Friday 26 June 2020

Willie Llewellyn the Tonypandy Legend Who Helped Wales Beat the All Blacks.

On the afternoon of Tuesday November 8th a large crowd of striking miners, who had assembled for a mass meeting on the Mid Rhondda Athletic Field, marched through the adjoining townships
Mounted police drive striking miners away from the
Glamorgan powerhouse.
of Trealaw and Tonypandy. The orderly and peaceful procession ended outside the powerhouse of the Glamorgan Colliery in Llwynypia. Inside the powerhouse is Leonard Llewellyn, general manager of the Cambrian Combine, and some 60 officials. Llewellyn refuses to meet with the miners and remains inside the building which is protected by Police Constable Lindsay and 99 officers. At some point Lindsay decides to clear the demonstrators using mounted police.
A ferocious and violent conflict erupts that lasts two hours as the strikers are driven back down the road to Tonypandy Square.
One collier is killed.

Boarded up shops in Tonypandy.
In Tonypandy itself shops are vandalised and looted. To this day the reasons for the "riots", and who exactly was responsible are disputed. However, the shopkeepers who suffered damage to their premises are agreed on one thing. Had the police not been concentrated on protecting the interests of the Cambrian Combine and the Glamorgan Powerhouse in particular there would have been more officers available to prevent the mayhem in Tonypandy.
Shops are hastily boarded up to ensure there is no further damage, with one exception. The premises of chemist and local hero Willie Morris Llewellyn has remained untouched.

William Morris Llewellyn was a Tonypandy boy through and through.  He was born in the Bridgend Hotel, situated in the centre of Tonypandy, to parents Howell and Catherine Llewellyn on Tuesday 1st January 1878
One of ten children Willie was fortunate not to have to follow the accepted and almost inevitable route taken by most of his contemporaries into the local pit. Owning a pub was obviously a lucrative occupation as it enabled Howell and Catherine to send three of their sons to the prestigious Christ College, Brecon. At the age of eleven Willie leaves home.

Jack Williams, 'Boxer' Harding, Willie Llewellyn and Teddy
Three other Christ College students, Arthur Flowers 'Boxer' Harding, Teddy Morgan, and John 'Scethrog' Williams, were destined to meet again on the hallowed turf of the Cardiff Arms Park in what many consider the greatest Welsh rugby test match of all. During his time at Brecon Willie also played for Llwynypia during the Christmas vacation. Upon returning home he was apprenticed to Mr W J Richards, a pharamcist whose premises were on Tonypandy Square. His parents had now moved to the Clydach Vale Hotel which became Willie's new home. Naturally enough he settled into the Llwynypia first team and was a member of the 'Invincibles' who completed the 1896-97 season unbeaten. In 1899, while playing for Llwynypia, he was awarded his first Welsh cap and thus took the first step on the road to rugby immortality.

W J Richards Chemists, Tonypandy Square
In 1900 he moved to London to study at the Pharmaceutical College in Bloomsbury and joined London Welsh Rugby Club where, as captain, he facilitated a rapid rise in their playing fortunes. On his return to Wales he spent four seasons at Newport. Announcing his intention to retire from international rugby, Llewellyn opted to join Penygraig. How this was received by his former team mates at Llwynypia can only be imagined! During the 1906-1907 season cup holders Penygraig played Llwynypia on the Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground. It was a close affair as reported by the Rhondda Leader:

“It was a keen struggle; also, it was a fine, spectacular treat. The cup-holders had their work cut out as Llwynypia were in excellent form, and “Peny” only narrowly averted defeat by a close margin. Willie Llewellyn was in fine form, and it was through the movement started by him that enabled Williams to score the only unconverted try of the game.”

When Llewellyn opened his pharmacy in Tonypandy around 1905/6, although only 5’4” in stature, he was already an established ‘giant’ of the game. His international debut against England in 1899 marked him as a special talent. Playing alongside Billy Bancroft and Gwyn Nicholls, Llewellyn ran in four tries. It was a feat that would remain unequalled for seventy years until, remarkably, another Rhondda (Ystrad) born winger replicated Llewellyn’s achievement against the same nation. Who says lightning does not strike twice in the same place?

