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WILFRED WOOLLER

   

The giant of Welsh rugby in the Thirties was the tall, long-striding threequarter, Wilf Wooller. A native of Rhos-on-Sea in north Wales, where he was educated at Rydal School and originally played in the back-row, he made such an impact on the selectors whilst playing as a schoolboy centre for Sale that they drafted him into the final international trial side in the New Year of 1933.

                On his first appearance in senior rugby in south Wales he starred in the centre for the Possibles in a side that included Vivian Jenkins, Harry Bowcott and Maurice Turnbull. The junior side surprised everyone, winning 15-6 at Swansea, but the selectors, unsure of their best combination, insisted on Jenkins and Wooller turning out one more time, for Glamorgan against Monmouthshire on the Thursday of the following week, before making their final selection.

                “Wooller”, it was reported in The Times, “was the first to distinguish himself, his long, raking stride carrying him from his own 25 almost as far as his opponents’. It was an impressive [70-yards] run . . . and ended in a great try.” He scored two tries, Glamorgan won 23-8 and later the same evening Wooller, along with Jenkins, Bowcott and Turnbull, was in the Welsh side to play England at Twickenham in January 1933. He learnt of his selection whilst motoring home with his father after the match. They stopped at a garage to fill up with petrol and were told the latest news by the pump attendant.

                Much was expected of the young 20-year-old who, in order to qualify for his place at Christ’s College, Cambridge, had returned to school to study Latin. The press had already likened him to another great Welsh centre of an earlier age, Gwyn Nicholls, and on the morning of the Twickenham game Owen L Owen in The Times continued to wax lyrical: “So far, [Wooller] has exceeded all expectations. His passing is beautifully timed and balanced, even when he runs up to the man and takes the bump.”

 

 ENGLAND v WALES 1933 - Match winner Ronnie Boon, who's dropped goal and try won the day for Wales describes Wilf's match winning tackle in an interview in The Times (2/2/83).

"Wilf however, who had had a good game was soon to prove what an exciting player he was. Wales were dominant now , but suddenly England gave us a terrible shock. The ball materialized with Elliot between the 25 and the half way line and he broke clear with no one to stop him. Then out of the blue came Wilf Wooller, only 18 and playing his first game for Wales, who started to chase him. Imagine the scene the stands full of Englishmen on their feet cheering madly, and the banks behind the posts lined with stunned Welshmen seeing a great victory about to slip away from them. Elliot would have touched down under the crossbar. Then Wilf this tall young man with his long sprinter's strides imperceptibly at first, and then noticeably and with great increasing velocity, closed the gap and brought Elliot crashing down near the Welsh line. Wilf undoubtedly saved the game for us."

                

Wilf on the far right about to meet the Prince of Wales 

The 6’ 2” Wooller proved the press and selectors’ faith in him, playing a strong defensive role in the team that, at the tenth attempt, finally managed its first win at Twickenham. He had alongside him in the centre that day his Sale partner Claud Davey, whose tackling was the perfect foil to Wooller’s abrasive running and siege-gun kicking. He was an ever-present in the Welsh side that year, though the promise of Twickenham quickly evaporated into defeats for Wales at Swansea (against Scotland) and in Belfast.

                And that was the end of Wooller’s Welsh rugby for nearly two years. Going up to Cambridge in October 1933 he duly won the first of his three rugby Blues, playing at the shoulder of another great Welsh player, Cliff Jones. Curiously he was omitted from the Welsh trials that autumn and missed all of Wales’s three internationals in 1934. Then a brilliant performance for the Cambridge side that routed Oxford 29-4 in December 1934, when Wooller dropped a goal from just inside his own half, brought him sharply back into the focus of the Welsh selectors. “That dropped goal pitched in the upper deck of Twickenham’s North Stand,” he once reckoned.

                When Idwal Rees withdrew from the Probables in the final trial the same month, Wooller was reinstated and returned to the international side in January 1935. He was the mainstay of the side thereafter and missed only one match (through injury) up to the outbreak of the war.

                

 

It was during his Cambridge and Cardiff days that the best was seen of him, playing alongside the will-o’-the-wisp fly half, Cliff Jones. Wooller could win matches with wonderfully creative play, often scoring near-impossible tries or kicking towering goals. Yet he could also save apparently certain tries by delivering the most lethal of crash tackles.  

