Lions legend: Dr Jack Matthews

He may have only been 5ft 8in tall but Dr Jack Matthews was one of the biggest hitting Lions of all time. [more]

Lions legend: Dr Jack Matthews

He may have only been 5ft 8in tall but Dr Jack Matthews was one of the biggest hitting Lions of all time.

Highly respected by team-mates and opponents alike, Matthews was a prominent figure on the 1950 tour of Australia and New Zealand.

The Welsh centre wasn’t blessed in the height department but what he lacked in inches he more than made up for with an array of skills and a steely determination to succeed.

Matthews' defence was legendary. In a similar manner to that of his countryman Scott Gibbs, he tackled far above his weight and was perhaps the major reason why the 1950 Lions earned a reputation for their whole-hearted rearguard action as well as their silky running.

Matthews gained the ultimate respect of the New Zealand public who christened him 'Iron Man' in recognition of his destructive attributes and his brave nature. That nickname was more than appropriate considering Matthews' exploits off the pitch and inside the boxing ring.

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For eight years between 1947 and 1955, Rocky Marciano was the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World, yet Matthews more than held his own when the two faced each other at RAF St Athan in 1943. Marciano knocked out 43 of his 49 opponents during his unprecedented professional reign yet Matthews went the distance in a three-round amateur contest with the then 19-year-old GI, with no winner declared at the bell.

By the time of the 1950 Lions tour, Matthews was a 30-year-old veteran who would play in all six Test matches against the All Blacks and the Wallabies. He formed an instrumental centre pairing with fellow Welshman Bleddyn Williams, with whom he also played his domestic rugby for the highly successful Cardiff club. Matthews also captained the tourists when Williams and Karl Mullen were unavailable in provincial fixtures.

Thirty years after touring with the Lions as a player, Matthews earned his place in another Lions squad, this time as team doctor on the 1980 trip to South Africa.

Jack Matthews' OBE factfile

Date of birth: June 21,1920
Date of death: July 18, 2012
Clubs: Bridgend, Cardiff, Newport
International caps: Wales 17
Height: 5ft 8in (1.75m)
Weight: 15 stone (93kg)

Matthews' Lions lowdown

Lions debut: Versus Marlborough / Nelson / Golden Bay-Moutueka, May 10, 1950
Lions Tests: 6 (All four Tests vs NZ 1950, both Tests vs Aus 1950)
Lions non-Test appearances: 14
Total Lions appearances: 20
Lions points: 30* (six tries) *under the current scoring system of five points for a try
Final Lions appearance: Versus New South Wales XV, Newcastle, September 4, 1950

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Jack Matthews (left) with fellow Lion and centre partner the late Bleddyn Williams

Dr Jack Matthews on the 1950 tour

"The tour cost me a lot of money! I had to pay a locum doctor over £5,000 and we were given seven shillings a day expenses by the International Board. It wasn't very easy but my wife said, 'yes you can go'."

"I enjoyed the rugby and that was the main thing. I think it is the ultimate for any rugby player, whatever nationality – English, Irish, Welsh or Scottish.

"There was lots of training onboard the ship on the way over as two of the players, John Robins and Ken Jones, were PT officers. We also had lots of meetings together daily so there was a good bond."

On playing for Cardiff and with fellow Welsh Lion Bleddyn Williams

"We had a great post-war side with Cardiff. Our home gate was 35,000, that was the average. Cardiff soccer were in the first division then and we were getting more than them.

"Bleddyn and I had been playing together since 1938 and we've been friends ever since."

On the 1980 tour to South Africa

"I was the team doctor for the Lions in 1980, the first time they'd ever taken one. Bill Beaumont was captain and Syd Millar was manager.

"There was a tremendous amount of injuries and there weren't many games where we had 15 men on the field. It was hard work."

Dr Jack Matthews: what they said after his death last July

WRU president Dennis Gethin

"He will go down in Welsh rugby history as one of the greatest ever. He was renowned for his devastating tackling, not just in Wales but around the world.

"His partnership with Bleddyn Williams was the stuff of legend."

Former Wales and Lions coach John Dawes

"Of course Jack and Bleddyn set the world alight when they played together. That was my first recollection of Jack as a player.

"Swash-buckling, uncompromising, devastating are all such words to describe him…powerful and aggressive.

"He took no prisoners yet was skilful and an international of some class."

Former Wales and Lions full back JPR Williams

"He was a great friend of my father's, they went to medical school together and my father used to play outside of Jack on the wing.

"We used to call him 'uncle Jack' and he gave me my first ever rugby ball, I remember it being a heavy leather one.

"He was a bit before my time as a player but my father would speak about him and he was renowned as a hard tackler.

"Jack was also an excellent boxer and anyone who goes three rounds with Rocky Marciano must have been tough. He will go down in folklore as one of Wales' all-time greats."

Cardiff Blues chairman Peter Thomas

"Jack Matthews was undoubtedly one of the greatest centres Wales has ever produced and formed a formidable centre partnership with his great friend Bleddyn Williams.

"He was a strong runner, a devastating tackler and showed his class not only for Cardiff but also for Wales and the Lions.”

Cardiff Medicals RFC coach Huw Davies

"We were obviously very proud to have Dr Jack as one of our own. Jack and Bleddyn were a great double act. It was inspirational for the modern students to sit in the company of two of our really, truly great players."

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