‘We don’t mix with the English’ – how Wales rugby legend upset The Queen
He was the swashbuckling Wales centre who became a fans’ favourite during the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Now, Wales and Lions legend Steve Fenwick has written his autobiography and it’s choc full of choice tales from his life in rugby.
The book in question, ‘Dragons and Lions’, sees the former Wales captain who won, at the time, a record-breaking 30 caps at centre for his country – recount his pride at playing both rugby union and rugby league for Wales, and playing in all four Tests during the Lions tour to New Zealand in 1977.
A key member of the great Wales side that won two Grand Slams and four consecutive Triple Crowns between 1976 and 1979, in Dragons and Lions Steve Fenwick has lots of stories to tell.
And that includes the infamous moment he feared he faced a stint in the Tower of London after his dry sense of humour upset The Queen.
The moment in question came before an exhibition match to celebrate the Welsh Rugby Union’s Centenary – Wales & England v Scotland & Ireland – in 1980, where Fenwick captained the Wales & England team.
Writing in his book Fenwick detailed what happened next: “I was selected to captain the Wales & England team. With the Queen and Prince Phillip attending as honorary guests of the WRU, my role meant that I was to greet Queen Elizabeth and introduce her to the players.
“I was told that when addressing the Queen I was to call her Ma’am, but apart from that I wasn’t given any other real instructions. That was a recipe for disaster.
“I stood on the pitch at the head of my team, all lined up wearing the specially produced red and white quartered shirt, waiting nervously for the Queen to walk out to meet us.”
If looks could kill
At the appointed time she appeared and, initially, all went well as they shook hands and greeted each other.
“’You must be very proud to be captain of this Wales and England team,’ the Queen said. ‘Extremely, Ma’am,’ I replied. ‘We don’t normally mix with the English, but we will give it a go. We will make an exception for today.’
“My attempt at gentle rugby humour didn’t have quite the response I was expecting. If looks could kill I’d have been spending the night in the Tower of London before being taken to the gallows.
“The Queen looked at me in livid astonishment, walked off and never spoke to me again that day.
“Nantgarw banter and royalty don’t mix.”
There are plenty of stories of the Welsh rugby stars that Fenwick played alongside, including an hilarious tale about the late great Ray Gravell, during the Wales tour to Australia in 1978.
“The Australian people were friendly but there still seemed to be an undercurrent of resentment towards the ‘Pommies’ as they called us,” said Fenwick.
“The Aussie rugby supporters were more than slightly biased in their opinions and certainly not shy in making them loudly known. Ray Gravell, the most exceptional example of a true Welshman, got a taste of this when we played Sydney at the city’s famous SCG cricket stadium.
“Our match was the third of three games played that afternoon so the crowd were well-oiled with beer, and as we we ran down the concrete ramp onto the pitch a supporter who was hanging over the wire fence with a can of beer in hand yelled ‘Go home, you Pommie bastard’ at Ray.
“His studs screeching as he came to an immediate halt, Ray faced the spectator and asked, ‘What did you call me?’ Standing his ground, the fan replied ‘A Pommie bastard’, to which Ray said, ‘You can call me a bastard anytime, but never call me a Pommie bastard. I’m Welsh and proud of it!’
“The stunned Aussie supporter apologised profusely and looked a little puzzled as we went off to complete our warm-up!”
Fenwick revealed how he forged a close and successful understanding with centre partner, Gravell – a man whose pride at playing for Wales knew no bounds.
“Grav was emotional playing club games for Llanelli, but when he was playing for Wales it went stratospheric!” said Fenwick.
Having turned down previous opportunities to publish his memoirs, Fenwick – who turned 70 in July 2021 – decided that now was the time to share the memories of his remarkable and glittering rugby career.
Writing in the book’s Epilogue, he summed up his rugby career.
“I am immensely proud of what I’ve achieved and, given the opportunity, I would do it all again. It wasn’t just about playing rugby and the excitement of the big games in front of big crowds, rugby enabled me to visit so many fascinating places and meet so many wonderful people.
“Those friendships last for a lifetime and, no matter where I’ve been in the world, I’ve bumped into friendly faces, even those who were formidable foes on the pitch. It’s always a joy to meet up with my old teammates and adversaries and as the years go by I cherish every single one.”
Steve Fenwick on…
Representing England against Wales, while a student in London
“’I, Steven Paul Fenwick, have a revelation to make that may surprise many readers. My first international representative rugby union honours were playing for England.”
Scoring a try on his international debut against France in 1975
“I’ve got my Welsh cap and I’ve now scored a try for Wales. Nobody can ever take that away from me. Even if I’m never selected again, I’ve achieved my dream.”
His role in the famous Wales try against Scotland at Murrayfield in 1977 which, in 2020, was voted the best-ever Welsh try in the Five / Six Nations Championship:
“I knew I had to move the ball on immediately, before getting clattered. Instinctively, in one movement, I caught then passed the ball back to Phil.”
His admiration for the French rugby team of the late 1970s that he calls the best he ever played against and better than the All Blacks:
“The respect we had for the French players was immense and it was something they reciprocated fully. Their brute force and unbelievable flair was an irresistible combination and they were by far our most difficult opponents.”
The 1977 Lions tour of New Zealand which ended in a disappointing 3-1 Test series defeat:
“From the first game to the last match of the tour, it was hard going. The quality of New Zealand rugby from the provincial contests to the Tests was of a very high standard, and the itinerary was brutal.”
His anger at the way the 1978 All Blacks cheated their way to a controversial last-minute victory against Wales in Cardiff:
“He (Andy Haden) conned the referee plain and simple. It could be said that the incident illustrated the clash of old-school amateurism in the form of Roger Quittenton, who was too naive to ever imagine a rugby player making such a blatant attempt to mislead him, and the win-at-all-costs ‘professionalism’ of the All Blacks. It was a disgrace.”
Dragons and Lions – My Life in Rugby is out now. Published by St. David’s Press in paperback, priced at £13.99. It is also available as an eBook priced £9.99.