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‘The b*****ds!’ Chilling threats and Welsh rugby book bombshells from the past as Alun Wyn Jones releases autobiography

Alun Wyn Jones’ autobiography is due out this week, with the potential for much candour from a man who has never been afraid to tell it as it is.

Ahead of the launch of ‘Belonging: The Autobiography’, we look at some of the other books by key Welsh rugby figures that have made waves over the years.

Paul Thorburn (Kicked Into Touch)

Playing rugby for Wales is an honour that few achieve.

Only 1,171 players have pulled on the famous red jersey at full international level.

Over 140 years.

Even fewer people have captained the national team.

So a skipper opting to to step down from the role by making himself unavailable for Test rugby is rare indeed.

It happened when Paul Thorburn retired from the international game after the turmoil of Wales’ tour of Australia in 1991.

He had become disillusioned with certain players’ attitudes on the stormiest of trips and what he saw as negativity towards coach Ron Waldron.

In his book, he published the letter he wrote to then Welsh Rugby Union secretary Denis Evans after returning to Wales.

“Dear Denis,” Thorburn wrote, “It is with regret that I write to inform you that I have decided that I no longer with to be considered for Wales.

“I…have felt for a number of years that there were problems relating to players’ attitudes, especially off the field. The remarks certain players made about Ron and general coaching were widespread, yet not one player commented on the lack of effort in training especially prior to the tour.”

What he called the ‘bitter and twisted brigade” had bickered and criticised. “The only solace for some of the players was to be found in late-night pizzas, hardly in line with the dietary schedules given to us before each international season,” he continued.

Wales were crushed 63-6 in the Test, with a further low coming when certain players skirmished among themselves at the post-match function. “We were boys in a man’s land, but we had acted like tots,” Thorburn summed up.

Adam Jones (Bomb, My Autobiography)



Adam Jones

For years the circumstances of Mike Ruddock’s departure as Wales coach, 11 months after winning a Six Nations Grand Slam, were shrouded in mystery. The whole episode had become known as Ruddockgate. Details had seeped out, but it was hard to determine how impartial the whispers and claims were.

Step forward, then, Adam Jones, with his account.

In his book in 2015, the three-time Grand Slam winner named the senior players who had been involved in ‘clandestine’ meetings with Welsh Rugby Union bosses behind the head coach’s back.

Jones wrote: “Mike’s departure was a huge shock to the rugby public. It wasn’t to me.

“Throughout his entire tenure, there had been a continuous backdrop of sniping.

“Certain senior players who’d bonded with the previous regime constantly questioned Mike’s methods, undermined his authority and made things awkward.”

He continued: “Among the chief detractors were Gareth Thomas, Martyn Williams, Stephen Jones and Brent Cockbain. I’m not saying these guys were especially disruptive or manipulative, but it was clear they were still in thrall to (Steve) Hansen and (Scott) Johnson. I’m pretty sure they liked Mike as a bloke, but they didn’t rate him as a coach.”

Jones also revealed his hurt at how he was treated by the Wales management at the end of his Test career after being left out for the autumn Tests in 2014 and overlooked for the next Six Nations. He gave details of a letter he wrote to Warren Gatland but says in the book: “I never sent it. In fact, I never finished it. I was sobbing way before I reached the end.”

The prop legend remains one of the most popular players ever to play for Wales.

Warren Gatland (Pride and Passion: My Autobiography)

Warren Gatland coached Wales for close on 12 years and speaks positively in his book of his relationship with the man who employed him, former WRU chief executive Roger Lewis, describing him as an astute businessman and insisting he always had confidence in their relationship.

It was not without its spats, however.

We discover that, during his time as CEO, Lewis suggested to Gatland he needed to make some changes and freshen up his coaching staff.

Gatland says he put forward the idea of getting shot of Shaun Edwards, who at that time in 2011 was combining his Wales role with a job at Wasps, just to “get him (Lewis) off my back”.

There soon followed a famous victory over Ireland, with Edwards’ defensive plan at the heart of it.

Soon after that match, Lewis attended a press conference, announcing to the world that Edwards would be re-signing for Wales. Gatland was not happy.

“I wasn’t best pleased at him saying saying this in public without any kind of consultation and I told Roger so in pretty blunt terms, within earshot of various staff and players who happened to be hanging around,” he wrote.

Lewis’s requests to move the conversation somewhere more private were met with a categoric response.

“Eventually I brought the discussion to a close by saying: ‘Roger, just f*** off and leave me alone’.”

Over and out.

