The mid-1960s was rife with protests to the ongoing apartheid issues that were occurring in different places in the world, and none were more prevalent than in South Africa. In the UK, there was a substantial anti-apartheid movement in the country that wanted sanctions put in place to try to force South Africa to change. At the height of these protests and the intense feelings being communicated, Cardiff RFC was invited to tour South Africa by the South African Rugby Union and personally by Danie Craven, who was the President of the Union and a mighty man in rugby circles. Cardiff RFC was widely respected around the world and if they agreed to come to South Africa it would be a huge fill-up for the country.
The proposal of the tour was put to the Club Committee who sat to make decisions on such matters and controversially the decision was to take up Danie Craven and the South African Union and tour there participating in five games travelling on the 3rd May and returning to Cardiff on the 22nd May 1967. This would be Cardiff RFC’s first-ever overseas tour and to such a divisive country as well.
When the news broke of the planned tour, there was predictably, controversy. Mineworkers and some religious and political leaders quickly voiced their disapproval of the scheduled visit. Fortunately for Cardiff one of their supporters for the trip to South Africa was the Welsh Rugby Union who when asked the question by the press concerning the tour confirmed that permission had been granted for the visit. Cardiff again reiterated its resolve for the trip to go ahead as well, stating that this was not about supporting political decisions but about playing rugby. The decision to go to South Africa also caused challenges within the playing squad and for officials of the club. As rugby union was an amateur sport, for players and officials alike. They now needed to speak to their employers to try to gain time off work for three weeks, which could not have been an easy thing to do. It could also come with significant financial implications for the players and their families alike.
Phil Morgan the Cardiff fly-half was refused absence of leave by his employers, Monmouth Education, Morgan was a schoolteacher based in Newbridge. However, he still made himself available for the trip. Frank Wilson, the Cardiff winger, was facing another dilemma. Wilson believed that to travel to South Africa was wrong due to its apartheid rules, and he made the bold decision not to tour. He faced pressure from others to travel, but Wilson stayed true to his principles and did not go to South Africa.
Another player who did not travel to South Africa was Cardiff lock-forward Keith Rowlands. The Wales and British and Irish Lions star broke his leg that season and was unavailable. Rowlands was club captain, so in his absence, scrum-half, Billy Hullin took over the captaincy. Rowlands would tour in spirit and in another presence in the shape of a king-size teddy bear mascot called “Shaunee”. The bear had Rowlands club scarf around his neck in his honour and was decked out in full Cardiff RFC kit with the number 24 on the back of the shirt, representing an additional player to the 23-man squad announced for the tour. Shaunee was photographed several times before and during the trip accompanied by different players. Unfortunately for Rowlands, the leg injury speeded up the process of his retirement from the game. At the age of 30, Rowlands announced his decision the day after Cardiff left for South Africa. He had been a fantastic rugby player.
As mentioned, 23 players were selected to go to South Africa including seven internationals in Howard Norris, John O’Shea, Billy Thomas, Billy Hullin, Ken Jones, Gerald Davies and Gareth Edwards. Jones had toured South Africa in 1962 with the Lions, and 1964 with Wales so was aware of the rugby challenge they were facing. In the touring party would also be 12 supporters who were nicknamed the “Bar-Bars”, (don’t think you need to use your imagination to understand why). Included in that 12 were Dai Hayward, who was the current captain of The Rags, Rees Stephens, who had played for Wales and the Lions and Peter Thomas, who would become such a massive figurehead for Cardiff rugby, but at the time was The Rags hooker. The Cardiff side would be coached by Roy Bish with Lyn Williams as manager and assistant manager, Haydn Wilkins. The Club President, Hubert Johnson also accompanied the tour. That season Cardiff had finished third in the unofficial Western Mail Club Table, and even though they had lost nine matches in total, they had defeated the touring Australian side and maintained their undefeated record against them (which still stands). Overall, the feeling was that the season had been disappointing, and this trip to South Africa gave them the chance to overturn some of those disappointments and show what a good side they really were.