In 1900, 1902 and 1905 Willie Llewellyn became an integral part of Wales’ Triple Crown winning sides. In 1904 he was selected to tour Australasia with the British Lions. He played all four tests against Australia scoring four tries in the first three.  But his, and Wales, greatest moment of glory was yet to come. On December 16th 1905, Wales faced the unbeaten might of the touring All Blacks at the Cardiff Arms Park while a nation held its breath. Llewellyn, now with Penygraig, had been selected despite criticism from some quarters that he was too old for the wing.

Wales V New Zealand 1905 – The Birth of a Legend

By 12’0 clock mid-day the Arms Park stands are already densely packed. Outside thousands of people struggle to gain entry. Cardiff has seen nothing like it. By 12.30 the packed mass of fans in the ‘shilling stands’ are swaying dangerously. A large contingent of police is on hand to help control the crowds but the atmosphere remains good natured as kick off is eagerly anticipated. The band strike up a medley of popular tunes and the crowd enthusiastically join in. The All Blacks, who had arrived on Thursday evening confessed afterwards that, regarding the atmosphere, “they had not breathed anything like it in any other part of the kingdom.”  In their eyes, this would be, “the stiffest and greatest battle of the tour.”  

By 1.30 the crowd has swelled to over 40,000. Those who pour down the valley from the Rhondda come not only in the hope of a Welsh victory but to support local heroes ‘Willie’ Llewellyn, Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones, native of Tynewydd, former Penygraig RFC player, Percy Bush and 'Boxer' Harding who has played several games for Llwynypia. For them 1905 has been the grimmest of years and they can be forgiven for believing they are due a measure of compensation from the Almighty. What they are about to witness is the birth of one of the great sporting rivalries that, to this day, is still shrouded in controversy.

The formidable 1905 All Blacks
Twenty minutes before kick-off a thick mist descends heightening the sense of drama and foreshadowing the disputed events that would soon unfold. The crowd hold their breath as they await the appearance of the mysterious men in black who have travelled half-way across the world to trample on the rugby fraternity of the United Kingdom. The mighty New Zealanders are the first to emerge through the swirling mist led by their captain D. Gallaher of Auckland. An eerie silence holds sway as the crowd are suddenly brought face to face with the enormity of the task confronting their heroes. Then a mighty roar, like the utterance of some primeval beast, bursts from the throats of forty thousand Welsh supporters as Gwyn Nicholls and his team race onto the paddock.

A respectful hush falls as the All Blacks perform their haka, a challenge to battle. The Welsh team and the whole of the stadium respond with a stirring rendition of “Hen Wlad fy Nhadau” led by Willie Llewellyn. The teams take their positions, Wales playing from the river end.  Hodges kicks off. The ball is fielded by centre three quarter M’Gregor, who promptly puts the ball into touch. A lifetime of rivalry is set in motion. It is Wales who strike first.

Wales win a line-out.
Mid way through the first half Nicholls finds touch on the New Zealand 25 line. Harding secures possession for Wales and from the ensuing lineout the ball is kicked forward giving Llewellyn a clear run at the line. He fumbles the curling ball and the opportunity is lost. The crowd groans. Perhaps his detractors had been right, and age has caught up with the great Welsh wing. Wales now have the upper hand but find the New Zealand defence resolute until one moment of Welsh wizardry changes everything.

