As the Lions start their summer tour of South Africa, a drama-documentary on S4C, Carwyn, on Sunday, 31 May at 9.00pm gives a powerful portrayal of the enigmatic character from Cefneithin, near Llanelli.
Carwyn and the Lions
by John Dawes
Over the last fifty or so years of rugby football much has changed. The Laws have been modified: attitudes have changed and the rugby world has become smaller with many more countries now involved.
To become a British Lion was a pipe dream for most rugby players and a Lions Tour to South Africa or New Zealand was seen as a group of players travelling to those countries with no hope of winning but having a 'jolly good time'! (Although that was undoubtedly not the view of the participating players).
Nevertheless, out of those Tours emerged great rugby players whose names will last forever. Players like Bleddyn Williams and Jack Matthews, Wales, and Jack Kyle and Karl Mullen of Ireland in the 1950 Lions; Cliff Morgan and Bryn Meredith (Wales); Tony O'Reilly, Cecil Pedlow, Robin Thompson (Ireland); Dickie Jeeps and Jeff Butterfield (England) - all 1955 Lions.
In 1959 there was Peter Jackson and Richard Marques of England together with Ronnie Dawson and Syd Millar of Ireland. In 1962 Scotland produced Arthur Smith and Gordon Waddell; Ireland brought Tom Kiernan and a then-emerging Willie John McBride while Wales produced the Abertillery terrors of Alun Pask and Haydn Morgan.
What may seem strange today is that all these names were players - the word 'coach' was not in the rugby vocabulary. There were coaches in New Zealand and South Africa but these countries were regarded as 'too professional'. (England's equivalent was Don Rutherford - labelled Technical Administrator).
Out of the development, coaching arrived in senior rugby in the UK. The 1966 Lions (J.D. Robins, Wales) and 1968 Lions (Ronnie Dawson) appointed coaches for their respective tours to South Africa and New Zealand - although in 1966 J.D. Robins was labelled 'Assistant Manager'.
Both these gentlemen were appointed with very restrictive roles, with no involvement of selection of the main party as one of them. However, those gentlemen together with their respective managers via their reports on their Tours made recommendations to the Governing Body concerning the role of the Assistant Manager, later to be called 'Coach'.
In 1971 Carwyn James was appointed Coach to the 1971 Lions, under the popular and well-respected Dr. Doug Smith of Scotland as Manager. Certainly these appointments helped catalyse the future organisations of Lions Tours. As a result, Carwyn was given the opportunity to become one of the 'greats' and justifiably ranked amongst those named above - the first UK coach to do so.
Technically the game had changed in the sixties. Probably the two changes which brought about the most significant effects were (a) the abandonment of having to play the ball with the foot after a tackle and (b) not allowing the ball to be kicked directly into touch from within 'your own 22' (in those days it was '25'!). It was these changes that enabled Carwyn to develop the '1971 Lions style' which brought so much success to the team and enjoyment to the players.
Doug and Carwyn were an excellent team - Doug doing all the 'managing' and Carwyn the coaching - although advising and listening seemed to be more appropriate. Both were appointed a year before the Lions tour of '71 - in the words of Dr. Doug - "so that they would begin to think alike as far as the Tour and its preparation was concerned". What success!
At the time of Carwyn's appointment as coach to the '71 Lions, I was playing my rugby at London Welsh while Carwyn was in Wales, at Llanelli.
Consequently, I vaguely knew Carwyn, which when one considers that we both studied at University College of Wales, Aberystwyth and played at London Welsh (different eras, mind you!).
Any meetings we had were either a result of meeting with the WRU Coaching Advisory Panel (instigated by Ray Williams - the Coaching Organiser) or indeed when Llanelli played London Welsh.
Seldom did we meet for a discussion in any form about rugby football - it was as if the then 'rugby-styles' of London Welsh and Llanelli did the talking for us. It was on the '71 Tour itself that old relationships developed - as was the case with all the players. We became a family with Doug and Carwyn as the 'Heads'.
The 1971 Lions and management began their Tour to New Zealand at Eastbourne on the Sussex coast. We met here for one week for what is today called 'a bonding session' but we all regarded it as an unnecessary adventure with the risk of injury foremost in our minds. The only positive out of Eastbourne was the appointment of John Taylor as Choirmaster!
The 1971 Lions actually assembled at Twickenham in May to watch the Middlesex 7-aside competition and then on to Eastbourne (sadly - we had to leave when London Welsh had reached the semi finals - we learned at Eastbourne that they were victorious).
The media were concerned about the composition of the party - too many Welshmen (!) - but by the time the party flew out of England for New Zealand there were only thirty two Lions on board. (This is a characteristic of all Lions Tours - assemble and become one!).
