|Born||Swansea, April 11 1931
|Internationals||10 caps between 1950 and 1952
|Inducted||England v Wales (February 4, 2006)
Lewis Jones had no idea where HQ was. Back in 1950 the callow youth was an 18-year-old conscript in the Royal Navy and had been plucked from the relative obscurity of Devonport Services by the Wales selectors following the unexpected retirement of Frank Trott.
“Cliff Morgan reminded me recently of the letter we received from the selectors,” recalled Jones, now a fit pensioner with a golfing handicap of 12.
“It read something like this: ‘You have been selected for Wales versus England at Twickenham on 21st January 1950. Would you make sure you are at the ground two hours before the kick-off. Shirts, shorts and socks will be supplied. Shorts and socks must be returned after the match.’”
So on the appointed day Jones, on leave from the Navy, set off from Swansea railway station. “I had never been to London before and I had no idea where Twickenham was.
“The train was packed with thousands of Wales supporters and when we arrived in Paddington I decided that all I needed to do was go with the crowds to Twickenham. No one recognised me because I was playing my rugby in the West Country, and I was only a kid of 18, so no one had heard of me.
“I think the selectors were in a quandary at the time. I hadn’t even played full back, I played in the centre. Why they picked me I don’t know. I really was extremely lucky to get into the side in the first place.
“Someone must have told the selectors I was doing OK with Devonport Services so I was invited up for a trial.
“As far as I remember I didn’t do anything spectacular in the match, but then again I didn’t do anything wrong either.
“I remember thinking before the trial that I had to find a way to impress them, so I worked out that as a full back they would need someone who could kick well.
“I decided to kick to the left-hand touch with my right foot and to the right-hand touch with my left, even though I could not kick well with my left foot. I managed that, so the selectors obviously thought ‘Here’s a lad who kicks with either foot.’
“The selectors would also be looking for a full back who could tackle, which was not my strong suit. But Windsor Major presented me with the simplest of tackles when he sprinted down the wing. I tackled him into touch and I think the selectors believed that they had discovered a great tackling full back. In fact, what I really had to offer them was my speed.”
And that was what he hit England with on his debut, aged 18 years, 9 months It was a selection that would be echoed 17 years later when another centre, Keith Jarrett, made his debut at full back, against England, this time in Cardiff.
Jones may have arrived at Twickenham as an unknown, but by 5pm that day his name was on the lips of all 75,500 supporters who had witnessed Wales’ first victory at Twickenham since 1933, and only their second at HQ.
“I only remember a couple of things about the match,” said Jones, from his home in Leeds. “The first was when I ran across the pitch and managed to tackle John Smith, the England wing, into the corner flag, on the right-hand side at the South Stand end.
“I am sure if they had had video replays in those days that the try would have been disallowed, but it stood.”
But England’s lead did not last. Indeed it was a touch of genius by Jones just before half-time that turned the match on its head.
“I caught the ball in my own 25 and thought about kicking for touch, but there was a gap so I went for it, all the time reminding myself that if I was closed down I could always kick for touch, because in those days there were no restrictions about kicking outside your 25.
“As it turned out, I didn’t have to kick because the England team just parted ahead of me and suddenly I realised I had reached their 25. I had covered 50 yards untouched. I found support and a couple of passes later the prop Cliff Davies scored a try.
Jones converted Wales’ second try, scored by Ray Cale, and also landed a penalty to secure the first win of what was to become the Red Dragons’ first Triple Crown for 39 years.
“At the end of the match the crowd was allowed on to the pitch and I was carried off on their shoulders.”
Jones returned two years later and although he picked up a thigh injury early in the match, he was still credited with having a hand in the winning try by hopping into the line to create an extra man.
By the time he left rugby union, shortly after winning his tenth cap and having played at full back, on the wing and once in his preferred position of centre, Jones crossed to the ‘other side’, joining Leeds Rugby League club for £6,000. “It took me a year to spend it all, because that was a lot of money in those days.” There he became a legend, captaining the club to the first championship success in their history.
He went on to play 15 times for Great Britain, which makes him quite a rare bird in that he had also played for the British and Irish Lions in his annus mirabilis.
“That year, 1950, was wonderful. When George Norton, the Ireland full back, broke his arm I was called up to replace him.”
The Lions had sailed to New Zealand, but there was no time for Jones to make a leisurely voyage. He was flown to the Land of the Long White Cloud, the first player ever to be flown out to a tour.
“When I arrived at London Airport I looked out at the plane. It was a monster, a Boeing Stratocruiser. No doubt by today’s standards it would be dwarfed by the Jumbos and so on, but to me it was huge.”
Jones’ flight followed the Pacific route, flying out to Los Angeles then south over the ocean. These days it’s a journey that means 24 hours flying time to New Zealand. Back then it was somewhat different.
“It took four and a half days, with four or five changes of planes to fly there. We landed in Gisburn on the east coast and my first game was the following day.”
But it was clearly a memorable trip, recalled with clarity and fondness by Jones, who went into teaching after his rugby playing days were over. Oddly, although he has been inducted into the Wales Hall of Fame, he has yet to have any such recognition from rugby league. Perhaps that will change.
Article by Dai Llewellyn