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Obituary: Clive Rowlands – the former schoolteacher who became Welsh rugby stalwart

30 Jul 2023 3 minute read
Clive Rowlands. Photo PA Images

Clive Rowlands was a former schoolteacher whose mental acuity earned him the nickname Top Cat, and he combined that with an athletic ability to serve Welsh rugby with distinction as a player, coach and administrator.

Rowlands, who has died at the age of 85, had been involved in academia in his early life but it was rugby that proved his main calling and he would go on to have a major influence both on and off the pitch, including being captain and coach of his country.

Born in Upper Cwmtwrch on May 14 1938, Rowlands became a leading figure in the sport during the 60s and 70s, having initially been a part of the first Welsh representative side to tour the southern hemisphere when he travelled with the Welsh School’s team to South Africa.

His full international debut came against England in January 1963, the team losing 13-6 at Cardiff Arms Park in what would be the first of his 14 caps, captaining the side in each of them while building a reputation as an astute tactician and innovative motivator.

Rowlands recalled his pride at representing his country in a 2003 WalesOnline article, saying: “Being born in Wales, I wanted from a very early age to play rugby for Wales.

“On the first cap, to be captain as well was something that stands out.

“The important thing for me is that – playing for Wales and going on to the field wearing the jersey.

“Everybody in my village and Wales wanted to go on there as well. I was the one representing them. That is what stands out in my mind.”

Triple Crown

At club level he represented Cwmtwrch, Abercraf, Pontypool, Llanelli and Swansea, and later skippered Wales in their first senior match outside of Europe and their first in the southern hemisphere when they faced East Africa in Nairobi in May 1964, winning 26-8.

His most memorable achievement as a player came when he led the team as they shared the Five Nations title with Scotland after an unbeaten campaign in 1964, following up with a Triple Crown the following year as they narrowly missed out on claiming the title outright.

After retiring from playing at the age of 29, Rowlands was soon elected to the Welsh Rugby Union General Committee and went to coach the national side during a period of success following his appointment in 1968.

Wales won another Five Nations Triple Crown in 1969, and two years later ended a 19-year wait for a Grand Slam.

He would go on to manage the team at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, where Wales claimed their best-ever finish of third .

Wales beat Ireland, Canada and Tonga in the pool stage and eliminated England 16-3 in the quarter-finals. They were knocked out in the semi-finals by France before finishing on a high with a narrow win over co-hosts Australia in the third-place play-off.

Following that success, Rowlands also managed the British and Irish Lions on their victorious tour of Australia in 1989.

He became President of the Welsh Rugby Union in the same year and was added to the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame ‘Roll of Honour’ in 2013.

During the 90s Rowlands survived bowel cancer and later became a charity fundraiser to help fight the illness.

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8 months ago

top cat, top man. Fond memories of a seriously funny guy.

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