The six times capped Wales second row took on legendary status at the Talbot Athletic Ground for his rugged style on the field and fierce commitment to the Wizards off it. He was a one-club man throughout his career and played more than 700 games over 18 seasons.
“Billy was Aberavon rugby club. He was a fantastic example of a tough, hard, wholly uncompromising forward who, through his actions on the field and the way he lived his life, demanded respect from friend and foe alike,” said former Aberavon captain Chris O’Callaghan in the recently published history of the club, “Wizards”.
Born on 24 January, 1941, in Port Talbot, Billy was a steelworker who learned his rugby at Easter School, Taibach, and then Taibach RFC. He went on to become part of two great second row double-acts, firstly with Max Wiltshire and then Allan Martin.
There was also a great family partnership with his mother, Evelyn, that never failed to raise a smile at grounds all over England and Wales. While Billy was bashing them on the field, Mrs Mainwaring was shouting at anyone who dared threaten her beloved son or any of the other Aberavon players.
Just like Billy, she very rarely missed a match and her dulcet tones became part and parcel of the touchline humour at every Aberavon match. Five of her brothers had played for Taibach and she received an award for being the No 1 Welsh rugby fan in the eighties.
An uncompromising character on the field, Billy was controversially sent off at London Irish on 28 November, 1964, and missed a Welsh Trial at Pontypool as a result. In those days you were immediately suspended after a dismissal and it wasn’t until a fortnight later that the WRU declared there was no case to answer and cleared him to play again.
Ironically, he only got called into the side to play at Sudbury when wing John Evans was injured in a taxi going to the game. It was to prove a costly mishap, although at least the Wizards won the game.
Billy picked up vital experience against international sides when he played for the Combined Aberavon and Neath XVs against the touring Australians in 1966, playing at No 8 in a 9-3 defeat, the Springboks in 1969, when he was captain of the team that lost 27-0 and in 1972 against the mighty All Blacks in a 43-3 defeat at The Gnoll.
He partnered Allan Martin in the second row on the latter occasion and also packed down against New Zealand with his other partner in crime, Wiltshire, when they faced Colin Meads and the rest of the much vanuted 1967 tourists for Wales. By that time Billy had already won four caps, but it was Wiltshire’s debut.
In fact, there were three Aberavon players who made their debut that day – full back Paul Wheeler, centre Ian Hall and Wiltshire – with Billy making it four Wizards in the team. Billy’s debut had come at Murrayfield earlier in the year in an 11-5 defeat.
It was a difficult Five Nations championship for Wales that year and the Welsh selectors drafted in six new caps for the opening game in Edinburgh – Billy Hullin, John O’Shea, Billy Raybould, Brian Rees and John Taylor joining Billy in making their debuts. Wales also lost to Ireland and France before facing Triple Crown chasing England in Cardiff in a game that became known as ‘Jarrett’s Match’.
Wales were facing their first Five Nations whitewash and the ‘Big Five’ had pinned their faith in the teenage Newport full back who was not long out of Monmouth School. He certainly grew into a man that day, scoring 19 points on debut to earn Wales a spectacular 34-21 victory in what was to be Billy’s only win test triumph.
After the defeat against the All Blacks he was picked for the trip to Twickenham for the opening game of the 1968 Five Nations and once again got the chance to share in the debut of another Aberavon player, No 8 Bobby Wanbon. The game ended in a draw, 11-11, and he lost his place to Llanelli’s Delme Thomas for the next game against Scotland.
He may have dropped out of the team, but he remained in the minds of the selectors, who picked both him and Wiltshire for the tough tour to Argentina later that year. Billy played in five of the six games, including both tests on what was an uncapped tour for Wales.
Having become a Barbarian in 1967, he received another huge honour when he was named as the Aberavon skipper for the 1969/70 and 1970/71 seasons. He playted in the 1974 and 1975 WRU Challenge Cup final sides that lost to Llanelli and coincided his retirement with the end of Aberavon’s centenary season in 1976/77.
In that season the Wizards beat Italy 13-4, the WRU President’s XV 9-0, but lost to Argentina 18-6. Not surprisingly, Billy was named as the Player of the Year at the end of what was supposed to be his final season.
But when Adrian Owen, the young buck due to take over his mantle, picked up a lengthy ban for being sent-off in only the second game of the season against Llanelli, Billy came out of retirement to fill the breach, despite being 36.
Christened Gwilym Thomas Mainwaring, he was always known as Billy and changed his name to William Thomas Mainwaring.
The Welsh Rugby Union sends its sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Billy Mainwaring and thanks him for his devoted service to the game he graced at the highest level.