The four Welsh players involved in the
winning try.
Ten minutes before half time Dicky Owen feints a pass to the blind side but instead throws to Pritchard supporting on his inside. Pritchard passes to Gabe who makes good ground before passing the ball to Teddy Morgan who takes the ball at full tilt and sprints across the New Zealand line. Try for Wales. The crowd erupts. Winfield fails to land the conversion. New Zealand respond fiercely and place Wales under severe pressure. A little too fierce for the referee’s liking when Owen is knocked unconscious during a melee. In keeping with the pantomime season, the crowd express their disapproval in a chorus of boos as the referee issues stern words to the men in black. A shaken Owen eventually gets to his feet and the game resumes. Shortly afterwards the referee blows for half time and everyone pauses to take breath before the resumption of hostilities.

The second half begins and a titanic struggle between the sets of forwards ensues. Having adapted their tactics to nullify New Zealand’s dominant scrum the Welsh forwards strive to lay the foundation for victory, but they are evenly matched. The Welsh pack are superbly supported by the accurate and lengthy kicking of full back H. B. Winfield and consequently enjoy a period of dominance. The New Zealand defence, however, is unyielding. A magnificent run by Wallace sees the New Zealand wing held in the corner just short of the Welsh line. The Welsh forwards repel the immediate threat, and during the fierce exchanges the New Zealand forward O’Sullivan is knocked out but recovers almost immediately. 

New Zealand are now winning most of the ball and a score for the visitors seems imminent. An elusive run and clearance by Percy Bush, briefly relieves the mounting pressure on the Welsh line. The Welsh threequarters are tacking like demons and none more so than Willie Llewellyn whose marking of the dangerous New Zealand wing Billy Wallace is later described as ‘ruthlessly impressive’. A bout of passing takes play to the Welsh try line but the last pass is deemed forward, and Wales survive. From the scrum Nicholls breaks through and fires a relieving touch that lands near the New Zealand 25. But New Zealand are determined to maintain their unbeaten record. Ten minutes from the end an incident occurs that lifts the game into the realms of ruby folklore.

A counter-attack by New Zealand is thwarted by desperate Welsh defence. Deans receives a pass from Wallace and swerves towards the Welsh goal convinced he is about to score the decisive try under the posts. Rhys Gabe hares across to make the tackle. Years later Gabe still vividly recalls the incident:
"It was then that Deans figured in the controversial "try" episode. Wallace, a superb runner on the wing, broke away. He was challenged by our wing, Willie Llewellyn, and passed inside for Deans to fasten on to the ball and burst for the line. It was a moment of high tension and I put all I knew into a sprinting effort to catch the flying All Blacks' centre. I came up with him going at tremendous speed and crashed him to the ground from the side. I knew it was touch and go whether I had managed to tackle him before he reached the line then, as I lay there gripping him firmly, I felt Deans trying to struggle away from me. Instinctively I clutched tighter. Then I realised why he wanted to wriggle on. He had not reached the line. He was just inches short. I pulled back with all my strength and then the whistle went. The referee had arrived on the spot, Deans was still in possession of the ball and our goal-line was just beyond his reach. There was no other real chance for the All Blacks.” 
Deans is convinced he crossed the line. Scottish referee John Dallas, although a full 30 yards behind the play, disagrees. In his opinion the ball was grounded 6” to 12” short of the Welsh line. It proves the last opportunity for New Zealand to salvage the game. When Dallas blows the whistle to signal the end of the encounter the crowd flood onto the pitch and carry their victorious heroes shoulder high from the field of battle. New Zealand captain Dave Gallaher is gracious in defeat declaring it a, “rattling good game, played out to the bitter end – the best team won”.


Jubilant Welsh fans stream from the stadium eager to relive the glorious victory in the pubs or by the fireside. In the chapels on Sunday it will no doubt be the main topic of conversation and may even get a mention from the pulpit. Those who have travelled down from Mid-Rhondda will soon be afforded the privilege of seeing national and local heroes ‘Willie’ Llewellyn and Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones grace the Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground. Llewellyn in the colours of Penygraig, as the cup holders overcome Llwynypia in a cup tie the following season. Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones’ appearance will have more significance for the Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground Committee. It will be instrumental in determining the next stage of the ground’s development as a major sporting venue. 

