Gareth Griffiths

He may not have been included in the original touring party for the 1955 series against the Springboks, but Gareth Griffiths certainly played his part once he arrived in South Africa. [more]

Gareth Griffiths

He may not have been included in the original touring party for the 1955 series against the Springboks, but Gareth Griffiths certainly played his part once he arrived in South Africa.

It was a case of better late than never for the then 23-year-old Welsh three quarter as he joined up with the rest of the party just under a month into the tour.

Griffiths missed the first nine games but went on to feature in 11 of the remaining 15 fixtures, including the second, third and fourth Tests.

His versatility saw him play full back, centre and wing during the tour, with his Test appearances coming in the No11 and No14 shirts.

Just two months prior to achieving the ultimate honour in British and Irish rugby, Griffiths had been making a similar mark on the athletics track when he represented Wales in an international meet against England.

The Cardiff player finished fourth in the 100-yard dash as he demonstrated the kind of pace that would prove so effective on the hard grounds of South Africa.

A teacher by profession, Griffiths came from a large rugby-playing family and went on to win 12 caps for his country over a four-year period between 1953 and 1957.

Gareth Griffiths’ factfile

Date of birth: November 27 1931
Club: Cardiff
International caps: Wales 12

Griffiths’ Lions lowdown

Lions debut: Versus Transvaal, July 23, 1955
Lions Tests: 3 (2nd, 3rd and 4th Tests in1955)
Lions non-Test appearances: 8
Total Lions appearances: 11
Lions points: 15* (three tries) *under the current scoring system of five points for a try
Final Lions appearance: Versus East Africa, Nairobi, September 27, 1955

Gareth Griffiths (left) with fellow 1955 Lions in Cardiff this September

On a late call up

"I wasn’t selected to start with but, happily, they sent for me within about three weeks.

"In many ways, the ball bounced at the right time then. They’d had a number of injuries and I seem to remember playing a lot of games on the trot, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday. I played close to three games a week for four weeks.

"I was a sprinter so I could play wing, centre or full back because I could run and catch a ball, and I wasn’t a bad kicker either."

On divine intervention and a welcome lift

"The trip for me was by aeroplane: Cardiff to France then France to halfway down Africa. A vicar from the Rhondda was out there and he took a day off to come and meet me at the airport.2

On the chance of a lifetime

"We were there for four months and it was still the best holiday I ever had. In many ways, it was four months of a lifetime really.

"I haven’t thought about it for a long time but it was a bit special, and it still is.

"I think it still is the ultimate dream. To play for the British and Irish Lions, was for a long time, the zenith.

"If I think about it, it seems like it was big show and I was an actor. That’s the best thing I can say I suppose and it was marvellous."

The versatile Griffiths played in three of the four Tests in 1955

On teaching a lot and learning even more

"Because I was a teacher, probably three days out of five, I would talk at one school or another. I’d often go to the start of the morning’s prayer meeting, then maybe talk to the sixth formers and then talk to the rugby players, and they all seemed to be rugby players in South Africa!

"In many ways, it was an education for me. I couldn’t speak Afrikaans – I could speak Welsh and English but Afrikaans was a bit beyond me. It was just a marvellous educational development of the right sort."

On the cost of touring

"We didn’t used to get paid but we used to get pocket money, so I actually brought money back with me. I was a teacher and, in fairness, the Rhondda Grammar School paid for me while I was out there so I didn’t lose anything."

Griffiths (left) with Lions and Wales colleague Bryn Meredith

On the standard of rugby

"The rugby was great. I think it was the toughest rugby I’d ever played.

"A lot of those South Africans were farmers and were very tall and strong. Their forwards were better than our forwards, I think, because of their background. I think we had the better three-quarter line because we could all sprint a bit and we played fairly regularly.

"It was two-all at the end – we won two and they won two – but it was like a dream in many ways."

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