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The South Wales Challenge Cup

The South Wales Challenge Cup is the oldest rugby trophy in Wales

Missing treasure makes surprise return

For nearly 30 years WRU rugby heritage manager Peter Owens felt like he was chasing a lost cause.

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Using super sleuth skills Poirot, Columbo and Kojak would be proud of, every time he thought the holy grail was within touching distance, the trail would go cold again.

But good things come to those who wait and when an email dropped into his inbox unexpectedly last May, you could have floored the long-standing servant of Welsh rugby with a feather.

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The oldest trophy in Welsh rugby history had finally been located.

The South Wales Challenge Cup was first played for in 1877 before the union was even formed. It was the first major trophy played for nationally within Wales. But for nearly three decades its whereabouts have been unknown and Owens feared it would never be found.

The sender of the email was Paul Davies, brother of Leighton who sadly passed away last year and who was the former head coach and long-standing PE lecturer at Cardiff College of Education.

While clearing out the loft, Leighton’s wife Pam literally stumbled over a sorry looking piece of silverware and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I couldn’t believe my luck,” said an astonished Owens when the Davies family personally hand delivered the trophy to the Principality Stadium recently.

“When we received the email, I thought all my dreams had come true and it’s a fantastic find and we are very, very grateful to Paul and Mrs Pam Davies for bringing it to light after all these years.”

Trophy

Paul Davies (left) and Peter Owens with the oldest rugby trophy in Wales

The trophy has had a chequered past to say the least.

Newport were the first winners of the cup in 1877/78 but the early years of competition had been blighted with disputes and an increase of players transferring. In the early 1900s several competitive formats were tried until the cup was put into a bank vault for safekeeping post 1918.

In 1932 Horace Lyne, who had served as President of the WRU since 1906, was recognised for his service to the organisation and was presented with the solid silver cup. In 1949, Lyne died and bequeathed the cup to the WRU.

The cup was then held in the vaults of the WRU’s bank between 1949-67. In 1967 the WRU decided the National Sevens tournament should have a prestigious trophy. The South Wales Challenge Cup, last won on the field in 1914, was taken from the bank, remodelled and used as the trophy for the WRU National Sevens tournament.

Between 1967 and 1982 the Cup was presented annually to the winner of the WRU National Sevens Tournament. While attending Cardiff Training College, Paul Davies was actually in the side which won the cup in 1967 and to bookend a family double, his brother Leighton coached South Glamorgan Institute of HE (now Cardiff Met) to glory when it was last played for in 1982.

At the turn of the 21st century, as the Cardiff Met University campus at Cyncoed was developed the National Sevens trophy was taken off display at the University club.

Paul Davies (left) and Peter Owens with the oldest rugby trophy in Wales

WRU chairman Rob Butcher, Pam Davies, Peter Owens, Paul Davies and Geraint John with the trophy at Principality Stadium

Paul Davies picks up the story from there: “It was kept in a trophy cabinet in Cardiff College and in the summer there were due to be major remodelling works and the trophy area was being demolished so Leighton and the other sports lecturers took the relevant cups for safe keeping and they took them home.

“It’s such a magnificent and large cup, probably too large to go on Leighton’s sideboard – he wasn’t very much a trophy man – so he put it in his loft and there it stayed for nearly 25 years.

“Sadly a year ago Leighton passed away so his widow Pam needed to put some of his clothes and his possessions up in the loft and she literally fell over the cup.

“She said ‘I don’t know what this cup is’ and of course it was tarnished and black. I took it home and spent hours shining it, then I had an email from Pam saying she had found the lid – so I shone that up as well and then contacted the Welsh Rugby Union and contacted Peter and of course they were absolutely delighted to find it.

“Being a proud Welshman and having a huge regard for the Welsh Rugby Union we realised the significance of the cup, so I thought it was the responsible thing to do to contact the Welsh Rugby Union.”

And Owens is relieved he did, particularly as he reveals the significance of the trophy.

“It was the first major trophy played for in Welsh rugby – it predates the formation of the Welsh Rugby Union and it is significant that club rugby in Wales was strong enough at that time to attract a trophy of this nature and to bring with it crowds and an interest in club rugby that perhaps hadn’t been there before 1877.

“There are other trophies within world rugby but it’s certainly the oldest within Welsh rugby and it stands up there with the rest of the world as being one of the oldest trophies in world rugby,” added Owens.

WRU chairman Robert Butcher was also on hand to welcome the trophy home.

“It is an impressive piece of silverware and when we think of the cups I suppose that exist in sport and you see them on the television whether it is the FA Cup, or the Rugby World Cup, of course they are impressive trophies but I’m looking at this one now and my goodness it is an impressive bit of silverware and we are delighted as a union to welcome it home,” he said.

Sitting alongside the trophy Owens admits he never thought the day would come when he was within touching distance of the famous piece of silverware.

“It’s been a long trail because it’s not been a straight forward trail because at one stage it went to Horace Lyne’s family, the former president of the Welsh Rugby Union, then it came back from him and it was in a bank vault for many years. It then became the trophy for the sevens tournament and then went through various hands there. I terrorised the existing officials of Cardiff Metropolitan University RFC as it is now, who I accused of losing it and it’s a great joy for them as much as me that the trophy has reappeared through the good deeds of Mrs Davies and Paul,” said Owens.

Davies has no doubt his brother would be proud to see the cup reunited with its rightful owners.

“He was quite a taciturn person, he was a hard taskmaster but if Leighton is looking down on us now he would be thinking ‘yeah the cup’s in the right place’ – this is where his heart was with the Welsh Rugby Union,” said Paul.

Owens isn’t resting on his laurels, he has one final piece of the jigsaw he wants to complete.

The other outstanding item on his wish list are the first 10 years of minutes of the Welsh Rugby Union from 1881 to 1891.

“They went missing many, many years ago. I suspect they went when Richard Miller gave up his secretaryship of the Welsh Rugby Union but if anyone out there opens a cupboard in the loft and finds the minutes for the Welsh football union as it was then, and wants to give me a ring I’ll be delighted to come and talk to them.”

 

 

 

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