                 Even so, it was his sheer determination and never-say-die attitude that helped Wales to its most famous victory of his era, against New Zealand in 1935. With Wales trailing 12-10 and a man short, Wooller’s opportunism led to the thrilling late winning try. He made the carefully-judged kick ahead that deceived the All Blacks and allowed Geoffrey Rees-Jones in for the decisive score. The move was practically a carbon-copy of one involving the same players earlier in the match and which led to Wales’s second try.

  

                

 

 

 

 

 

                The Daily Telegraph’s Howard Marshall, the leading critic of the day, described Wooller’s rugby talents as “like the sacrificial car of Juggernaut, leaving a trail of prostrate figures in his wake.”

                Wooller captained Wales in 1939, but it was in the Middlesex Sevens of that year that he achieved what he considered a highlight of his rugby-playing careeer: leading Cardiff, as the guest side, to victory in the annual Middlesex Sevens. “Six of us had never played sevens before,” he said many years later. He was still in his prime when the outbreak of war effectively brought his international rugby career to an end. He was commissioned into the Royal Artillery serving with the 77th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, but managed to figure prominently in many of the popular war-time charity internationals staged in 1939-40.

                

                 All that was missing from his otherwise impeccable rugby cv was a place on a Lions tour. In 1938 he was invited to make the visit to South Africa with Sammy Walker’s tourists, but business commitments with a Cardiff company prevented him from accepting. On the firm pitches of the veldt he would have been a sight to behold.

                After coming down from Cambridge in 1935 he had entered the coal trade that flourished in Cardiff Docks working for the business tycoon Sir Herbert Merrett. Wooller could not afford to take unpaid leave for the duration of a major tour.

                .Still, if one door closed another opened, for in mid-June of that summer he made his Glamorgan debut taking 5-90 at Cardiff Arms Park on the opening day of the Championship match against Yorkshire. He played cricket as part of his annual paid leave. Later his cricketing commitments would prevent him from covering a Lions tour as a critic. It was one of the few regrets he had in a career that otherwise brought him complete fulfilment.

                His last international rugby appearance was at the Parc-des-Princes in February 1940 when a British Army side, playing exhilarating rugby, demolished France 36-3. Wooller scored a hat-trick of tries in a game that marked France’s rehabilitation as an international rugby force, the Tricolores having been banished from competition with the Home Unions in 1931.

The British Army team that thrashed France

                In 1942, he was captured by the Japanese at Java and imprisoned at Changi jail for the rest of the war. In The Skipper, Dr Andrew Hignell’s biography of Wooller, the former p.o.w. told of the physical and mental toughness he needed to survive that horrendous ordeal. “If I was to get anywhere, I’d have to achieve it myself by sheer drive and force.”

                These were qualities that the remarkable prisoner showed he had by the bucketload. He successfully bartered for a strip of land in which he was able to grow bananas. “The skins were an important source of fibre,” he said. He survived, returned to Cardiff the shadow of the physical giant who had put the wind up the All Blacks, and after one post-war appearance for Cardiff never again played rugby.

                During the war he had married Lady Gillian Windsor-Clive, but the marriage was dissolved shortly after his return to Britain. He married Enid James in 1948, the start of a long and happy family life that accelerated his physical recovery. He had resumed the county cricket career that had flourished before the war, when he had also won two cricket Blues at Cambridge, and quickly established himself as an all-rounder with leadership potential at Glamorgan.

                He succeeded Johnnie Clay as the county’s captain in 1947 and led the Welsh county to its inaugural County Championship title in 1948. He finally stood down as captain in 1960 and played his last match two years later, but remained a strong influence on Glamorgan cricket, serving as secretary until 1977. Later he was their president. A true-blue amateur, he brought a thoroughly professional approach to his cricket and was highly respected as an England selector between 1955 and 1961 during Peter May’s successful captaincy.

                Cricket is a game that reveals much about character and many of the incidents that Wooller was involved in illuminated his determination to win and his larger-than-life presence. Whether true or apocryphal, the stories about his antics on the cricket field convey his hatred of losing and the barracking he could give batsmen. The same Peter May allegedly once took umbrage when Wooller ran him out backing up before the bowler had released the ball during a County Championship match with Surrey.

