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Your Club Your Lions: Pontypool RFC

Your Club Your Lions: Pontypool RFC

Imagine arriving for a club match and being confronted by The British & Irish Lions’ front row.

"To have your old buddies who you played with all the time alongside you was very special."

Imagine arriving for a club match and being confronted by The British & Irish Lions’ front row.

That was just the predicament that faced the opponents of Pontypool Rugby Club in the late 1970s, as the club’s ferocious pack terrorised all that stood in their path in south Wales and beyond.

During what was undeniably a golden era for the Lions, the touring sides would have taken a very different shape were it not for the men of Pontypool.

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The legendary south-Wales outfit had already produced the likes of Harry Jarman, Jack Jones, Malcolm Price, Clive Rowlands, and Ray Prosser – but under the stewardship of the latter, the ‘Pontypool Front Row’ was, without doubt, the club’s most famous export.

Immortalised in the song ‘Viet Gwent’ by Welsh comedian Max Boyce, the world famous trio of Charlie Faulkner, Bobby Windsor and Graham Price epitomised the Pontypool way and show why the club is such an important part of Lions history.

“It was a tremendous time, and thank God for Max Boyce! It was a nice feeling when he started it off and people would come along and sing it too,” recalls Windsor, a 1974 and 1977 Lion who played all four Tests on the Invincibles’ tour of South Africa, and went on to coach Pontypool in his retirement.

“It was a great honour, a little embarrassing of course, but it was nice. I’ve met him since but I did not know him before that so it was pretty tongue-in-cheek – and we never saw our cut from the song either!

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Pontypool's Lions are proudly remembered in the town museum (image with thanks to Torfaen Museum Trust at Pontypool Museum and Pontypool RFC)

“We all played at Pontypool under Ray Prosser, and the key thing was in those days that we were twice as fit as 90 per cent of the players we were up against.

“Whether we were playing club rugby, international rugby, or for the Lions, for the three of us it was always the same mindset in terms of what we were going to go out and try and do.

“As a front rower, to go on the Lions tour and have Charlie and Pricey either side of me was tremendous.

“Don’t get me wrong, I played with a lot of great props for the Lions – like Fran Cotton, Mike Burton, Sandy Carmichael and so on – but to have your old buddies who you played with all the time alongside you was very special.”

Faulkner, Windsor and Price first appeared as a unit in Pontypool colours on 5 September 1973, and from there packed down for Wales together 19 times, winning the Grand Slam twice and the Triple Crown three times.

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Charlie Faulkner and Graham Price turned out to launch the club's exhibit in Pontypool museum (image with thanks to Torfaen Museum Trust at Pontypool Museum and Pontypool RFC)

Not to be forgotten from that era however was Terry Cobner, another Lions great in the back row whose crowning moment in the famous red jersey was the must-win second Test in Christchurch, where his inspirational pregame words spurred the Lions on to a sensational 13-9 win.

But for the Lions’ Pontypool contingent, Cobner’s powerful leadership was nothing new as he captained the club for a record ten seasons, scoring 118 tries in 419 club appearances.

While the club has produced fewer Lions in recent years, after the 1977 Tour the likes of Jeff Squire, Staff Jones, and Eddie Butler all went on to play for the Lions in the 1980s.

But having initially arrived at the club from Cross Keys, Windsor is under no illusions that Pontypool’s golden generation achieved their success thanks to Prosser.

A Lion himself in 1959, after playing over 300 games for Pontypool in the second row Prosser coached the club between 1969 and 1987 for the most successful period in its history.

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Ray Prosser oversaw the golden era of talent for Pontypool (image with thanks to Torfaen Museum Trust at Pontypool Museum and Pontypool RFC)

He oversaw 900 matches with a success rate of over 71%, and the club were Welsh Club Champions on five occasions, won the Merit Table seven times and lifted the WRU Challenge Cup in 1983 – producing no fewer than seven Lions along the way.

“I started to get into the Wales side soon after I made my debut at Pontypool, and that was because of Ray Prosser setting me straight on some issues and he was always right,” remembers Windsor.

“We won the Merit Table twice, and got to keep the bowl after winning it three years running which is a favourite memory of mine.

“We only did all that because of Ray Prosser; he put Pontypool on the map.”

1908 – Tuan Jones
1908, 1910  – Jack Jones
1910  – Harry Jarman
1959  – Ray Prosser
1959  – Malcolm Price
1974, 1977 – Bobby Windsor
1977 – Charlie Faulkner
1977, 1980, 1983 – Graham Price
1977, 1980, 1983 – Jeff Squire
1977 – Terry Cobner
1983 – Staff Jones
1983 – Eddie Butler
1989 – Clive Rowlands (Tour manager)

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