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1 May 2014
This Just in: May 2014; Sad news that one of the veterans of the 1955 and 1959 British Lions Rugby teams, the tough and rugged prop forward Hughie McLeod, had passed away. McLeod a great job in the scrums on two long tours of South Africa then New Zealand and Australia over 55 years ago.
‘Hughie’ McLeod did not take up playing rugby until he was nearly 18 years old. At school he had no time for team games and it was only after taking on a working life of apprentice plastering that his strength and interest in rugby expanded. Within three years he was playing Scottish senior trials, and he eventually became a tough, hard prop.
McLeod made his debut against France in 1954, and once in the Scottish team he was never dropped. He began as a tighthead but finished as a loosehead and was equally adept in both positions. He retired at the surprisingly early age of 29 in 1962, when many felt he could have played on for years.
He made two tours for the Lions, to South Africa in 1955 and to Australia and New Zealand in 1959, and he toured South Africa with Scotland in 1960.
McLeod gained a reputation as one of the hardest forwards of his time. His dedication was total and he demanded the same of his club and test team-mates. One writer described his attitude on the field as ‘uncompromising – and brutally frank into the bargain!’
One Hawick story has it that once McLeod was faced with a brash young opponent in a club game. The brash lad asked out loud at the first scrum, ‘I wonder what lesson we’ll learn from the great McLeod today?’ A few seconds later the young fellow placed his hand on the ground for balance in the front row exchange, whereupon McLeod promptly stood on it. As the scrum broke up and the young player was left holding his hand in excruciating pain, McLeod was heard to mutter in an audible voice, ‘There endeth the first lesson, sonny boy’!
As a New Zealander I always rated the 1959 team as an excellent one, certainly much more pleasing to watch than later Lions teams. In fact, though I saw four matches of the '59ers tour through the eyes of being a teenager I always rated them as a better all round team than the now famous test series winning 1971 team.
When I offered that opinion one time to one of the members of the 1971 team, the Welsh flanker John Taylor, he howled me down. I replied that unlike him I had seen both of those team play while he hadn't. But I am afraid I got nowhere in the late night debate.
I told John that the 1959ers had won one test match, lost another by a last minute try, and should have been 'awarded' another test victory (having scored four tries to nil against the All Blacks in Dunedin but losing 17-18 via six penalties to Don 'The Boot' Clarke). The 1959 Lions team only lost one test by a wide margin (if you can call 8-22 a wide margin)
By comparison the 1971 team, while they won 2 tests narrowly (9-3 and 13-3), they lost one (12-22) and drew one (14-14) they were outscored in tries by New Zealand across the four tests series. I also pointed out to John that the 1971 Lions were pretty well at full strength while New Zealand's All Blacks were a hopelessly inexperienced outfit that year boasting many players who were brand new to test rugby and who never played tests again (Richie Guy, Alan McNaughton, Bruce Hunter, Phil Gard, Ken Carrington, and Howard Joseph etc)
None of the above washed with my determined and proud dinner companion
Still I will stand up for the brilliance of my memory of the 1959 team. Their backs (with men like Tony O'Reilly, Peter Jackson, David Hewitt, Dickie Jeeps, Bev Risman and Ken Scotland left an indelible mark in New Zealand.)
Apart from one or two who stood out like beacons (Gerald Davies, Barry John, Gareth Edwards) the 1971 team just grimly won matches. Well, that's one young man's memory.
Oops! There, I've said it again John!
Thus the ABs beat the Lions 18-17. Shocking really - but hey! We'll take it!
Swansea and Wales
26 internationals for Wales 1949–59
2 internationals for British Isles 1955
One of the finest loose forwards Wales produced in the post World War II era, who later became one of the best writers on the game. His full name was Richard Clement Charles Thomas, but from his earliest days the shortened ‘Clem’ was a welcome diminutive.
A tough flanker, he was a ‘Swansea Jack’ through and through, who first made the Welsh team for its end-of-season international against France in Paris in 1949. France won narrowly by 5–3, in what was a battle to avoid last place in the championship. Thomas paid the price for what some in Wales saw as a premature selection (he was only 20 years old) and he was not asked to play internationally again for two seasons.
He was recalled in 1952 as part of the Grand Slam-winning Welsh team and continued to represent Wales until 1959. He toured South Africa as part of the 1955 Lions team, but appendicitis restricted him to two of the four test matches.
Thomas was Welsh captain in his last two seasons, 1957–58 and 1958–59, and was tipped as a possible captain of the British Lions to New Zealand in 1959. Perhaps it was Wales’s modest record in the 1958–59 season which held him back from winning that honour.
When Thomas retired, the butcher became a successful businessman, as well as writing for the Guardian and the Observer with much distinction.
When discussions about Clem Thomas arise in Welsh rugby he is invariably remembered as the player who put in the famous cross-kick against New Zealand in Cardiff in 1953. Thomas was close to the touchline on one side of the field, and, seeing his way ahead blocked by All Blacks, he kicked the ball on an angle towards the goal posts. The two rival wings, arguably the fastest two men in world rugby at that time, Ron Jarden of New Zealand and Ken Jones of Wales, were both standing clear of any other players. When Thomas’s kick landed, it bounced perfectly into the hands of Jones and he sprinted in for a winning try. As the kicker of the ball Thomas was acclaimed as a hero for Wales, and in the years afterwards, he often reflected how his life might have changed had the ball bounced the other way into the hands of Jarden, the flying All Black!
Who was the New Zealand test cricketer who played one rugby test for England?