On the 3rd May 1967, Cardiff RFC started the journey from a snowy Cardiff to London to board a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. On arrival at Jan Smuts airport, there to greet the party was Danie Craven as well as representatives from Transvaal, Northern Transvaal and Eastern Transvaal Rugby Unions. From Johannesburg the group flew onto Windhoek, based in South West Africa (now known as Namibia), to prepare for their first game against South West Africa. It took 31 hours of travel in total to get to their destination. By the time they got to Windhoek, it was 5th of May, and they were playing the following day at altitude! A crazy timetable in any era. On arrival in South Africa, Cardiff was in shock at the heat, it was intense. Yet another challenge to overcome.
The reception Cardiff received in South Africa was outstanding. The fact that a rugby side such as Cardiff, known throughout the world was travelling to play was seen as a huge gesture. The South African press was very positive in their articles concerning to the touring party, speaking in very high regard of the players. The hospitality received by the players was second to none, everyone was treated so well. Cardiff RFC was happy to talk to the press and in the build-up to the first game discussed selection policies for the first two games. The plan was trying to allow each player an opportunity to impress. They also spent time talking up the Cardiff backline which with good ball from the forwards on the hard, dusty pitches could really cause problems. Ken Jones stated that the Cardiff three-quarter line was the best he had ever played in, and when you think he had played for Wales and the British and Irish Lions, this was high praise indeed. The challenge Cardiff had was a day to try to acclimatise to the altitude, the heat and also with the altitude the fact the ball travelled further and faster than Northern Hemisphere teams are used. It was never going to be easy.
In Windhoek on the 5th May 1967 in front of 4,000 fans, Cardiff RFC took the field for their first-ever overseas tour match. The first points on tour went to Phil Morgan courtesy of a drop goal, Morgan by now may well have been unemployed seeing he was AWOL, but that concern would have to wait for when he got back. Early in the second-half, Maurice Richards, the superb winger for Cardiff scored a try after good build-up play from Hullin, Morgan and Ken Jones put the pacey winger away in the corner with Ray Cheney converting. Cheney also kicked a penalty. Cardiff tired as the game went on (unsurprisingly) and South-West Africa scored a try and drew level. Cardiff was defending for their lives with real desperation. They managed to hold on for the draw at the final whistle. The players that took the field for the inaugural overseas tour game was as follows:
Ray Cheney, John Huw Williams, Ken Jones, Tony Williams, Maurice Richards, Phil Morgan, Billy Hullin, Gwyn Thomas, Gary Davies, Howard Norris, Jack Davies, Lyn Baxter, John Harding, Tony Pender and Clive Evans.
The second game on tour would take place four days later in Upington and would be against the North Western Cape Province. Again, this match would be played at altitude, but at least the Cardiff side had a few more days to acclimatise. Captained by the hooker, Billy Thomas, Cardiff went in at half-time behind but in the final ten minutes of the game scored 11 points to earn their first win on tour. In the game, Ray Cheney, Cardiff’s full-back kicked 15 points, Gary Samuel playing at fly-half kicked a drop goal, and a Gareth Edwards try gave the tourists victory by 23 points to 12.
For the third game on tour, Cardiff travelled to Port Elizabeth on the South-Eastern coast of South Africa so altitude would not pose a challenge. Their upcoming fixture against Eastern Province was expected by all to be their toughest test yet against a strong Provincial side which would include two current Springboks in their pack. Cardiff also had concerns over the fitness of full-back Cheney, who on tour had been performing admirably. Unfortunately his injury would mean him missing the game, with Gareth Edwards replacing him at full-back. The night before the match Cardiff attended a function and as part of the proceedings sung “Calon Lan”, “In the Moonlight” and “We Keep a Welcome” for their hospitable hosts, would they, however, be on song for the game the following day?
