Long before I developed my typically English opinions of the Welsh (yes, yes I know it’s mutual), when I was merely a roly-poly soft centre waiting to happen, there was Mervyn Davies. Merve the Swerve Davies was one of those sensational players that, as a young boy, you couldn’t take your eyes off. He was a magnificent specimen, and was picked for both the victorious British Lions tour to New Zealand in 1971 and the infamous 1974 tour to South Africa (the ’99 Tour). When I first took an interest in the oval ball game in 1976 I quickly found two heroes to adore – JPR WIlliams and Mervyn Davies. Yes, they were both welsh and both were as hard as nails. Everything I wasn’t.
WHEN MEN WERE MEN, AND SIDEBURNS WERE ENORMOUS: Mervyn Davies, JPR Williams, Mike Roberts, Geoff Evans, Gerald Davies, John Dawes and John Taylor – London Welsh’s representatives on the 1971 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, 1971
Sadly Mervyn was to retire early due to a brain haemorrhage playing for Swansea in a Welsh Cup semi-final against Pontypool in 1977. It was a sad moment for Welsh, British and world rugby. Mervyn died today, and marks another piece of my childhood to slip away.
The 1970s was a time of welsh dominance and greatness, the reason everyone (me included) loved watching them play and the reason the unsuccessful Welsh teams of the ensuing years could never let go of, and for good reason. It wasn’t just the welsh who pined for the grace and skill of Mervyn, JPR, JJ, Gareth and the like – instead of the lame fair the WRU dealt up for the following 25 years. Little wonder they became bitter, twisted and unloveable. The boyos of the 1970s were a tough act to follow.
When the Welsh team pick up the Grand Slam tomorrow, which they look like they’re gonna do, their captain Sam Warburton will deserve the prize as he is next in a long line of great welsh back row players to ply his trade on the rugby field. When, as he surely will, he becomes the next British Lions Captain he will merely be taking the place of Mervyn who was odds-on to do the same had the brain injury not deprived him of it. Warburton could be truly great, and if Wales are lucky they may be able to find a few more like him and, who knows, rekindle the spirit of that great 1970s team.
Until then I look forward to the BBC digging out the footage of Merv and company thrilling the crowds around the world.
And, as Mervyn was playing No.8 in the 1973 Barbarians vrs New Zealand match, I see no reason for not showing the greatest try of all time again. And again. And in full
(normal English service will be resumed as soon as possible)