                May enquired politely: “Isn’t it customary to give the batsman a warning?”
                “Not in Swansea,” replied Wooller.

                Tom Graveney was another fine England batsman who was once sent packing by a typical Woollerism after knocking Glamorgan around. “That was the worst double-hundred I’ve ever seen Tom,” he declared in his stentorian voice as Graveney, no doubt feeling quite pleased with himself, headed back to the pavilion.

                Another dispute at Swansea, when Wooller was secretary, has been well documented. He became so annoyed by Brian Close's captaincy during a Somerset match at St Helen’s in 1972 that he announced over the tannoy: “In view of Somerset's negative approach, we are happy to refund the admission money of any spectator who wishes to call at the county office.”

                He ruled Glamorgan with an iron fist; there were never any velvet gloves around when Wooller was present. Some players, even on his own side, were intimidated by his overbearing manner; others – usually opponents – resented it. But his heart was always in the right place and he put Glamorgan cricket on the national map. Vivian Jenkins, his old rugby and cricket friend, recalled that Wilf was always the first to buy the opposition a pint afterwards, no matter how heated the cut and thrust of the game had been. Superficially he could appear brash and arrogant; inside he was shy and modest.

                It was a view corroborated by JBG Thomas, who referred to him as “The Godfather of Glamorgan Cricket”. Thomas worked closely with Wooller as a journalistic colleague in the rugby season and reported Glamorgan cricket in the summers. Thomas described him as enigmatic. “To those who know him well [he] is, deep down, a shy and kindly man, far more retiring in manner than his public image would suggest.”

                A compelling figure, Wooller was an outspoken broadcaster as well as a trenchant critic for the now defunct News Chronicle after the war. Years later, on Welsh Sports Parade, a Monday evening sports magazine put out by BBC Wales television, he once very publicly took to task a well-known Wales wing threequarter who had missed a try-scoring pass in a losing international. Arguments and disagreements were frequent, though there was never any lasting malice.

                His observations on sport, perceptive and provocative but always honest, continued to entertain readers, listeners and viewers in Wales. He spoke with enthusiasm and a depth of knowledge. One of his most memorable outside broadcasts came from St Helen’s on a lazy Swansea afternoon in the late summer of 1968 when cricket history was made by Garry Sobers. Playing for Nottinghamshire, the former West Indies’ captain knocked six sixes off a Malcolm Nash over while Wooller was at the microphone.

                He campaigned vigorously in support of sporting relations with South Africa at the time of the anti-apartheid demonstrations against the rugby and cricket tours in 1970. He argued that politics should not relate to sport. He was blithely scornful of the views of sports ministers – Conservative and Labour – and told the Archbishop of Wales that supporting demonstrators was disgraceful. He sent the cleric off with a flea in his ear: “It’s time the Church confined itself to the spiritual matters I find sadly lacking in these permissive times.”

                Wooller never backed down and never bowed to political correctness. Even as a pensioner on the Cardiff crown-green bowls circuit his combative spirit, by all accounts, was still to the fore. He relished challenges. How he would have loved 21st-Century Britain! Once, though, he was completely disarmed by bureaucracy gone mad.

                In 1961, when the Sunday Telegraph launched as a national broadsheet competitor to The Observer and Sunday Times, Wooller was installed to comment on rugby and cricket. He became the backbone of the newspaper’s sports pages.

                In late October 1973 their correspondent was due to do a weekend report of the Cardiff v Cambridge University rugby match – his two former clubs as it happened. He was denied entry to the Arms Park. An officious steward who knew Wooller well demanded to see his press pass. He didn’t have it. His column the next day was hilarious.

                “I must admit that as I know most stewards and committee men on most of the grounds in Wales I thought this joker was joking, but as I moved to enter [the steward] forcibly stopped me assisted by another gateman. So, not having a pass I quitted the premises, a sadder and perhaps wiser man.”

                “The irony of the situation later struck me. I joined Cardiff as a player in 1936, then as a serving soldier after the committee had closed down the club accounts I captained and rallied the team and before the end of the [1939-40] season we had handed many thousands of pounds to war charities before the timid committee came back to take over.”