Message received?

You’d have thought so.

Lee Byrne (The Byrne Identity)

The headline material here was Byrne’s scathing attacking on his old Wales attack coach Rob Howley.

As such matters go, it was a zinger.

Byrne went as far as to claim Howley had humiliated him in front of team-mates and tried to undermine him.



Lee Byrne’s book ‘The Byrne Identity’ makes some bombshell claims

He also alleged he was bullied during Wales camp — something that was to be strongly denied by Howley.

Byrne wrote: “It seemed to me that Howley’s constant sniping was part of a grinding-down process — step by step and day by day — to get me out of the team.

“I felt like he was trying to break me down mentally, to make me give in so they could justify dropping me.”

In response, Howley said he was “very surprised” by Byrne’s comments.

Gavin Henson (My Grand Slam Year)

Martyn Williams is acknowledged as one of the nicest guys in rugby.

But the former openside flanker clashed with Gavin Henson in a fiery regional rugby encounter between Cardiff Blues and the Ospreys.

In his book, My Grand Slam Year, Henson recounted the story in up-close-and-personal detail.

“All of a sudden Martyn came flying in on top of me and started throwing punches,” Henson wrote.

“He was screaming too. ‘You don’t like it in the face do you, pretty boy! You can’t handle it.’

“I managed to grab him and turn him onto his back and then some other players came in to break us apart.

‘‘‘What’s your problem?’ I said to him but his eyes had glazed over.”

Happy days.

Williams clearly didn’t spend every day thereafter dwelling on the episode, mind. Asked about it years later, he said: “I vaguely remember it. Ryan Powell had make a break down the blindside and Gav had put in a big tackle on him — just smashed him.

“I was going to clean Gav out and it just happened so quickly.

“I didn’t really remember it until I saw it in his book after!”

Certain other Wales players copped personal criticism in the book, published in 2005, which caused such a stir that Henson ended up apologising to less-than-impressed international team-mates in a clear-the-air meeting.

Pick your greatest Wales XV now

Lynn Howells (Despite the Knockbacks)

Born in Maerdy and with a playing career that saw him feature for Tylorstown and Penygraig, with a short stint at Pontypridd, Lynn Howells was once close to being the embodiment of Valleys rugby.

He also coached Pontypridd.

So he wasn’t fantastically pleased at the call to liquidate Celtic Warriors.

He starts his book, Despite the Knockbacks, with a chapter entitled ‘They Killed Valleys Rugby’.

He begins with: “The b*****ds. Those were my thoughts as I slumped down in my chair at our taining complex at Pencoed after I realised what had happened. Eating, sleeping, walking the hills, out in the garden, drinking a pint, on my own, with friends or with my wife, I could think of nothing else that summer of 2004.”

And they say the best opening paragraph to a book came from Charles Dickens with his “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” offering in Tale of Two Cities.

Anyway, Lynn’s startling salvo is a taste of things to come.

The Welsh Rugby Union had brought in David Moffett, an agent for change, to sort out the Welsh game’s myriad problems at the time, but the streamlining of the regional game at the Warriors’ expense 17 years ago left Howells beyond angry with the union’s then chief executive. He says of the union’s then chief executive: “The man I will never forgive for the part he played in my life is David Moffett.”

Also vexing for Howells was the ‘firesale’ of Warriors players to the other Welsh professional teams. “One by one they were told which regions wanted them, or the knife was stuck in and they were told no-one wanted them. It was, he says, “brutal and savage,” with some players left devastated.

It is powerful stuff from a man viewed by almost all in Welsh rugby as salt of the earth.

Jonathan Davies (Jonathan, An Autobiography)

Jonathan Davies is still a hero at Neath, the club where he made his name.

But his move to Llanelli didn’t please all at The Gnoll.

One the stories he tells in his book comes in a chapter entitled ‘Neath and the Noose’

It is the morning of the 1988 Schweppes Cup final between Davies’s Llanelli side and Neath and the fly-half receives a card in the post.

“I saw the postmark and thought how nice it was that someone from Neath should send me a card,” Davies recalled.

“Then I opened it and saw my photograph on the front, with a noose drawn around my neck and the letters RIP written underneath.

“Inside there was no message, just the signatures of the entire Neath team. Perhaps it was a joke, but jokes don’t make your stomach turn and your skin shiver …. It was sickening and made me lose a lot of respect for certain members of the Neath club.”

Any ill-feeling did heal, though, with Davies inducted into the Neath RFC Hall of Fame in 2019.

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