6. Gareth Edwards MBE
Performers (1685 votes)
All time rugby great and cornerstone of a golden age of Welsh international glory.
When Wales enjoyed its finest decade of rugby success, Gareth Edwards was an ever-present factor.
At school in Pontardawe near Swansea, his abilities were spotted by teacher and rugby coach Bill Samuels. Samuels encouraged him to try for a place at Millfield, a top English public school that would reduce its fees for less well-off boys with sporting talent.
Gareth cites Samuels as a key influence on his subsequent career, along with his father. Glan Edwards still had to make significant sacrifices on his miner’s wages so Gareth could go to Millfield. There he played alongside another Welsh boy, the young J.P.R. Williams. The most feared back line in rugby history was already being formed.
At 19, Gareth represented Wales for the first time against France. The following season he was captaining the side, the youngest player ever to do so. Initially he faced some scepticism from the ever-critical Welsh rugby public. Soon the results would speak for themselves. Edwards steered Wales to three Grand Slams and five Triple Crowns.
His touring exploits with the British Lions against the hard men of the southern hemisphere are no less legendary. The 1971 Lions were the first to notch up a series win over the New Zealand All Blacks. Three years later they triumphed over the South African Springboks with Nelson Mandela cheering them on from his prison cell.
1973 saw the Gareth Edwards try that connoisseurs of the game still regard as the finest ever scored. It was for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in a match designed as a rerun of the epic third test at Wellington two years previously.
The quivering excitement in Cliff Morgan’s commentary as he tracks Edwards’ searing sprint to the line beautifully dramatises a great sporting moment.
In the era in which rugby defined Wales to the world, Edwards defined rugby to Wales.