                “After the war I served the club as a committee man. In short, a serving, fully paid up member for 38 years, a paid up member of the NUJ, but still rudely stopped watching Cardiff play Cambridge, for whom I played in 1933-34-35: the two clubs in my life, in fact.”

                “Prominent old Cardiff players have often growled about the bureaucratic set up in the club, several stay clear because the better they were as a player the less they felt welcome; but personally this is the first time I have seen it in action.”

                “The next time I approach the holy of holies I shall take my prayer mat, kill a fatted calf, crawl in on my knees and ask to be pardoned. I am sure that splendid rugby committee will consider my case favourably if I bow low enough.”

                It was pure Wooller.

                

Haydn Tanner

 

For all the great rugby players he played with or watched he always maintained that Haydn Tanner was the nearest to perfection. Back in January 1935, when Wooller was rehabilitated in the Welsh side, he had played for the Probables against the 17˝-year-old schoolboy scrum-half in a final Trial in front of 30,000 at Swansea.

                Wooller was immediately impressed by the Swansea teenager. “The Welsh selectors were in a dilemma. They wanted to play Maurice Turnbull but he was outplayed by Tanner in the trial. When the side to face England was announced, the Big Five had A N Other at scrum-half. The weekend before the international Cardiff played Swansea at the Arms Park. But the selectors felt Tanner was too young and Turnbull not good enough, so turned to the veteran Wick Powell, who was then playing at Northampton,” he remembered many years later.

                “Tuppy” Owen-Smith, the Oxford and England full back and South African Test cricketer was another admired by Wooller. Owen-Smith’s defence won the 1933 Varsity match for Oxford, when Wooller won his first Blue, and his ankle-tap on the Welshman at Swansea in the 1936 Wales-England international robbed Wooller of a try that would have led to a Triple Crown.

                Among the post-war generation he rated Cliff Morgan, Barry John and Gareth Edwards among the greatest rugby players he had seen and reckoned big Rhys Williams of Llanelli was the most intelligent hard-core forward of the post-war generations.

                His favourite match was the 1967 Wales-England encounter when Keith Jarrett, a teenager playing out-of-position at full back, scored 19 points to deny England the Triple Crown. Wales won by the then staggering scoreline of 34-21. In Wooller’s five appearances for Wales against England in the thirties the two sides accumulated only 26 points.

                “This spectacle, to one who had fought England over dour 80-minute periods, was something one could not quite believe,” he told readers. “The pace was as hot as the [spring] weather and it never let up for an instant of the 80-odd packed minutes of movement. Spectators at this memorable contest will no doubt forget the score, if not the broad outlines of the game, but I doubt very much whether any single individual present will ever forget Jarrett’s superb try in all its glorious technicolour. And the strangest thing of all is that happened in a game between England and Wales”

                Like his press-box contemporaries Vivian Jenkins and JBG Thomas he championed the introduction of the differential penalty and increasing the value of the try. He was a vigorous campaigner for players to join rucks and mauls from their own side and wanted referees to police more strictly the ten-metre offside lines at set-pieces. One of his quirkier suggestions for reducing the power of the penalty goal was to narrow the goalposts by a metre.

                Welsh sport’s man for all seasons – he had even played centre forward for Cardiff City in 1939 and was a squash international – died in his sleep in March 1997, aged 84. Among the many tributes paid, Sir Tasker Watkins VC, president of the Welsh Rugby Union, said Wooller was “one of the greatest sportsmen Wales has ever produced, indeed there is any amount of evidence to suggest that he was the greatest of them all.”

Born: 20 November 1912   Died: 10 March 1997

Rugby - Rydal School, Sale, Cardiff, Cambridge Uni, The Army, Barbarians & Wales.

Cricket - Cambridge University, Denbighshire & Glamorgan.

Soccer - Cardiff City

Squash - Wales

Hockey - ????

