Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Man who changed the face of Rugby

Biography of John Dawes and the legendary 1971 British Lions

This latest addition to the rugby-lover’s library was mainly written immediately after the victorious British Lions’ return from their tour of New Zealand, where they accomplished something achieved neither before nor since, a series victory. Coinciding with the latest series win by the Lions, this time in Australia, author Ross Rayburn has brought it up to date with a postscript detailing the Dawes legacy.

The claim made in the title is justified. Variously described as “a cutting-edge professor of the game” [Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times], “ a tactical genius” [Cliff Morgan] and “the greatest captain ever encountered” [Barry John], John Dawes made his initial impact when transforming London Welsh rfc into the most glamorous club in Britain, playing a brand of rugby football that put emphasis on fitness, on running rugby and on creation of overlaps to put width on the game in a way not seen before.

This refreshing approach was carried through to Welsh teams that Dawes captained and then into the Lions squads of 1971 and 1974. In New Zealand, he once witnessed a 12-year old boy being berated for selling a dummy and jinking past an opponent rather than performing the standard drill of running into contact and creating ball for the forwards. This was anathema to SJD but present-day watchers of the game will recognise this as something they are required to watch for many tedious hours, a sign that play has fallen back into bad habits since the Dawes era.

So huge does the author consider to be the contribution made by this man from Chapel of Ease in Gwent that he claims for him a more important place in historical terms than legends like Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Gerald Davies, JPR Williams and Mervyn Davies. In 1971, John Dawes led London Welsh to its best ever season, captained Wales to a grand slam and guided the Lions to their historic series win in NZ.

And who can forget his part in Edwards’ “try of the century” for the Barbarians against the All Blacks at Cardiff in 1973?

At international level, he had a chequered history and was dropped by the Welsh selectors a number of times during his career. As a coach and coaching organiser, his record was uneven. But as a captain he was peerless; he was the quiet man who got things done.

It is John Dawes [Syd to all those who played alongside him] who is given credit by the author as being responsible for the sea change in British rugby’s fortune in the early 1970’s. He was the man who made British rugby lose its inferiority complex.

His outstanding 1971 Lions’ tour is seen in this book as “a Messianic journey which preached the London Welsh gospel”. Although we are currently obtaining some pleasing results at international level, perhaps we are again in need of a new Messiah in Welsh rugby.

“John Dawes and the legendary British Lions” [written by Ross Reyburn] is published by Lolfa with ISBN no 978 184771 706 1


Secretary, Welsh Rugby Writers


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