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Wales rugby legend John Dawes dies aged 80

Former Wales and Lions captain John Dawes has passed away, aged 80.

Dawes is the only man to have skippered a triumphant Lions tour of New Zealand, while he had the further distinction of both captaining and coaching Wales to Grand Slams.

He also led the Barbarians to their famous victory over the All Blacks in Cardiff in 1973, playing his part in Gareth Edwards’ legendary try.

Dawes had been ill for some time and in hospital since last September. He passed away on Friday morning.

The news was confirmed by his former club, Newbridge RFC.

They said: “We’re unfortunately having to report some very sad news.

“After a period of ill health, John Dawes sadly passed away this morning.

“Everyone associated with our game will be aware of John’s story and his great achievements.

“His venture into senior rugby started with us here at the Welfare Ground.

“The heartfelt condolences of everyone at Newbridge RFC go out to John’s family at this very sad time.”

Born in Abercarn in 1940, Dawes was educated at Lewis School Pengam and then later at Aberystwyth University and Loughborough College, gaining a degree in chemistry and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), going on to become a science teacher.

Having started out with Newbridge, it was at London Welsh that he really made his name, as a centre blessed with both power and superb passing ability.

He made his Wales debut, aged 23, against Ireland at Lansdowne Road in March 1964, marking the occasion with a try.

The following year he took over the captaincy at Old Deer Park and also became club coach, going on to revolution the way the game was played, becoming a principle architect of “the Welsh way”.

His philosophy was based around doing the basics well and using the ball, moving it at pace, a style underpinned by a high level of fitness.

Under his tutelage, London Welsh became one of the great club sides of the era, featuring the likes of JPR Williams, John Taylor and Mervyn Davies.

Dawes – known throughout the game as Sid – first captained Wales in 1968, doing so six times in all, with his great success coming in 1971 as he led them to the Grand Slam.



Wales skipper John Dawes surges away against France during the Grand Slam-clinching win in Paris in 1971

Then came his appointment as skipper for that summer’s tour of New Zealand, which was to bring a historic 2-1 series win.

That victorious tour was the perfect note for Dawes to bow out of Test rugby after 26 caps – 22 for Wales and four with the Lions.

But he was to return to the international arena in January 1973 to captain the Barbarians to a 23-11 victory over New Zealand at Cardiff Arms Park, taking a key hand in Gareth Edwards’ memorable try.

The following year, he became coach of Wales, a post he held until 1979, with the team winning the Five Nations Championship four times in five seasons, including two Grand Slams.

He held the proud record of never having lost to England as either player or coach.

Dawes, who was made an OBE in 1972, also coached the 1977 Lions tour to New Zealand and was honorary President of his beloved London Welsh.

In 2006, he was named the greatest ever Welsh coach and inducted into the Welsh rugby international players Hall of Fame.

Four years later, a tribute dinner for him in Llandovery was attended by his HRH The Prince of Wales, while, in 2016, he was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.

He was a father of two and grandfather of five, with both his son Michael and grandson Rhodri, a current team member, having played for London Welsh.

He had lived with his long-time partner, Jill Mathias, in Llandaff for close on 30 years.

When Dawes spoke to Gist Vile on his 80th birthday last June, his overriding emotion was how fortunate he had been in terms of what rugby had given him.

“You think back on it now, the people you have met, the people you played with, the people you travelled with, it was a real experience,” he said.

“The friendships rugby brings you are so important. Sometimes you take it for granted, but then you realise that they are your mates.

“It was such a pleasure and a privilege to be able to play with the people I did.

“It was a real experience. When you think of the talent of those players, I have been very lucky. The people I played with are all special.

“You just enjoyed it and you just wanted to carry on playing.”



John Dawes
Skipper John Dawes in action for the Lions on the 1971 tour of New Zealand

Speaking of the 1971 Lions tour, he said: “You didn’t realise at the time just how big a thing we were achieving, not at all.

“The memory of it all is one of great pleasure and luck of being in the right place at the right time and playing with a great bunch of boys of all nationalities.

“You live with these boys, you travel with these boys and it was just a thrill.

“Everyone was part of it, there were no superstars.

“Playing under Carwyn James, who was a gentleman, top class, it was such an experience.

“It was his belief in how we should play the game, but also how he treated people.”

Reflecting on his rugby life, Dawes added: “I have been very lucky, not only have I played a lot of games, I’ve done a lot of travelling, met a lot of people and all in all it’s been fantastic.

“Rugby gives you opportunities that other walks of life don’t.

“I have been lucky when you consider where I’ve been, what I’ve done, who I’ve met and who we won against. All those memories are special.”

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