Llewellyn has proved his critics wrong, but time is no longer on his side. Apart from the occasional game with league champions Penygraig, he concentrates his energies on his business in Dunraven Street, Tonypandy. When interviewed by a reporter from the Rhondda Leader, the year following he offers this advice to young players:
     "I should certainly advise anyone who wishes to keep himself constantly fit to become a teetotaler and non-smoker, and to lead a clean life. For a three-quarter to keep in practice he should do any amount of sprinting with running pumps every day, if possible. If practicable, he should have a colleague, and practice giving and taking the ball at top speed, also doubling' an imaginary opponent, once to the left, and then to the right, or vice versa. 
     Another feature that should be cultivated is to pick the ball up When going at full tilt and getting in a kick as soon as possible. The player should endeavour to accomplish these two feats almost simultaneously, and essay at finding touch at the same time.
     Another useful practise I would advise is for two players to stand near the touch line, and kick to one another, each man making an effort at finding the touch line as far down the field as possible. This method will also provide practice in safely fielding the ball before it drops.  
     During a match, a wing three-quarter if the ball comes, in his direction, should endeavour to form a plan in his own mind of what he is going to do before the hall reaches him. He should essay at taking in the situation at a glance, and act immediately and promptly. There should be no hesitation, for the loss of a moment would allow the concentration of defence, and the effort will consequently be nullified.
     Never try to intercept unless well clear of your own lines, unless you have a good lead. Intercepting is always more or less risky. If one succeeds in the attempt, it is all right, but if failure follows, then invariably the whole of the defence is beaten by the one act.
     When tackling an opponent, go for about the hips, as strong and hard possible. Putting your whole strength in the tackle. If confronted by two attackers try to get the man with the ball, and the 'ball if possible, so as to prevent him passing to his confederate. If he succeeds in passing, then it is no fault of yours—you have done all that can be expected of you, for one can't do more than tackle one man.
     To captains, the best advice I can offer is always seek to find out the weakness of the other side. If it be the full-back, then the team should be instructed to play on him, and kick up to him at every opportunity, and not so much into touch. For, if unreliable, he will certainly be caught napping. Should the wing men be weak, then the same thing would apply.
     To wing men, my final advice is, save the forwards as much as possible by judicious kicking into touch."

I can imagine Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones and the rest of the Welsh forwards shouting a mighty ‘Amen’ to that last piece of advice from the man who blunted the brilliant attacking threat of New Zealand winger Billy Wallace. Willie Llewellyn will later become a founder member and secretary of the newly established Rhondda Golf Club whose president is the influential and ubiquitous Leonard Wilkinson Llewellyn.


I was brought up in Llwynypia and attended Llwynypia Primary but never remember being taught anything about local history, my own cultural heritage. Sadly so many children and adults living in Rhondda and other Welsh Valleys have little or no knowledge of their unique history. The collieries have long since disappeared along with many historic sites. In Tonypandy alone we have lost wonderful and irreplaceable buildings like the Central Hall, the Empire Theatre, Tonypandy Grammar and Primary school, the Llwynypia Library and a plethora of historic pubs and chapels built in a time that is fast fading from memory.

With foresight and vision many of these buildings could, and should have been preserved, not just as a monument to the past but as a means of attracting tourism to an area desperately in need of regeneration. Think what has been achieved in places like Llancaiach Fawr.
The Glamorgan Powerhouse, for example, is not just a site of local importance but given its central role in the fight for a minimum wage it has national and international significance. It stands a bleak testimony to how our heritage has been neglected. Now the Mid-Rhondda Athletic Ground that has witnessed great sporting occasions and been graced by the presence of legendary sportsmen like Willie Llewellyn, Dai 'Tarw' Jones, Percy Bush, 'Dally' Messenger, Jimmy Seed, Dai Collier, Maurice Richards and Lyn Baxter is under threat of housing development.

If you feel this remarkable and historic sporting venue should be preserved and developed for the local community for whom it was intended please sign the petition. Thank you.

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