being merely quickish. ODP was such a pleasure to play on after that London clay - ODP rarely seemed wet.
Other games than LW were played at ODP (Surrey) and Ken Sales the ODP groundsmen once made the comment that LW did not churn up the pitch as much as these other teams because LW's handling was so good that they did not drop the ball as often so therefore there weren't as many scrums to churn up the ground.....
After the 71 Lions returned I captained the Dragons when 4 of them played in the team not 3 as RR writes. Geoff Evans no 8 JPR wing forward, SJD outside half TGR in the centre.
I have seen two marvellous running football teams who had lightweight packs. Swinton RL winning the 1962-3 RL championship (won 17 out of 18?) - I saw them 6 or 7 times because that year (after the worst winter for years) they played twice a week from May till the end of June (I was at Manchester Univ studying). They were wonderful to see. When Albert Blan went up to get the Championship cup I'm sure someone handed him his teeth before he went up the steps.
London Welsh particularly 1966-7 and 67-68 before all the stars came. My favourite would be 67-68 because I was injured and saw more games than I otherwise could. I could then watch a 10st Full Back - Gareth James- perform and shout no matter where he was the only two words he knew, "run it." My memory might be failing because he might also have said, "it's on," often a worrying phrase to a LW supporter when Gar was standing behind our posts.
SJD a terrific club captain who gave all LW players the tools to enjoy rugby at our level and be successful too. As for his slowness if I had been that slow I might have challenged for a first team place.