1898-9. P28, W22, L3, D3, Points 422 to 67.
GWYN NICHOLLS’ FIRST SEASON OF CAPTAINCY
This was an excellent record for Gwyn Nicholl’s initial season of captaincy. He appointed Tom Dobson as vice-captain. Forwards Elsey, Emery and W. Phillips. and J. E. Elliott the half-back dropped out, but replacements in M. Falcon and Charlie Spackman; Cecil Sweet-Escott at half-back and the wing three-quarter A. M. Ricketts became available and all four gained 1st XV caps. Selwyn Biggs our star halfback restarted, belatedly, at the end of October and his experience was much welcomed.
Against Cardiff & District XV, the captain celebrated this opening game by scoring four tries, and his splendid wing mate Viv Huzzey, kicked seven goals. In the third match of the season at Neath we were defeated by a goal to nil, well beaten it seems by more than the points would indicate, it was the only match of the season in which Cardiff failed to score. This defeat was followed by an unbeaten run until 18th February when, at Gloucester, we lost by one goal to one try. There were changes at forward, but more vitally at halfback because of the inability of Selwyn Biggs to play owing to business commitments, and J. E. Elliott came out of retirement to replace him, it was Elliott’s only game of the season.
Gloucester were able to boast, and rightly so, that they had in this season defeated Cardiff, Newport, LIanelly and Swansea, incidentally depriving Swansea of their run of invincibility.
Our only two matches with Swansea were drawn away, one try each, and at home one goal each. The All Whites lost only two matches in 1898-9. Cardiff’s third defeat was at the hands of Newport, away, on 25th March, by a goal, a dropped goal to a goal; it ended a run of eight consecutive wins over the Usksiders. Tudhoe, the Durham cup-holders of the previous season were new visitors to the Cardiff Arms Park on their South Wales tour, they ran Llanelly to two points, but were well beaten by Cardiff on Boxing Day by 20 points to nil. Llwynypia, Glamorgan League champions drew their home match with us, three points each; on the day their rugged pack was better than ours, and opposing wings were our own international Viv Huzzey, and W. “Willie” Llewellyn the last survivor (at the time of writing) of the Welsh XV that defeated the All Blacks of 1905.
We scored two good wins over the strong Blackheath Club, and easily beat the Barbarians on Christmas Eve by five goals, including one penalty and two tries to a try, 29 points to 3. The result is misquoted in the late C. S. Arthur’s history as five goals, two tries, 31 points to one try, three points. Penarth, who had run Cardiff to two tries at ”Donkey Island “, were soundly thrashed in the return game on the Arms Park by 43 points to four, and in this match H. B. Winfield and W. ‘ Billy” Neill who made their first debuts this season, each scored—Winfield with five goals and Neill with a try. Our regular three-quarter line of Huzzey, Nicholls, “ Pussy “ Jones and Arthur Ricketts came in for much praise, and Selwyn Biggs at half-back was one of the best ever turned out for the club, creating many openings and being very clever in defence. Selwyn’s brother Norman the great wing, already retired with all honours, turned out in a couple of matches, he had always been held in much affection, particularly for his electrifying runs down the wing. He was the idol of the small boys.
Huzzey 18, Nicholls 16, Ricketts 15 and “Pussy” Jones 9, were the top try scorers, the two first named played, as did Jerry Blake, in three internationals, Tom Dobson against England and Scotland, and Selwyn Briggs returned against Ireland. Ricketts was captain of the Reserves XV (formerly named the Seconds) but he played mostly for the First XV and his office fell on E. Harry Gunn who had been captain in 1896-7 and vice-captain last season. His team had a great season, the best since 1887-8, and the record was: P28, W26, Li, Dl, Points 444 to 49, a remarkably good season this in which nine players gained Reserves caps, namely, Wayne Morgan, T. Hughes, Charlie Kestell, F. Hine, “ Billy’s Neill, G. 0. Common and W. H. Robertson, J. Williams scored most tries, 21, W. Williams 16, lvor P. Jones 12 and Wayne Morgan 10, and captain Gunn came in for a treble.
It was a prosperous season, receipts totalled over £2,800, and there remained £1,400 on deposit at Lloyds Bank. The membership was three short of 1,000. The handsome sum of £680 was donated to charities this season, a total of £3,380 to date by the club. I give here the names of the current beneficiaries: New Seaman’s Hospital £400. Cardiff Shipping & Port Labourers’ Relief Fund £100, Cardiff Royal Infirmary £75, Nazareth House £50, Deaf & Dumb Institute £10. Blind Asylum £10, Porthcawl Rest £5, Cardiff Merciful Society £5, St. Vincent de Paul £5, Nurses’ Institute £5, Girls’ Home £5, Deaf & Dumb Missions £5 and The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children £5. Praiseworthy indeed.
