Delighted to be able to publish an interview conducted with Bleddyn Bowen. As a player he was a silky, polished footballer, underrated by many. Bleddyn was captain of Wales during the Triple Crown campaign in 1988 and played with many great players through a great rugby career.
Here are the questions posed to Bleddyn and is fantastic responses to those questions.
Q1. Lets start with your childhood. How did you get into rugby?
Answer- Growing up in a small mining village in the Swansea Valley named Trebanos where rugby was a religion and living just a stone throw away from the ground, I spent my childhood following Trebanos RFC . Also, with the success of the Welsh Rugby team and the British Lions during that era, I wanted to emulate these people and play rugby.
Q2. You started your senior rugby career with South Wales Police, which I remember in the 1980's and 1990's as a very good side What are your memories of playing for the Police ?
Answer- My first ever senior game was for Trebanos RFC at 17 years of age, followed by some games for both Neath and Swansea RFC.
Whilst playing Youth rugby for Trebanos, I got selected to tour South Africa in 1980 for Wales Youth and the coach for that team was an ex-Police Inspector named Ian Hall, who had played for both Aberavon and centre for Wales. On this tour we both discussed the opportunity of me joining the South Wales Police as a career.
On returning home I applied and got accepted to join the force along with some other players in that Welsh Youth team and other up and coming rugby players .I played for the South Wales Police during the 1980's and we had a decent side, playing alongside other internationals like Martyn Morris , Richie Collins, Steve Sutton, Mark Perego, Phil Davies, Richie Donavan, Huw Williams-Jones, John Wakeford and other good first class players.
I really enjoyed playing during this time and had a hugely supportive Chief Constable in David East, who subsequently served as the secretary of the WRU for a short time. I played my best rugby for the police and one could say we were semi- professional at that time due to the fact we were taking a salary in the job and playing rugby against the best teams in Wales and England !!!
Having been selected to represent Wales during this period and playing in front of large crowds I missed this adrenalin buzz, as playing at home in Waterton Cross we lacked home support and the away teams would have more supporters than ourselves !!! I left the police force after the 1988 tour to New Zealand and joined Swansea RFC. Unfortunately as a rugby move it didn't work out due to injuries, but I have no regrets as on a business term it worked out well.
Q3. When did you realise your ability as a rugby player and that international honours could beckon?
Answer- I attended Cwmtawe School in Pontardawe from the age of 11 until 18 and during this time I came under the coaching guidance of some excellent PE teachers i.e. Gwyn Lewis, Gethin Edwards and Geoff Davies and absolutely loved playing for the school teams.
I was selected as a replacement for the Welsh Secondary Schools two years younger than my age group and played that year for West Glamorgan against the Australian Schools, which included the Ella brothers, so I realised at that time that I could be good enough to go on and play senior rugby .
Q4. Throughout your international career you seemed to move a lot between fly half and centre. Which position did you prefer?
Answer- My preferred position was without doubt outside half, but I played most of my international career at centre.
Q5. You made your international debut in 1983 for Wales in Romania .What is your recollection of your first cap and the trip to at that time an eastern bloc country?
Answer- Yes my first international game was v Romania in 1983 along with other notable debutants i.e. Adrian Hadley, Mark Titley, Ray Giles, Mark Brown and Terry Shaw, and we lost badly to a very powerful Romanian team. Unfortunately due to difficult political issues in Romania under Nicolae Ceausecu in the 80's, a number of their side were killed in the revolution.
Q6..You played regularly for Wales through the mid 1980's and in 1986 toured the Pacific Islands. What is your memories of that tour?
Answer- The South Sea Islands tour to the Pacific Islands in 1986 was an enjoyable experience. We played Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa and won all the test matches. The rugby on this tour was very physical and competitive as the opposing teams were powerful and talented and it was the Samoa game which I first played against Michael Jones who went on to play for New Zealand.
Q7. In 1987 you were selected to played in the inaugural Rugby World Cup, where Wales finished third. A great achievement . What was it like being part of the first ever World Cup?
Answer- In 1987 I represented Wales in the inaugural World Cup which was a wonderful occasion where we finished third which was a great achievement with a win against Australia in a third/fourth play- off game in Rotorua. We had played New Zealand in the semi- final and lost to a side which in my opinion were the best ever amateur rugby team ever. Unfortunately I wasn't fully fit during this competition and struggled with a persistent hamstring injury.
