Carwyn James

Carwyn James, often described as the greatest coach Wales never had

CARWYN JAMES was a Welsh rugby union player and coach. He won two Welsh international caps, but is most famous for his coaching achievements with Llanelli, the 1971 British Lions and the Barbarians, defeating the New Zealand All Blacks in each role.

James was born on November 2, 1929, the son of a coalminer, in Cefneithin in the Gwendraeth Valley. He worked as a Welsh teacher by profession and later a lecturer at Trinity College, Carmarthen. He also served in the navy.

James played fly-half for Llanelli, playing his first game while still at Gwendraeth School. He was capped for Wales twice in 1958, the second time at centre, but would probably have gained more caps had he not been in competition with Cliff Morgan for the fly-half spot.

James gained distinction as a coach with Llanelli, guiding them to the famous victory over the All Blacks at Stradey Park, Llanelli, in 1972 and four Welsh Cups between 1973 and 1976.

He went on to coach the 1971 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, the only Lions side ever to win a series against the All Blacks, and also coached the Barbarians to victory over the All Blacks in 1973.

He finished his coaching in Italy, at Rugby Rovigo, from 1977 to 1980, winning a title, but never coached the Welsh national side, largely because of his belief that the coach should chair the selectors’ meetings and be responsible for choosing the other selectors.

James’s coaching style was said to involve quiet words with players and half-suggestions rather than orders. He was a strong believer in attacking rugby, with the attitude that if a team had possession of the ball it should be able to attack, regardless of the position on the field.

James was a nationalist and stood as Plaid Cymru candidate in Llanelli in the 1970 General Election. He was an opponent of apartheid and during the controversial 1969/70 Springbok tour he prepared the Llanelli team but stayed in the dressing room as a protest.

In his later years he became a noted broadcaster on the game in Wales.

Towards the end of his life James’s health suffered, largely due to life-long cigarette and alcohol consumption. On January 10, 1983, 53 year-old he died of a heart attack on a visit to the Netherlands.

The sports building of Aberystwyth University was named after him, as was the playing field at Cefneithin RFC. Among other tributes, the Railway Tavern public house in Llanelli changed its name to The Carwyn James in 2018.