International Rugby Debut: v England, 21 January 1933

Wales international rugby career: 1933 E, S, I, 1935 E, S, I, NZ, 1936 E, S, I, 1937 E, S, I, 1938  S, I, 1939 E, S, I

Caps: 18 Points: 26

 

THE BOOKS OF WILF WOOLLER

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Wickets, Tries & Goals (1949)

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Fifty Years of the All Blacks (1954)

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THE MEMORABILIA OF WILF WOOLER

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Wilf Wooller's father's programme, on the cover he has written "THE day !" and inside across the top "I was terribly nervous - in sympathy I suppose ! - The Prince came to the obvious delight of the Crowd - The Game was not brilliant - but full of excitement particularly as Wilf provided the major thrill of the afternoon. This major thrill probably relates to Wilf's chasing down and tackling the English fly half Elliot who was clear with the Welsh try line beckoning. (WRM-0272-0271)

      

Wilf Wooller's post match menu card, signed by several players including match winner Ronnie Boon, Claude Davey, young Wooller, Hary Bowcott and all rounder Maurice Turnbull who like Wooller represented  Glamorgan at cricket and Wales at both hockey and squash.   (WRM-0265) 

 

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Cliff Jones, pictured in his Cambridge University blazer, one of Wales ’ great outside halves of the 1930s, He served as a selector 1956 – 1978 and as WRU President in the centenary year 1981. This photo is dedicated 'to Wilfred (Wooller). "In memory of Rugger Seasons 1933-6 and with infinite gratitude for all you have done for me on and off the field" Clifford March 1st 1936.    (WRM-0289)  

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CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY TOUR OF AMERICA 1934

   

  

Matches were played against Harvard, Princeton, Yale and an All Eastern XV. Cambridge won each match quite easily. The tourists were captained by Jack Leather, son of Jumbo Leather (England 1 cap 1907). This is a  softcover book, measuring 40cm x 28cm, 57 pages have additions, there are a lot of newspaper cuttings, all related to the tour and also included is a copy of a match programme for the Harvard match. This programme contains pen pictures of the players and a photo of the Cambridge team as well as details of the Harvard team and some interesting articles on the development of rugby in the States. Typed scores of each match have been neatly added on labels opposite the match cuttings. Press photos include Cliff Jones being carried from the field. Towards the rear of the book are some personal mementos, including postcards, Empire State Building etc & postcards, There are approx 20 original photographs, including match photos, training and on board ship, 2 group photos have been taken by the ships professional photographer (RMS Berengaria). Three autographed on board dinner menus round off this great book. The first is signed by an England ladies hockey team (15 signatures) who were also on board the Berengaria, the second is signed by the Cambridge tour party (21 in total including AM (under the posts) Rees (Welsh International, 13 caps), Jackie Bowcott, brother of British Lion Harry, Ken Fyfe (Scotland, 10 caps) and the great Cliff Jones (13 Welsh caps). The final menu is from the farewell dinner on board ship, lot's of nice quips by the team added including signatures. An excellent record of this ground breaking varsity tour.
 

MISC CUTTINGS AND PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THIS SCRAPBOOK

  

Relaxing on board the RMS Berengaria during the journey across the Atlantic

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Tour preview by Paul Gardner (NY American, Staff Writer)
  
47.jpg (269094 bytes) Welcome to the USA by President Franklin D Roosevelt
  
45.jpg (368833 bytes) Newspaper cartoon featuring Gertie Goalpost & Joe Rush, two American Football supporters who struggle to get to grips with the terminology of rugby union. 
 
44.jpg (511197 bytes) Jolly Old Hand Off cartoon by Burris Jenkins Jr - a look at the difference between American football and rugby.  
  
  43.jpg (167373 bytes) Report for the first match against Harvard, the visitors win 41 - 18 but fly-half Cliff Jones breaks an ankle. 
  

42.jpg (137922 bytes) WG Johnston the Cambridge right wing on his way to touch down after a 65 yard run, the try was disallowed because of a forward pass.  
  
41.jpg (105227 bytes) Cliff Jones is helped from the field by a players from both teams. 
 40.jpg (305410 bytes) An article suggesting that tour organiser, Mr PE Moreton, a former Cambridge man and resident of New York has started the ball rolling on the future of rugby in America. It continues that if the tour is successful an organisation called the Atlantic Seaboard Rugby Union will be founded to foster the sport in the US.  
  

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Princeton were defeated 40 - 10 in front of a crowd of 2500 - match report
  
33.jpg (35415 bytes) Line out at one of the matches, probably Princeton
  
38.jpg (686236 bytes) Yale match report - a 32 - 5 victory for the tourists.
32.jpg (924909 bytes) Kicking dual prior to Eastern XV match - American Footballers challenge the Cambridge students to a kicking dual ! Wilf Woolller to take part if fit*. Cliff Jones on his way home to take examinations.  

