|Born||Trebanog, April 7, 1930
|Internationals||29 caps between 1951 and 1958
|Inducted||February 6, 2010
The following article has been adapted from the original by Dai Llewellyn, which focused on two players. It has been changed to highlight only the selected inductee’s information.
Brilliant former Wales captain Cliff Morgan was widely regarded as one of the greatest fly halves of all time. He was also a consummate broadcaster with a wonderful voice, a God-given eye for detail and a breadth of vocabulary to describe what he was seeing. He also had another great talent as a broadcaster – knowing just when to speak and how much to say.
His greatest piece of commentary, which sadly did not take place at Twickenham, was the opening of the Barbarians’ match against the New Zealand All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park in 1973. His description of the dazzling and probably greatest try ever, scored by Gareth Edwards, used just 50 words from start to finish. Morgan’s commentary, rather like the try, left everyone speechless with its own brilliance.
It was in 1952 that Morgan trotted out on to the hallowed turf for his first international match at Twickenham. He was winning his fourth cap for Wales and confessed: “I remember feeling enormous pride at finding myself playing an International at Twickenham for the first time, [but] I have to admit I also felt a tad nervous as we arrived at the ground.”
Morgan, who had made his international debut against Ireland the previous season, was steeped in the lore of the game.
“I had read avidly about truly immortal [England] figures such as Wavell Wakefield and fly half W J A Davies, a brilliant player who, in his book published in 1924 wrote: "Rugby football is a mental gymnastics which keeps mind and spirit as fit as wind and limbs. It is a strenuous and manly pursuit which demands devotion. It is a game that sweats the vice out of you."
Morgan admitted that another England player, Adrian Stoop, also had a huge influence on his approach to rugby.
“My first and lasting memory of Twickenham is of that grand rugby figure, Adrian Stoop, the ever present Harlequin who preached playing with style and adventure. He believed that to play for safety defeats the object of the game for which rugby football was intended. Take risks, as the great wing Obolensky did, was the philosophy of Adrian Stoop. His philosophy influenced my game. (After one Harlequins game he gave me his ‘special’ treatment when I had injured my back.)”
Although one report of the match described the Twickenham surface as “treacherous”, as far as Morgan was concerned: “The playing surface at Twickenham was simply perfect for playing running rugby.”
He also enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere. “Twickenham seemed to be packed with thousands of loyal, singing Welsh supporters that created an overwhelming sound. The air fairly sizzled with excitement – a fitting prelude for the thrilling match that was to follow.” The gates were closed before the kick-off, with an estimated 73,000 in the ground and thousands more locked out.
There was no need to seek out contemporary reports of the action. Morgan’s razor-sharp memory could recall it with ease more than half a century later, although he omitted mentioning that it was his break and scissors with Ken Jones that earned Wales their opening try. Morgan provides the commentary: “I remember vividly every move in that game and everyone in that fine England team. I was all too aware that I was going to play against England's great fly half, Nim Hall, and his scrum half, Gordon Rimmer of Waterloo. And what a back-line – Chris Winn and Ted Woodward on the wings. Lewis ‘LB’ Cannell and Albert Agar in the centre. By the way, I had played against Ted Woodward as a schoolboy.
“And what a pack England had! Prop forwards Bob Stirling and W A Holmes, hooker Eric Evans of Sale, Dennis ‘Squire’ Wilkins and Johnnie Matthews in the second row, and a back row of Alec Lewis of Bath, John Kendall-Carpenter and one of the toughest and truly great flank forwards, Don White of Northampton.
“I remember winning that game as though it was yesterday. A break [by Morgan] from our own 25, then a scissors movement on the halfway line with our Olympic sprinter, Ken Jones, who ran 50 yards to make a glorious try. Then the remarkably talented Lewis Jones, who, despite nursing a torn thigh muscle, came into the threequarter line and made the gap for Ken Jones' second try. For our captain, John Gwilliam, it was a wonderful victory and for the Welsh supporters an excuse to sing – lifting the spirits of the whole of Wales.”
Among that England side was the toughest opponent Morgan ever came across during his distinguished playing career. “Without a doubt my toughest opponent was the great Northampton back-row forward, Don White. Not only did he have the gifts of hardness and tackling and the skill of giving fly halves, like me, very little room to manoeuvre but he was for me one of the finest rugby brains I came across in my career.”
Morgan was to enjoy a further victory at Twickenham, this time as captain of Wales, four years later in 1956. By then he had also wowed the crowds in South Africa as a member, nay, the star, of the 1955 British and Irish Lions, who finished the four-Test series against the Springboks all square.
Morgan recalled: “I made a lot of good friends playing matches at Twickenham, many of whom I played with on the 1955 Lions Tour to South Africa, and I obviously remember the thrill of winning in 1956. It was a tough match. It was a great honour to lead Wales on to the ground at Twickenham and it was great that we won the match. I also remember the dinner afterwards – in dinner jackets, as was always the tradition at Twickenham.”
Yet strangely it was not the 1956 victory that holds the greater place in Morgan’s heart. “It was great that we won the 1956 match but 1952 was THE match. It was the finest hour for me at Twickenham, because we were not expected to win, and Ken Jones showed why he was an Olympic sprinter.”
While Morgan remembers the ground fondly, the old Twickenham still had one enduring fault as far as he was concerned. “There was little to dislike about Twickenham, but I wasn't too fond of the wind. The biggest problem was the swirling. It seemed to blow from every direction; as we used to say, like the Hurricane Esther. One had no idea in which direction it was blowing – it changed all the time.”
Morgan, like so many other great internationals, also recalled with warm pleasure the baths. “I was immensely impressed with the changing rooms. They were big and warm, with so many showers and ten large baths – sheer luxury for those of us who only had very basic facilities back in Cardiff in those days.”
And he reiterated his love of the playing surface as well as the proximity of the spectators in the old ground, which created that special, almost intimate atmosphere. “I thought the ground with its beautifully manicured pitch was magic. I loved the closeness of the crowd and there was a great atmosphere which inspired you to try to play winning, attractive rugby.”
However, Morgan is comfortable with change, with progress and his praise of the 21st-century Twickenham is unstinting. “It is a magnificent stadium and a fine stage for great international matches.”
On retiring from playing, Morgan carved himself an outstanding career in broadcasting, finishing up in a lofty position. “I took early retirement from the BBC as Head of Outside Broadcasts Group Television, which was responsible at that time for all the programmes covering sport, national and state events, like royal weddings, the Remembrance Festival, the State Opening of Parliament and so on. I was also the Royal Liaison Officer for the BBC.”
Even then there came more. Morgan’s eloquent, mellifluous tones were to grace the airwaves for more than a decade after that. “After I left the BBC I presented a sports programme on BBC Radio 4, Sport on 4, for 12 years every Saturday morning. I also worked for a company called CPMA who owned the broadcasting rights for the first three Rugby World Cups. In addition I was Honorary Chairman of ‘Rugby News’, retiring from that position at the end of last year.”
Morgan paid tribute to the World Rugby Museum’s Wall of Fame, speaking for everyone in the game when he said: “I believe it is very important to document the history of rugby at Twickenham and all the people who have contributed to that history.
“Rugby fans from all over the world regard Twickenham as one of the most important grounds for prompting memories of great moments and great players. I really am thrilled and honoured to be placed on the Wall of Fame alongside so many distinguished rugby players. I feel very humble too.”
Article by Dai Llewellyn