Saturday 13th May 1967, Cardiff put in an incredible performance against Eastern Province. They demolished their opponents by a scoreline of 34 points to 9, scoring six tries in the process. There on that day was 12,000 fans to watch Cardiff play open, expansive rugby. Maurice Richards scored three tries and in total 19 points in the match. Gareth Edwards also scored a try, Keri Jones, and Ken Jones finished the try-scoring feast. The journalists who watched the game could not hide their admiration for the performance. Passages in the papers such as “Cardiff’s performance today showed precisely why they are regarded as the most powerful rugby club in the world”.
Also they wrote, “Collectively, Keri Jones, Ken Jones, Gerald Davies and Maurice Richards made up the most thrilling three-quarter line to be seen in Port Elizabeth for many a year”. Ian Kirkpatrick, the Springboks coach, who was sat in the stand watching the game, stated that how Cardiff played especially in the backs is how he wanted South Africa to perform. All these plaudits and all thoroughly deserved. The team that took the field that day and put on that mesmeric performance was as follows:
Gareth Edwards, Keri Jones, Gerald Davies, Ken Jones, Maurice Richards, Phil Morgan, Billy Hullin, John O’Shea, Billy Thomas, Howard Norris, Jack Davies, Lyn Baxter, John Hickey, Tony Pender and Clive Evans.
The Cardiff management made the decision to retain an unchanged team for their next match against Southern Universities in Cape Town. Before the game, there was a public meeting with the touring party and John Vorster who was the Prime Minister of South Africa with the press present. This came about following previous meetings with Vorster with Jack Davies and Ken Jones after previous rugby encounters, and those pair had a personal interview with the Prime Minister after the more public events had ended. This further demonstrates the high regard and esteem this touring group was held in by its ever generous hosts. The Southern Universities side was a trial Springboks side for an upcoming encounter against France so was going to be a tough game for Cardiff.
Wednesday 17th May 1967, Cardiff took the field at Newlands, in front of 27,000 spectators to watch them take on Southern Universities. The home team raced into a lead which Cardiff strived to get back onto terms with. At one point, Southern Universities were eleven points ahead, but a try from the captain Hullin, which was converted by Edwards, and Cardiff were back in chance of the win. Edwards kicked a penalty and then a try from Richards who yet again, had a fantastic match, seemed to be giving the momentum to the tourists. Cardiff valiantly looked for the victory but time was against them with Southern Universities holding onto victory by 14 points to 11.
The final game of the five-match tour would again be at altitude for the third time, as Cardiff pitted its wits against Northern Transvaal in front of 22,000 fans. After a great start from Cardiff with a try from Richards converted by Cheney, they struggled in the game with handling errors. Also, they were penalised heavily by the South African referee (the nationality of all the referees on the tour), especially in the line-out. Northern Transvaal got into the ascendency and earned a hard-fought victory by 25 points to 5. At the end of the game, the hooker, Billy Thomas was chaired off the pitch by his Cardiff team-mates in what was his final appearance for the club. He had been an outstanding servant to Cardiff and Welsh rugby.
Two defeats in the final two games of the tour was a disappointing end to an excellent trip for Cardiff. There is no doubt that exhaustion played a part in this with the constant travel and playing three games at altitude in a short time is inevitable to take its toll. When you have players exhausted and in addition to this as one of those players, John Harding the Cardiff number eight disclosed in an interview to Cardiff Rugby Museum recently that Billy Hullin, the captain had implemented a rule of no sleeping on tour then that is bound to compound the issue. Harding states that those players caught dozing off would have an orange thrown at them. So, you had travel exhaustion, tiredness of playing over three weeks’ period, heat, altitude and also being endangered by incoming oranges, quite a lot to deal with.
In conclusion, the tour of South Africa was a big success. Cardiff RFC the product was enhanced on this tour, it showed a different population how Cardiff believed rugby should be played, especially with its back-play. This enriched South African rugby and the wider rugby group for many years to come. It was a bold decision to tour, but as Cardiff RFC themselves stated “We are going to play rugby. Political issues have nothing to do with us”, and my word did they play rugby.