Peter Jackson: Goodbye Merv… you were a giant among giants
22:01 GMT, 16 March 2012
Moments after Wales had beaten France to the Grand Slam at Cardiff Arms Park, Mervyn Davies sat in a corner of the dressing room unfurling his trademark white bandana.
Ignoring the bedlam all around him, as well as a gaping hole in one leg which he would live with for the rest of his days, the Wales captain addressed the question of what next for the supreme champions of European rugby.
‘Three Grand Slams in a row,’ he said in that understated, matter-of-fact way of his, dragging on a cigarette. ‘This team will get better. We are only at the beginning of what we can achieve. Nothing is impossible.’
Skipper: Mervyn Davies will be remembered for leading Wales to success
The events of that day, Saturday March
6, 1976, confirmed that Davies truly had the world at his feet, that
there was still no limit to the history he would continue to make in the
two, at most three seasons left. ‘Merv the Swerve’ would go on giving
the history books the runaround for some time yet.
He had already won a Test series against the All Blacks for the Lions,
been an integral part of the invincible team in South Africa and only a
few weeks before the denouement against France he had been asked to go
back to New Zealand the following year as captain.
The greatest All Black of them all, Colin Meads, has always sworn that
the Lions would never have won the 1971 series without Davies. As the
tributes flooded in, that of old ‘Pine Tree’ stood out. ‘Mervyn
dominated the back of the line-out in that series,’ he said. ‘He stopped
The all-round skills of a supreme No 8 were the indestructible rudder
steering his team through the storms. An unusually high pain threshold
meant he would rarely succumb to injury, an iron will to win tested as
never before during that Grand Slam decider when he defied the torture
of a calf muscle punctured by a French stud.
Memories: Davies starred at the highest level – for Wales and the Lions
Nobody knew then that he would never play for Wales again, that he had
less than half an hour’s rugby left. Three weeks after the triple Grand
Slam prophecy he was back in Cardiff fighting for his life after
suffering a brain haemorrhage 28 minutes into a Welsh Cup semi-final for
Swansea against Pontypool.
There were claims that he ‘died’ twice during the short ambulance
journey from the Arms Park to hospital and Davies admitted he stopped
breathing ‘two or three times’. The neurosurgeon, Robert Weekes,
admitted that Davies was indeed fighting for his life and the gravity of
his condition was such that they had to wait nine days before
‘They cut along my hairline from the centre of my forehead to the tip of
my ear, peeled back my skin, drilled a hole in my skull and got on with
the job,’ Davies said in a book on Welsh greats entitled Triumph and
Tragedy. ‘The stakes were high. The slightest mistake could have caused
irreparable damage or even death.’
Davies had survived a brain
haemorrhage four years earlier playing for London Welsh against London
Irish which ought to have ended his rugby career there and then in April
1972. True to form, he went the distance despite a headache which he
likened to ‘the entire All Black pack doing the Haka inside my skull’.
Honoured: Davies with comedians Eric Morecambe (left) and Ernie Wise after they had received the OBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1976
‘Really, my career should have ended there and then,’ he said when we
reminisced at his home in Swansea one day last summer about the old
times. ‘Other players, like Bill Beaumont and Keith Jarrett, had a
similar sort of thing and had to retire. I was fortunate to have four
He found it hard to come to terms with the catastrophic after-effects of
the second haemorrhage. Suddenly, the all-conquering Welsh Lion found
himself unable to beat his infant son at tiddlywinks.
Never the same again but grateful to be alive, ‘Swerve’ forged an
alternative career as a pundit and after-dinner speaker with a sharp
line in self-deprecation, always happier talking about others. How
poignant that after a four-month illness the man who played 20 times for
Wales in Cardiff and lost just once, to Ian Kirkpatrick’s All Blacks by
three points, should pass away on the eve of another Wales-France Grand
Slam finale. He was only 65.
Flags at the Millennium Stadium were immediately lowered to half-mast, a
fitting tribute to a giant among giants who might have been the only
man to have won a Grand Slam hat-trick and back-to-back series victories
for the Lions in New Zealand, if only fate had not played the dirtiest
He is survived by his second wife Jeni, son Christopher and daughter Laura.