A songster and a prop forward
December 11, 2009
Cliff Davies was a charismatic character who had a distinguished career © Getty Images
Cliff Davies would have been 90 on Saturday, December 12, 2009. Sadly the Cardiff and Wales prop made it barely halfway to that landmark, dying a few weeks after his 47th birthday in January 1967.
Nor was his career very long - seven seasons of first-class rugby. In that time, though, he left a wealth of memories.
He was one of the unlucky generation who lost the early years of their adult careers to war - he was 19 when Neville Chamberlain made his famous radio speech. Working as a miner meant that he was also denied the wartime consolation of playing in services internationals.
He had played his first senior rugby with Bridgend but by the time the war was over he had been persuaded by Jack Matthews to follow the familiar path - one taken by Matthews himself - from Brewery Field to Arms Park, joining Cardiff.
Cardiff gained a top-class forward, while Davies became a member of one of the great club teams. He also earned rapid international recognition and was credited by the first postwar Playfair Rugby Annual with playing seven of Wales's eight 'Victory' internationals in the transitional 1945-6 seasons. In fact he played only six. The 'Clifton Davies' propping for Wales in Paris was in fact his clubmate W.G.Jones. Davies had been injured in a pit accident the previous week and Jones, who did not have a passport, travelled and played under his identity.
It was a foretaste of an international career rich in anecdote and humour - one of its most memorable moments being Davies' straight-faced insistence to a New Zealand audience in 1950 that his home town of Kenfig Hill had more history than anywhere else on earth 'with the possible exception of Jerusalem'.
Another occasion saw him serenading Welsh Rugby Union committee members with a series of comic couplets satirising each in turn. Alarmed team-mates asked if he was bent on wrecking his own career.
It was Davies too who was the acknowledged choirmaster of Wales and the 1950 Lions, pushing open the changing room door to make sure that opponents received the full effect of pre-match choruses of Calon Lan.
He was, though, much more than a joker and songster, a prop forward of substance, who scrummaged with all the power concentrated in an 18-inch neck. Unlike some of his front-row colleagues, he was also a major contributor in the loose.
He played a number of matches on the flank for Cardiff and crossed for 20 tries in his 190 appearances for the club, a frequency that risked expulsion from the front-row union in a low-scoring era.
One of those scores was against the 1947-8 Australians, one of a series of outstanding Cardiff displays against touring teams in this era. Still more memorable was his effort in the 1946 Middlesex Sevens semi-final against the hugely popular New Zealand Forces - the Kiwis. Davies received a pass on halfway and made it all the way to the line, a shuffle and renewed burst around 20 yards out just sufficient to hold off the pursuing Jim Sherratt - himself the scorer of a memorable long-distance try for the touring team in the international at Cardiff.
He was one of the rare Welshmen who evidently felt at home at Twickenham. In 1948 he was one of a record 10 Cardiff men in the Wales team who secured a 3-3 draw there - retrieving a kick ahead by clubmate Bleddyn Williams to send wing Ken Jones, one of the minority from other club, away for the try that equalised England's early penalty.
Most striking of all was his intervention two years later to start Wales on their way to only a second victory at Twickenham. Wales's opening score after falling five points behind is remembered for its beginning - an audaciously risky sidestepping, dummying dash out of defence by teenage full-back Lewis Jones that took him from one 25 yard line to the other before he found Newport flanker Bob Evans in support. Its conclusion was scarcely less surprising. With several Welshmen up in support, Evans passed to a team-mate 'whom I expected to be wing Ken Jones. To my astonishment I found I was giving the ball to prop-forward Cliff Davies'. Jones could not have finished with any more aplomb than Davies did.
It was the one try of his 16-match international career, the launch pad for a resounding campaign that saw Wales score 10 more tries while conceding only a single penalty goal on their way to their first Triple Crown and Grand Slam since 1911.
He played three matches in the following season, surviving the historic debacle at Murrayfield, but was dropped after the draw with Ireland at Cardiff - meaning that Cliff Morgan's first match was his last. His replacement, as the Welsh selectors looked towards the visit of the giant Springbok pack the following season, was the converted Swansea second row W.O 'Stoker' Williams. Davies played one more season for Cardiff then, at 32, retired having accomplished more in a few seasons than most players do in much longer careers.