Success at Newport RFC Hall of Fame dinner

4:49pm Wednesday 23rd April 2014

By Iwan Gabe Davies

MORE Newport rugby legends were inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame after a dinner was held at Rodney Parade last week.

Now in its third year, more than 200 guests paid tribute to nine great players from the Black and Ambers’ rich history who became the latest to be entered following this popular event in the calendar, organised by the Friends of Newport Rugby Trust.

Roy Burnett, Gareth Evans, Geoff Evans, Brian Jones, Roger Powell, Charles Pritchard, Alan ‘Algy’ Thomas, John ‘Dick’ Uzzell and Stuart Watkins joined a distinguished band.

It was also fitting that, the Phillips family were also inducted for, as the evening’s splendid programme stated: “Without them, the history of Newport Rugby Football Club may have been quite different.”

It was largely due to the entrepreneurial family’s trailblazing patriarch Thomas Phillips, a brewer originally from Swindon, who moved to Newport in the 1870s, and his rugby playing sons William and Walter Clifford, that the oval ball took root in the city during the game’s nascent days.

Both boys went on to play for the Black and Ambers, William becoming one of the most successful captains in the club’s history, skippering them during the unbeaten seasons of 1877/78 and 1878/79.

The first player to be inducted was the late Roy Burnett, a dazzling outside-half who died at the age of 71 in 1998.

The brilliance of Cliff Morgan denied him the international recognition his great talents deserved, Burnett only won a solitary Wales cap in an 8-3 home defeat to England in 1953, but he enjoyed a glittering club career.

Blessed with the wonderful moniker of the ‘Ginger Terror’, the flame-haired maestro from Abercarn made 373 appearances for the Black and Ambers between 1945 and 1959, scoring 91 tries.

Burnett consistently kept the club’s coffers full, his adventure ensured fans returned through the turnstiles and he captained the club when they recorded a remarkable 35 straight victories in the early Fifties and he played in the 11-0 victory over Australia in 1957.

Another player unlucky not to have enjoyed a more prolific international career was Gareth Evans who won three Wales caps in the Seventies, one of those in the 16-7 victory over France which secured the 1978 Grand Slam in Cardiff.

The exciting centre/wing was held in such high regard that he was listed in the Daily Mail’s top 30 British and Irish Lions of all time in 2009.

He was voted 27th, the paper hailing him thus: “Played on the wing three times in Tests against New Zealand in 1977. Despite it being a losing series, Evans did enough damage to earn his spot in this list of legends.”

Being selected for the Lions though meant Evans had to sit out Newport’s 16-15 1977 Schweppes Cup final victory over fierce rivals Cardiff.

He made 232 appearances for the Black and Ambers, scoring 90 tries. He later coached the club in their promotion-winning season back to Welsh club rugby’s league top flight in 1990/91.

Popular back row forward Geoff Evans captained Newport for five seasons between 1972 and 1981, equalling William Phillips’ near 100-year record.

Evans was in the Gwent side which beat South Africa 14-8 at Ebbw Vale in 1969 and he led the club twice against the mighty All Blacks

Newport went close to emulating the 1963 side’s famous 3-0 victory over New Zealand at Rodney Parade when he led them to a narrow 20-15 defeat in 1973 before going down 14-3 to them in 1980. After hanging up his boots, he served the club in a number of administrative offices, including honorary treasurer.

Cwmcarn-born Brian Jones holds the impressive record of being only the second player to defeat all three major touring sides on Welsh soil, equalling the achievement of the great fly-half Percy Bush.

The centre beat the 1957/58 Wallabies with Newport before playing for the Barbarians in the 6-0 victory over Avril Malan’s South Africa at Cardiff on 1961, their only defeat on a 34-match tour, and for the Black and Ambers in their triumph over Wilson Whineray’s All Blacks two years later.

In 1969 he coached Newport to the league title and to their second victory over the mighty Springboks, an 11-6 triumph later that year.

Popularly known as ‘BJ’ or just ‘Mr Newport’, he later served on the committee and became chairman.

Fearless back row forward Roger Powell from Blaenavon was inducted for his “indomitable courage and reliability”.

Such is his stature that the evening’s compère, former Newport teammate, the prop Alun ‘Benny’ Williams said of him: “It was a travesty he didn’t play for Wales.”

Powell made 341 appearances for the club between 1976 and 1990, scoring 44 tries before taking over as coach.

Charles Pritchard served a gallant captain in the South Wales Borderers and was killed in action at the age of 33 following a daring raid on a German trench during the terrible Battle of the Somme in August 1916.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, he was a fierce forward who had captained Newport for three seasons and went on to make 217 appearances and score 21 tries for them.

He won 14 caps for Wales and was the star forward during his country’s 3-0 victory over New Zealand in the infamous 1905 encounter.

Flanker Alan ‘Algy’ Thomas will forever have a place in club folklore thanks to his try-saving tackle on All Blacks wing RL Davis in the dying seconds which secured the most treasured victory in Newport’s illustrious history.

The Bargoed Grammar School old boy was rewarded for his star performance with his first cap over New Zealand 1963 but Wales were unable to emulate the Black and Ambers’ heroics, going down to a 6-0 defeat in Cardiff.

Thomas only played once more for his country, a 6-6 draw against England in Twickenham the next year, but made 213 appearances and scored 42 tries for the club he went on to coach.

And while Thomas played a pivotal role in the 3-0 victory over the All Blacks, it couldn’t have been achieved without the first half drop goal of centre John ‘Dick’ Uzzell.

It’s an effort that stands in the same pantheon as later great drop kicks by Jeremy Guscott to win the 1997 Test series for the British and Irish Lions against South Africa and Jonny Wilkinson’s to win the 2003 World Cup for England – if it wasn’t quite as towering as both, just scraping over the crossbar.

Uzzell played 108 times for Newport, scoring 22 tries and a bagged a further three drop goals, as well as winning five caps and starring in the 1965 Triple Crown triumph which also saw Wales win the Five Nations championship.

Last, but by no means least, was Stuart Watkins, another to have a hand in the victory over New Zealand for it was his cross kick which eventually led to Uzzell’s goal.

Described as a “statuesque” wing, Watkins was certainly ahead of his time as a flyer, few being his 6ft 2in frame during his heyday, and he had an extraordinary strike rate for Newport, scoring 115 tries in his 162 appearances.

A British and Irish Lion in 1966, he won two Triple Crowns with Wales, winning 26 caps and scoring nine touchdowns.


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