The East Terrace - For the rugby football enthusiast

The Priceless Gift: 125 Years of Welsh Rugby Captain

Priceless Gift
The Priceless Gift: 125 Years of Welsh Rugby Captain
Published by Mainstream Publishing

By Steve Lewis

Terrace Book of the Month - June 2006

Rugby historians and statisticians, particularly those of a Welsh hue, will enjoy dipping into the latest title from Steve Lewis. Shortly to be re-released in paperback form, The Priceless Gift won’t be to everyone’s taste, but Lewis should be commended for taking on such an ambitious project.

The Welsh sports writer has produced an impressive book in which he discusses every man to lead Wales since she first took the field against England in Blackheath in 1881. Along the way he tries to address the age old question of what makes a successful captain and whether certain positions are best placed to fulfil that vital role.

As of the book’s hardback publication date, 122 players have led Wales in official matches. Lewis decides against ploughing through each captain in chronological order and instead decides to organise the chapters according to position played by each leader (allowing for the ambiguities of both utility players and positioning in late nineteenth century rugby).

It may come as no surprise to those familiar with the politics of Welsh rugby to discover that of the 122 Welsh captains, 41 of them only led the team for one game (17 of these despite leading the team to victory). No other country has gone through as many captains as Wales. It is interesting to see the difference in New Zealand when it comes to captaincy (admittedly, they have played fewer matches than Wales).

‘Where Wales have called upon the services of 122 captains, the figure in New Zealand stands at 59, among whom only ten were not asked back a second time. All of which raises the question – does a successful team throw up a good captain or does a captain nurture a successful team?’

With so many players having led Wales - and for varying lengths of time and consequence - some obviously have a shorter section devoted to them than others. But overall Lewis has struck a solid balance in dealing with players who had the briefest fling with leadership and those who played a significant role in the history of Welsh rugby.

Priceless Gift, being a blend of history, anecdotes and statistics, is one for the rugby anoraks among us. Casual readers may find the book a bit disjointed as it leaps from player to player. But history buffs, even the most well read, will enjoy the long trawl down memory lane and will no doubt find out plenty of things they never knew before. It’s all topped off by a decent little statistical appendix as well.

On the downside, it deserves a better cover than the cheap montage it got.