Lewis Jones 90 Not Out

Those of us fortunate enough to be have born in Carmarthenshire are aware of the mystical powers bestowed on a certain few of our rugby players.

Merlin the wizard of Arthurian legend was alleged to have been born in Carmarthen, and those of us in the know are acutely aware of how his sorcery has been handed down throughout the ages.

One recipient of these supernatural gifts was a certain Lewis Jones who celebrates his 90th birthday today.

Rugby league historian Robert Gate has described Lewis Jones as “arguably the most devastating attacking back Wales has ever produced.” His acceleration over the first few yards allowed him to penetrate almost any defence”.

On the face of it Lewis Jones’ career stats do not reflect a great talent – ten caps for Wales, three Lions appearances – but that hides the fact that for a brief period before he switched to rugby league he was the wonder boy of Welsh rugby.

His debut at Twickenham in 1950, aged 18 he was the youngest ever Welsh ended with him being carried shoulder-high from the pitch. To his bemusement he had been selected at fullback even though he had never played there. Wales won a Grand Slam weeks that season.

Later that year he became the first ever British Lion to arrive on tour by aeroplane when flown out as a replacement. His performances in Australia and New Zealand won him a string of plaudits. His versatility was shown by the fact his ten Wales caps came in three positions, fullback, centre and wing.

In November 1952 he switched codes for a then-record fee of £6000, revealing Leeds had been pursuing him for two years. The money plus the promise of a job proved too tempting. At 21 his rugby union career was over.

In Rugby League he unsurprisingly shone as well, winning 15 Great Britain caps and one for Wales (it was Wales last international match until 1968). He became the first player to kick 1000 goals for Leeds, spent six years as a player-coach in Australia and after retirement became a schoolmaster in Leeds.

During his eleven years at Headingley, Jones accumulated 3,445 points, third on the League’s all-time list.

In 1956-57, Jones broke the world record for the most points in a League season: 496 with 36 tries and 194 goals from 48 matches. He broke fellow Welshman Jim Sullivan’s season points record playing for Great Britain against France on his 25th birthday.

In 2013 Lewis was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame.

I’m sure tonight, somewhere, Merlin will be raising a glass with admiration to a true magician, Penblydd Hapus Lewis.

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