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Revisiting the trials and tribulations of Welsh rugby in the ’80s

15 Jan 2024 3 minute read
Promo image for Slammed: The Eighties (Credit: BBC Wales)

It’s been described as the most turbulent decade in Welsh rugby history and starting this week, the ’80s is put under the microscope in rugby documentary series Slammed: The Eighties.

With the country battered on and off the pitch a new generation of players like Jonathan Davies, Terry Holmes and Paul Thorburn emerged to steer Wales through the first World Cup and defend the side from an onslaught of problems.

During the 1980s, Wales itself experienced an unprecedented series of shocks. With the loss of traditional industries in Wales, the national game became a bastion of hope and pride for working men and women. Added to that, the team was transitioning from the glorious side of the ’70s to a younger, less experienced group who suffered from that huge burden of expectation.

At the same time the rest of the world was catching up and surpassing Wales in terms of investment, team planning and player support, while ‘up north’, the professional Rugby League clubs licked their lips as chaos reigned in the valleys.

Despite the setbacks, the decade would deliver some epic victories, a highest ever finish in the World Cup and a crop of star players who have seldom been given their due. It also saw the rise of one of the greatest talents to play both codes of rugby – Jonathan Davies – a player who epitomised everything that’s great about the game but whose treatment by the “powers that be” illustrated everything that was wrong with it too.

Other greats who are revealed throughout the three part series include Gareth Davies, the natural heir to Phil Bennett, one of the great under-rated scrum halves Terry Holmes and Paul Thorburn who kicked Wales to success in one of the biggest games against England in a decade.

Told through the eyes of some of the great players of the decade including Jonathan Davies, Glenn Webbe and Paul Thorburn, the second episode looks at the mid-1980s, while their third episode tackles the tumultuous end of the decade.

The Welsh rugby team are in chaos as their first ever Rugby World Cup approaches. Wales unearthed a rare gem in new outside half Jonathan Davies and the team are taking shape around his mercurial talent.

However, problems beset the side when their world class captain Terry Holmes decides to leave to play Rugby League ‘up north’ and bad planning around the side undermine any improvement on the pitch. With the world of rugby changing, Wales are slow to adapt.

It’s a race against time to reach their full potential before the game-changing tournament that is the first Rugby World Cup in 1987 and while the team ultimately fare well, the following years see chaos reign supreme, and key amongst the upheaval is the departure of their Welsh talisman.

The first episode of Slammed: The Eighties is on BBC One Wales, Wednesday, 17 January at 8pm

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5 months ago

I always thought that the 90s was the most turbulent decade for Welsh rugby

Gareth Davies
Gareth Davies
5 months ago

Agreed I always thought our real nadir was 1991 – 1995. Shame the series doesn’t explore that.

Pat Younge
Pat Younge
5 months ago
Reply to  Gareth Davies

It’s called Slammed 80s, but understanding what happened in the 80s will help explain the 90s – and hopefully the 90s will be it’s own series.

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