The journey to New Zealand was a long one - with an intermittent stop in Australia. This was to appease the Australian Rugby Union (who were short of funds!) and play two games - one in Brisbane and one in Sydney. The first was lost - after which the then Australian coach described the 1971 Lions as the poorest Lions he had seen. Carwyn and Doug simply ignored such comments - they had N.Z. in mind!
As it turned out, we had assembled two weeks before our first game in New Zealand. The management were well aware of this fact and as captain I was called in to discuss the proposals and plans for the Tour.
It was then one appreciated why Doug and Carwyn had been appointed a year in advance and what efforts had already been put in. Naturally, it was matters concerning the playing activities which interested me. There were three items which were of concern to Carwyn - it was these I shall remember. They showed what had been done - and what was needed to be done.
Carwyn was not afraid to ask for advice. In fact, one of his greatest assets was that he was an excellent listener - never provoking an argument but always taking on board what was said. At the very outset of the Tour he had seen Ray McLoughlin of Ireland as his forward mentor.
Ray was incredible - a man of supreme knowledge and such understanding that he could be called Mr. Rugby. Carwyn spent many fruitful hours with Ray. To ensure that I was 'on board' - I was allocated Ray as room mate for the first week of the Tour. (Lion's captain normally had a single room).
He was unbelievable - he had logged every possible match situation you could imagine and what were the options at those situations. After one week my head was 'buzzing'. Realising the enormous value of Ray's deliberations, I suggested to Carwyn the next step. Let Ray share the second week on tour with Barry John!!
Carwyn - as a result of his work at Llanelli (who like most Welsh clubs, were playing twice a week) was familiar with the squad system which was essential for the Tour. He had prepared selected teams for the first eleven games up until the first Test.
Carwyn had highlighted Wellington (game 5) and Canterbury (game 9) as his first and second targets - choosing what he thought was the best team for those two games at the same time, ensuring that each player had an opportunity to impress for Test team selection. This policy worked - except that we lost Ray McLoughlin and Sandy Carmichael in the Canterbury game - one week before the first Test!
Carwyn as part of his preparation and planning wanted to know how in 1959 after a long and arduous tour, the 1959 Lions beat N.Z. 9-6 at Auckland in the final Test match of the Tour. He was looking that far ahead. (P.S. We drew our last Test in 1971 14-14 in Auckland).
As the Tour progressed it became obvious that Doug and Carwyn had done their homework. Doug dealt with the management problem and Carwyn those for which he was responsible - viz the playing activities.
Training and practice sessions throughout the tour were always meaningful and enjoyable. Believe it or not, Carwyn spent most of his time with the forwards. It was, as if, being a former three-quarter himself, he wanted to spend time with the forwards to discover their secrets.
Most of all he had some good senior players and he knew how to use them and they responded. He was that sort of man. The backs he left alone and did most of his coaching clinics over a glass of red wine at dinner. Carwyn's strength was he had selected top class senior players and he respected them and they respected him. It was a formula that worked.
As anyone who has been to New Zealand knows - it is one thing to win the provincial matches but it is entirely different when you get to the Test matches. This was no different for the 1971 Lions.
With Carwyn's blessing the '71 Lions had polished the back play of their side utilising the enormous scoring potential of Gerald Davies, David Duckham, JPR Williams and Mike Gibson and this was sufficient for the provincial matches. However, Carwyn recognised that the line-out was a problem, although scrummaging favoured the Lions. This meant that the defence had to be top class to keep the All Blacks out. Basically, it was this defence that won the series.
On returning to the UK the welcome received by the '71 Lions at Heathrow was immense and totally unexpected. Press and media coverage of the Tour, as far as the Lions were concerned, was somewhat limited and this touring team was expected to join the ranks of other Tours as 'good tourists' but as test series losers. To return as series winners was outstanding - but that was never fully appreciated by the players until Heathrow was reached.
The 1971 Tour changed attitudes in U.K. rugby - especially towards coaching. Coaching now became acceptable and the way forward. In Wales, Clive Rowlands was at the helm and enjoying success with the Welsh team. At the end of his first three-year period as coach Clive was given the option of another three years and quite naturally and deservedly he took it. Carwyn had reportedly stated that he wanted to choose the team without the help of the Big Five. Whether or not that is factual remains uncertain, but it did seem logical that when Clive stood down Carwyn should become National Coach.
The 1971 Lions is now almost forty years ago and unfortunately there is only sparse film available for people either to reminisce or view for the first time.
What is definite is that the management team of Dr. Doug Smith and Carwyn James will be remembered as the first 'team' that 'got it right'!
Carwyn will be remembered as a gentleman, a scholar and quietly-spoken with strong (when necessary) views. As a coach, he was knowledgeable, determined, disciplined and understanding. In his relationships with players, he could be father-like or headmaster-like but never unpleasant or rude. Was he the best coach for the 1971 Lions? - YES. Above all, he was a good friend.