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Welsh rugby’s ‘Golden Boy’ Lewis Jones dies at 92

Welsh rugby’s ‘Golden Boy’ Lewis Jones dies at 92

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Lewis Jones, Welsh rugby’s ‘Golden Boy’ of the fifties and one of the greatest dual-code internationals produced in Wales, has died a month short of his 93rd birthday.

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A double Grand Slammer and British & Irish Lions test player before his 21st birthday, he quit Welsh rugby after winning 10 caps and headed ‘north’ to join Leeds RL club for a then world record fee of £6,000 – £1,000 more than any team had ever previously paid for a player.

Born in Gorseinon on 11 April 1931, he went to the same school, Gowerton County School, that produced other Welsh internationals Rowe Harding, Haydn Tanner, Willie Davies and Onllwyn Brace. He won Welsh schoolboy caps for cricket and rugby, playing against both France and England in 1948 in a Welsh Secondary Schools XV captained by Carwyn James before his 17th birthday.

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He played for his village club and then made his first-class debut for Neath at 17. He played alongside his elder brother Alun, who went on to captain Llanelli, scored 100 points between 24 January and 25 April, and equaled the club record of 18 points in a game.

A month after reaching his 18th birthday in 1949 he joined the Royal Navy to complete his National Service. His rugby career was then centred around playing for Devonport Services and the Navy in the Inter-Services championship. In 1951, in tandem with fellow Wales and Lions centre Malcom Thomas, he helped the Navy win the title for the first time since 1939.

Lewis Jones

His first caps came while he was playing for Devonport Services. Having featured in the final two trials ahead of the 1950 Five Nations championship, he was picked to face England at Twickenham while still only 18.

He kicked a penalty and conversion from full back, helped to set up one of the tries and steered Wales to only their second win at the ground in 40 years of trying. It was a nerveless display from the talented teenager in front of a record crowd of 75,000.

When he initially turned up at the ground with his kit bag the gateman wouldn’t let him in because he thought he was a Welsh fan just chancing his luck trying to get into the match for free.

Wales won their first Grand Slam since 1911 and 13 members of the side were selected to tour with the Lions in New Zealand and Australia that summer. The only two to miss out were Ray Cale and Jones.

But when Irish full back George Crawford broke his arm, the Lions called for Jones. He was playing a game of cricket at Devonport Services when the call came. He was called off the field and invited to become the first Lions to fly out to a tour.

The journey took him four days and he made his debut two days later against a combined East Coast / Poverty Bay / Bay of Plenty side. He went on to play in three tests, one in New Zealand and two in Australia, and was the top scorer with 26 points.

A record 16 of those came in a 19-6 win over the Wallabies in Brisbane and he ended the tour with 112 points from his 12 appearances. He also made his first of six appearances for the Barbarians at Cardiff while still a teenager, scoring two tries and a conversion in an 8-6 win, before going on to score the vital points for a Lions XV in a win over the Blue & Blacks in 1951.

Lewis Jones

Lewis Jones in 1950

In October 1950 he announced he would play for Llanelli when on leave from the Navy until he got released in August 1952. In 1951 he played for both Llanelli and Wales against South Africa, while in the Inter-Services Tournament, playing for the Navy, he kicked one of the longest goals ever seen at Twickenham.

He summed up his attitude to the game in his autobiography, ‘King of Rugger’: “Ever since I started playing rugby seriously at the Gowerton County School during the war years I have never deviated from the belief that the game is first and foremost an attacking game. It is a belief that I put into practice from the very first moment of any match – club or international.”

He played at full back, wing and centre for Wales and followed up his clean sweep in 1950 with two more caps in the 1951 Five Nations and the game against the Springboks at the end of the year. He picked up an injury in the win over England in Twickenham in 1952 and missed the game against the Scots. He returned to help Wales beat Ireland and France to complete a second Grand Slam in what were his final games in a Welsh shirt.

Lewis Jones Leeds

Lewis Jones in Leeds colours

On 5 November 1952, at his home in Lime Street in Gorseinon, he signed professional forms with Leeds RLFC. The Leeds manager Ken Dalby and secretary George Hirst, had driven down to secure his signature and he made his rugby league debut two days later for Leeds against Keighley at Headingley.

A crowd of 17,000 turned up to watch him and he kicked seven goals in a 56-7 win. That same ground now has a stand and a hospitality suite named after him, testament to the impact he made in the 13-a-side code.

The Daily Express rugby writer, Pat Marshall, wrote of Jones when he changed codes: “His genius lies in the unorthodox – doing the wrong thing superbly well and getting away with it. That an ability to kick goals from almost any distance and angle.”

In New Zealand, they wrote of him in 1978: “In our opinion, no better full back has toured New Zealand with a Rugby Union team since the war.” Praise indeed, considering that after him came Ken Scotland, Terry Davies, JPR Williams and Andy Irvine with the Lions, as well as French duo Claude Lacaze and Pierre Villepreux.

His first season in rugby league was blighted by a fractured arm in only his eighth game. On his return, he initially struggled to break into the first team, but once he did, he scored 302 points in the 1953-54 season.

Lewis Jones switch

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By the 1956-57 season he was setting a world record of 496 points in 48 games – 431 for Leeds, 51 in three tests against France, eight for the Rest of the League against Great Britain and six for the Rugby League against the Australians. His 194 goals that season was also a world best.

At Leeds, he set many club records:

Most goals in a match – 13

Most points in a match – 31

Most goals in a season – 166

Most points in a season – 431

Most goals in a career – 1,244

Most points in a career – 2,920

He won all the major honours with his club – Yorkshire League Championship (3), Yorkshire Cup (1), Challenge Cup (10) and Championship (1). By the end of his first-class career in rugby league he had scored 3,372 points in 429 games.

He won 15 caps for the Great Britain team, scoring in every game, and on the 1954 tour to Australia he a record for 127 goals and 272 points. He also kicked a record 10 goals in the second test against the Kangaroos in Brisbane and kicked 15 goals in the 66-21 win over Southern Districts in Canberra.

He went on to spend seven years playing and coaching in Australia from 1964 to 1969 at the Wentworthville club. He combined that role with teaching Maths at Riverstone High School.

The legendary rugby league commentator, Eddie Waring, said of him when he finally hung up his boots in 1969: “Lewis Jones became Rugby League’s most controversial figure, diving the crowds into those who regarded him as a genius and those who claimed that he flattered to deceive. They were either ‘Lewis Jones crazy’ or scoffers because of the occasions when he appeared to be unwilling to shoulder his share of defensive work . . . throughout his twelve tempestuous seasons on the Rugby League scene in Britain this fabulous entertainer and fantastic matchwinner became the greatest crowd-puller of them all.”

The Welsh Rugby Union offers sincere condolences to the family and friends of Lewis Jones.

Benjamin Lewis Jones: B: 11.04.1931 in Gorseinon; D: 04.03.2024 in Leeds; 10 caps – Cap No 569; Lions No: 354 – 3 Tests; GB RL Tests: 15; Wales RL: 3 caps.


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Welsh rugby’s ‘Golden Boy’ Lewis Jones dies at 92