*Wilf is reputed to be the first player to kick goals using the 'round the corner' style used by modern day kickers.

  
37.jpg (531466 bytes) Match report for the Eastern XV match, a 23 - 9 win for Cambridge in front of the laargest crowd, 10,000 on the tour, but alas no mention of the kicking competition.
 
36.jpg (270048 bytes) Lawrence Penny sums up the character of the Cambridge Students, a glowing report for the light blues.
  
  
Cambridge Uni 2.jpg (24493 bytes) AN Other, Cliff Jones and Wilf Wooller. If you able to identify the player on the left please can you email us with the the info.

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Camb Uni Signatures.jpg (28690 bytes) Autographs of the CU squad on the back of an April 2nd 1934 luncheon menu. 
  
Cambridge Uni 1.jpg (56625 bytes) Harvard v Cambridge University match programme, this programme contains a wealth of information on American rugby and of the Sportmanship Brotherhood, the group, led by ex-pat PE Moreton were promoters of this tour.
25-moreton.jpg (25122 bytes) PE Moreton promoter of the tour
  
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PE Moreton belonged to the Sportsmanship Brotherhood, a society whose aims were to promote sport.
   

 

 

END OF WILF WOOLLER MEMORABILIA

*****

 

Dai's Diary - 21st January 2003 - On this day I met with 'Doc' (David Owen Charles) Williams at Grahame Thorne's (All Black 1967 - 70) place in Blenheim, New Zealand. 'Doc' a former Glamorgan bowler was swapping yarns with an old mate Ollie Nixon (ex Wellington cricket). Over a beer or two 'Doc' reminisced about the 'Wooller' factor during his playing days. "The man," he said,  "was passionately Welsh. When Wooller was in the nets, he'd grunt in my direction then throw the ball in my direction and say 'bowl'. I'd then have to send them down at him, occasionally, I'd drop one short and if one should hit him he'd never flinch, just set himself up for the next one. This reminds me of the time when we played against Lancashire at Cardiff Arms Park. We were bowled out cheaply in the first innings and when it was time to pad up for the second innings Wooller said, you're all useless' and proceeded to pad up. At that time (approx 1959) he was coming to the end of his career and was normally batting around seven. Lancashire at the time had a fast bowler called Statham who had destroyed us in the first innings, Wooller opened the batting and faced Statham, he just blocked, but if anything rose off the wicket he didn't offer a shot, just took it on the chest, after the game he took his shirt off and his body was a mass of red welts where the ball had hit. The man was a legend" - More of Dai's Diary - Click Here

  

1935 WALES DEFEAT THE ALL BLACKS

Paul Roos, the 1906 Springbok captain and respected journalist wrote in a preview to the 1938 British Lions tour of South Africa on the absence of Wooller & co. "True, we regret the absence of outstanding men like Cliff Jones & Wooller, the star fly half and centre respectively, of Wales; Shaw, Dick & Crawford, the fly half, centre and loose forward who were mainly responsible for Scotland's unbeaten record this year; Sever, England's speediest wing, and Toft not only England's but probably Great Britain's finest hooker. Two years ago I had the privilege of seeing what Cliff Jones and Wooller could do in outmanoeuvring the opposition. The All Blacks were playing Wales at Cardiff and were leading 3 - 0 at half-time. Cliff Jones, the Welsh captain, brought the tall and speedy Wooller from the wing, where he had been wasted the first half, into the centre. It proved to be a magic change, for within seven minutes after the restart, the two of them had combined so magnificently that they had converted the debit of 0-3 against them into a credit balance of 10 - 3 in their favour. It all happened so quickly the crowd was simply left gasping. 

 

ENGLAND v WALES 1933 POST MATCH DINNER

 

Wilf pictured centre

(WRM-0721)

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 Can you help ? - we are looking for contributors to this page, are you able to provide information or articles on Wilf's sporting career, we would especially be interested to hear from people in the cricket, soccer, squash & hockey communities. 

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Acknowlegements

John Griffiths - Wilf Wooller story 
Dai Richards - World Rugby Museum
Alan Evans - Cardiff RFC Rugby Historian

 

 

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