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Clive Rowlands

Obituary: Clive ‘Top Cat’ Rowlands dies aged 85

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Clive Rowlands, one of the most towering figures in the history of Welsh rugby, has died at the age of 85. 

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He captained, coached and managed Wales, was manager of the British & Irish Lions and became President of the WRU after serving on the General Committee for many years. 

Born in Upper Cwmtwrch on 14 May 1938, he was admitted to the Craig y Nos TB hospital in Breconshire at the age of eight but battled back to full fitness to become an international scrum half. 

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He played for Cardiff Training College, Pontypool, Llanelli and Swansea and captained the student side, as well as Pontypool in 1962-63, and Swansea in 1967-68. Known universally by his nickname ‘Top Cat’ he became a totemic figure in Welsh rugby throughout the sixties and seventies.

On the international front, he was part of the Welsh Schools team that became the first representative team from Wales to tour in the southern hemisphere when they went to South Africa. 

His Wales debut came against England on 19 January 1963 at the Arms Park, when he partnered David Watkins at half-back. Both players made their debuts in a 13-6 defeat on an icy pitch, with Rowlands being given the honour of leading the side. 

In fact, he captained Wales in every one of his 14 international appearances between 1963-65. Wales went unbeaten through the 1964 Five Nations championship, notching two wins and two draws, to share the title with Scotland and then picked up the Triple Crown in 1965 with a 14-8 home win over Ireland. 

The side went to France to try to clinch a first Grand Slam since 1952, but were beaten 22-13. That brought an end to Rowlands international career, in which he led Wales to six wins and two draws. 

A great motivator and astute tactician, his kicking style from the base of the scrum often courted controversy, no more so than in the trip to Murrayfield in 1963 when the game featured 11 line-outs. 

Wales won the try-less game 6-0 with Rowlands justifying his tactics in saying: It was not an attractive match and I felt sorry for the backs. But we were out to win and played to win. The pack did a great job.” 

He captained the combined Pontypool & Cross Keys team that lost 11-0 to the touring All Blacks on 27 November 1963, was in the Swansea team that defeated the 1966 Australians 9-8 at St Helen’s and led the West Wales XV against the 1967 New Zealanders in a 21-14 defeat in Swansea. 

He finally retired as a player at the age of 29 and seven weeks later found himself elevated to the Welsh Rugby Union General Committee after being elected as one of five National Representatives, knocking out the former President Nathan Rocyn-Jones. 

His strong views on coaching, which he had included in a letter to all member clubs, obviously struck a chord and the next phase of his rugby life quickly developed. He was named as assistant manager, coach in all but name, for the Wales tour to Argentina in 1968 and became the National Coach in succession to David Nash. 

The Welsh team flourished under his tutelage, with regular training sessions at Aberavon developing a style that earned a Triple Crown in 1969 and a first Grand Slam in 19 years in 1971. In the end, his record a Wales coach read: P 29 W 18 D 4 L 7 

He went on to manage the Wales team at the inaugural World Cup in 1987, still Wales’ most successful tournament having finished third, and managed the British & Irish Loins on their series winning tour to Australia in 1989.  

He became President of the Welsh Rugby Union in 1989 and was added to the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame ‘Roll of Honour’ in 2013. A schoolteacher in his early life, he battled against bowel cancer in the nineties.

The Welsh Rugby Union sends the most sincere condolences from everyone connected with the game in Wales to Clive’s family and friends and thanks him for his immense contribution to our game. 

Daniel Clive Thomas Rowlands: Cap No 679, 14 caps. B: 14 May, 1938 in Upper Cwmtwrch; D: 29 July, 2023 in Swansea 

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