Q8.In 1988 you were given the honour of being named captain of Wales and the Five Nations that season you led Wales to the Triple Crown. What is it like to lead your country?
Answer- As a rugby player I think the highest honour that can be bestowed upon oneself is the one of captaining your country and I had that honour in 1988.
As a young boy player I never ever dreamed about captaining my country in rugby, as my goal was to play for your country and follow it the footsteps of the great players that had played before. It was without doubt my proudest moment as a rugby player and to lead the 1988 team to the Triple Crown that year was special, although I was bitterly disappointed to lose the decider Grand Slam game to France at Cardiff by a point, as we were the better team on that day.
Q9.As we know, in the 1980's into the 1990's a number of players left rugby union to play rugby league . Do you look back at that period with so many class players leaving and wonder what that period could have looked like for Wales if those players stayed?
Answer- Following on from our Five Nations success in 1988 we toured New Zealand and it felt when we arrived on their shores it wasn't a fair playing field, as a number of their players were basically full time rugby players, devoting all their time to physical fitness and team preparation. All our players had full time jobs back home and were not physically prepared as they were, however as I mentioned earlier they were a phenomenal team and a few of their provinces would have beaten most international sides during this time.
We also suffered a number of unfortunate injuries to key personnel including myself early on the tour who had to travel home. When the team returned home after that tour the both coaches i.e. Tony Gray and Derek Quinell left their positions and a new coach was appointed for the following season in John Ryan, and I realised then that my international career was numbered.
Again, we played Romania at home where I was a replacement and unfortunately lost that game and as a result the rugby league scouts persuaded the core of that team i.e. Jonathan Davies, John Devereux, Adrian Hadley, Paul Moriarty , Stuart Evans and Mark Jones to sign professional contracts with various rugby league teams. This left a huge gap in the cream of the best talent leaving the Welsh game to secure their financial futures and which we never recovered until the union game went professional in 1995.
Q10.In the games that you played, if you had to pick one as your most memorable what would it be ?
Answer- My most memorable game for Wales would have to be in Dublin in 1988 where I lead the team to the Triple Crown for the first time for 10 years.
Q11. Who was the best player you played with and against
Answer- The best player I played with was Jonathan Davies and against was John Kirwan.
Jonathan had exceptional pace with or without ball in hand. He could maintain his pace over 25 yards or 100 yards. He had a great hand off and wouldn't lose his balance and would gain pace as a result of his hand off which is an art. He had a great side step, was a good tackler for an outside half and had a good right foot. He had an amazing awareness of space around him which he would attack as a result of his searing pace off the mark. He was the ultimate competitor and unfortunately he probably played his best rugby in league.
I played against John Kirwan only once in the semi- final of the 1987 World Cup and that was enough !!! I felt pound for pound he was the toughest opponent I played against, as he appeared to have this phenomenal strength each time I attempted to tackle him, which I had never experienced with any other player. He had pace to burn and was also the worst guy to play against verbally and physically as I witnessed first- hand and the impact he had on New Zealand winning the inaugural 1987 World Cup was huge.
Q12. What was the best rugby ground you played and why?
Answer- My favourite international ground was Twickenham as I enjoyed success there in 1984 and 1988 and scored a try there in 1986.
Q13 Who was the best rugby coached you played under and why?
Answer- The best coach I played under was John Bevan, as he firstly had been there and done it and I think that helps. He always encouraged firstly attacking play and to score tries, as that what the game is primary about.
He was tactically very astute and consistently challenged you to what you thought should be done in different game and field positions in training, but to never forget that firstly you played what was in front of you. He also made you feel that you were superior than your opposition number and reminded you of that leading up to games .He also emphasised that you were selected because of your performance for your club and continue to do these good things on the international field.
Q14. Finally can you name the best players you played with and against by position?
Bleddyn Bowen XV
15. Serge Blanco
14. Ieuan Evans
13. Phillipe Sella
12. Joe Stanley
11. John Kirwan
10. Jonathan Davies
9. Terry Holmes
8. Wayne Shelford
7. Michael Jones
6. Jon Hall
5. Robert Norster
4. Gary Whetton
3. Pascal Ondarts
2. Daniel Dubroca
1. Steve McDowell
Many thanks to Bleddyn for putting time aside for this interview and taking us through his fantastic rugby career.