Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Book Review: Great Welsh Number 10s

Welsh outside-halves over the years

Outside half? Fly half? Stand off? Pivot? First five-eighth?

Wearers of the number 10 jersey has long been the object of adulation. Frank Keating’s 1993 book on the subject looked across the world spectrum to “Those who strut their stuff in livery numbered 10”. A new book by Lynn Davies is devoted entirely to players who have worn that jersey for Wales during the period 1947 to 1999.

Arguments on the best have raged over the years and comparisons are offered on the respective merits of exciting and accomplished players like Billy Cleaver and Glyn Davies, Cliff Morgan and Carwyn James, Barry John and Dai Watkins, Phil Bennett and John Bevan and Jonathan Davies and Malcolm Dacey.

The author quotes Alun Richards’ division of players into two broad categories: the instinctive versus the duellist, “the one with a cool insouciant grace, the other wound up like a spring”. The reader is provided with individual examples in each category.

In the early 90’s along came Neil Jenkins, first of the modern breed of fly-halves with strong defensive skills, a wider eye for ball retention and excellent flat pass distribution. Outside breaks, sidestepping and jinking became lost arts in the modern game as space for adventurous outside-halves disappeared.

As many as 31 players are included, among them Malcolm Thomas, Bleddyn Williams and Alun Thomas, better known as centre three-quarters but each with at least one game at fly-half for Wales. Clive Rowlands has provided a foreword.

Anecdotes abound in such an anthology. There are stories of the nefarious activities of Rugby League scouts in the days when South Wales was an attractive recruiting area. There is a quote from Cliff Morgan’s first selection letter from the WRU [“Do you wish to borrow a pair of shorts?”] and reference to Mark Ring’s back-heeled conversion attempt against London Welsh that saw him banned from further kicking duties with the Cardiff club. Also recounted are the miserly reduction by zealous officials of mileage claims by as little as sixpence [2½p].

Greatest outside-half of them all? The author claims that, were rugby followers throughout Wales to be balloted, it is likely that the winner would be the man who figures on the cover of this latest offering – Barry John.

The book is another welcome addition to the rugby-lover’s library shelves, both as a fund of stories and as a source of reference.

“Great Welsh Number 10s” by Lynn Davies
published by Lolfa @ £9.95   ISBN 978 1 84771 708 5

Secretary, Welsh Rugby Writers


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