THE PRINCE OF THREEQUARTERS
Season 1898-9 heralded the captaincy bf Erith Gwyn Nicholls who was to establish himself as one of the greatest Rugby players of all time, and gain all the honours the Rugby game could provide. Initially a young player of a local club named Cardiff Stars, he graduated through Cardiff Reserves and made his first team debut against Bristol on 4th February 1893. Incidentally, whilst playing for the Reserves he was selected for Gloucester- shire, having been born at Westbury-on-Severn in June 1874.
His honours included being captain of Cardiff four times; a club record, and he made 242 appearances during 1892/3-1909/10, a span of eighteen seasons. He was an elected Barbarian, and a member of the Rev. M. M. Mullineux’s British team which toured Australia in 1899, the only Welshman included in the party. For Wales, in his prime, Gwyn Nicholls was supreme, ten times captain including that of the team which defeated the New Zealanders in that now legendary match of December 1905. In his exhortation to his team before the game, he said ‘There must be no hair combing; every man with the ball must be put down—ball and all. You forwards know what to do—get the loose head I Come on, let’s get out.”
Gwyn Nicholls contributed greatly to Welsh Rugby during its, golden era, he played in three Triple Crown seasons for Wales, and his fame was such as to gain him the title of Prince of Three quarters “. The title prevails to this day although the adherents of the Newport and Swansea Clubs have’ always claimed that the merits of Arthur J. Gould and Willie Trew respectively were at least equal to those of Nicholls. His contemporary co-centre three-quarter Rhys Gabe—24 Welsh caps—wrote of him with much affection, and affirmed that ‘ He was the most complete footballer, the greatest of all time, equally strong in every department of the game. An inspiring leader, a great handler of the ball, who exploited the gaps to create, unselfishly, tries for his colleagues “.
Another of Gwyn’s contemporaries was the brilliant halfback Percy F. Bush, who toured Australia and New Zealand with the British team of 1904, and he was as eulogistic in his praise of Nicholls as was Gabe. On his tour of 1904, Bush was often reminded of the brilliant performances of Nicholls on his 1899 tour. In 1939 the leading Rugby writer of the “ Western Mail “, “ Old Stager” (W. J. Hoare) wrote of Nicholls thus: “There has never been a three-quarter with the merits he possessed, and as long as Rugby is played the name of Gwyn Nicholls will be honoured by Rugby men in all parts of the globe “.
After his retirement, he served on the Cardiff Rugby, and Cardiff Athletic Club committees in the period 1925—6 to 1938—9, and was a member of the Welsh Rugby Union for five seasons including four as a ‘ Big Five” selector. I was a very young boy when I saw him play, but having served the Rugby Club since 1921 as a player and administrator it was my good fortune to have been a colleague of his on committees and to learn of and admire his manly character. Alas, Gwyn died in March 1939 and was buried at St. Andrew’s Parish Church, Dinas Powis. There were present a large number of friends from all walks of life, colleagues, and opponents, all of whom came to pay tribute to this much loved sportsman. One of the many wreaths bore this simple inscription: “To the greatest of all Rugby players “.
In my annual report on the Cardiff Rugby Club for 1938-9, I wrote: “In the annals of the game, no player stood on a higher plane, for he added glory and lustre not only to his club and country, but above all, to the game itself. By many he is considered as the greatest three-quarter of all time, and by all who had met him or had had the pleasure of seeing him play he was regarded as a true sportsman.”
In May of 1939 his club launched a public appeal fund in order to provide a lasting and tangible recognition of his great talents, and service to Rugby Football. The appeal was interrupted by the War of 1939-45, but afterwards, following a match on Cardiff Arms Park between Cardiff and a Rest of Wales XV (selected by the late Captain Geoffrey Crawshay) it came to’ fruition with the erection at the’ Quay Street entrance to the ground of the magnificent “ Gwyn Nicholls Memorial Gates “. They were officially opened by his former colleague Rhys T. Gabe before a public gathering on 26th December 1949. Today, if I were asked to select the best ever Cardiff fifteen, my first choice for a centre three- quarter would be Gwyn Nicholls, “The Prince of them all.