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REES STEPHENS

(John Rees Glyn Stephens, born Neath 16th April 1922)

Llandovery College, Neath, Wales, Barbarians & British Lions

 

     

 

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For longevity Rees Stephens can hardly be matched in the post-second world war era. making his debut for Wales during 1945/6 in a victory international against France at the age of 23, he played his last game for Wales in Paris in 1957 just a few days short of his 35th birthday! Indeed he was still playing the odd first-class game at 40. At the time he left the international scene he was the most capped Welsh forward - his nearest rival being George Travers, who retired in 1911. 

One of the few sons of a Welsh international to play for Wales himself, Rees Stephens had a lot to follow. His father, Glyn, had played for Wales in 1912 and 1913 before reappearing against the N.Z. Army XV of 1919. Glyn Stephens also became President of the Welsh Rugby Union. Rees was born in Neath in 1922 and very soon showed his prowess on the Rugby field by being capped for the Welsh schools at under 14 level. Big for a young lad he then went on to Llandovery school where he won a further Welsh secondary Schools' honours. Working in his father's mines during the war Rees played as much scratch Rugby as he could. When war ended he soon made his mark in senior rugby. 

Throughout his career Stephens switched back and forth between second row and No.8 (although originally a no.8) but many critics felt that he should have always stayed in the front five. He was a superbly fit tight worker who played with plenty of fire and aggression. When the battle was hottest he was at his best, taking particular delight always in fighting the French off at Colombes. It was his brilliant pack  leadership and captaincy in 1955 and 1957 that turned the games in Paris in Wales favour. Always mobile in the loose he contested the rucks and mauls vigorously, while his line-out jumping was useful. But in support work he was exceptional, particularly with people like Don Hayward, Billy Williams and John Gwilliam in protecting Roy John in the early fifties. As a leader he led by example from the front - and people played for him and his intensity of effort.

After playing against France in 1945/6 he played against the Kiwis in the second row and in several other 'victory' internationals. When rugby resumed properly in1946/7 Stephens played his part in the brilliant Neath pack that won the welsh club championship. He gained his first full cap against England at Cardiff in January, 1947, at no.8 and scored a good try. In Paris he showed plenty of fire and vigour in an 'overheated' match which Wales won 3-0. But, on Les Mansfield's return to the No.8 position in 1947/8, Stephen's had to wait until the Irish game to play again in the second row.

In 1949 injury kept Stephens out of the English game, but he played in the remainder of that disastrous season at No.8 with Gwilliam in the second row. At Twickenham in 1950, agonisingly, Stephens had to drop out and miss the chance of captaining Wales for the first time - he was the second choice after Bleddyn Williams. Then he could not get back into the side because his club-mate, Roy John, played so very well. His luck seemed to have changed however,  when he and Bleddyn Williams who had both missed the Grand Slam , were chosen for the British Lions tour of Australasia. But he injured his shoulder in the opening fixture and did not play again until the eleventh game. Although he would have been invaluable in the tests, Stephens was never properly fit enough to challenge for a place in the New Zealand series, but he played in both  in Australia. 

Back home he could not regain his Welsh place, until the selectors really shook the side up for Paris in April, 1951. But a tired Wales slumped 3-8. So, After five years post-war rugby, Stephens had a bare nine caps to show for his efforts, but then he moved more regularly into the second row to pack with his club-mate John and played some sterling rugby for Wales. He was an integral part of that great 1951/2 Grand Slam pack, scoring the first try against Ireland, and began to lead the Welsh pack in 1953, after Gwilliam was dropped against Scotland. 

In 1954 he led Wales for the first time at Twickenham when Bleddyn Williams withdrew, but Wales lost 6-9. It was after this match that John, Dai Davies and Gwilliam left the international scene, but Stephens, at 31 years and six months, kept on going, never losing his edge. He led Wales to a last minute victory in Ireland but injury kept him out for the rest of the season. In 1955 he led the pack well and captained Wales against Ireland and France from No.8. The victory in Paris was most unexpected with the French bidding for their first outright championship. Unfortunately with an age limit of 30 put on Lions tour candidates, Stephens failed to make South Africa in 1955. Dropped against England in 1956, he was recalled to lead the pack against Scotland, but failed to rouse the Welsh eight to a Triple Crown at Dublin. Playing throughout 1957, he led Wales to victory over Ireland and France. Amazingly he had won more caps after the age of 30 than before !

From "A Century of Welsh Rugby Players" with thanks to Wayne Thomas 

 

CAREER INFORMATION

Capped appearances for Wales 

1947 v England, (1 try), Scotland (letter N), France & Ireland

1948 v Ireland

1949 v Scotland (letter N), Ireland & France

1951 v France & South Africa (No 11) 

1952 v England, Scotland (No 11), Ireland (No 11) (1 try) & France (No 11)

1953 v England, Scotland (No 11), Ireland (vice capt. No. 12), France & New Zealand (No 11)

1954 v England & Ireland (capt. No. 12) 

1955 v England (No 11), Scotland (1 con) (No 14), Ireland (capt. No. 14) & France

1956 v Scotland (No 12), Ireland ( No. 12) & France

1957 v England (No 12), Scotland (No 12), Ireland (capt. No. 11) & France (No 12)

Rees was selected as captain against Scotland 30th January 1954 but this match was postponed, he retained his captaincy for the match against Ireland on March 13 and was selected again as captain against France on 27th March, he withdrew from this match with a neck injury and failed to regain his place for the re-arranged match against Scotland on April 10th.   

Wales changed the numbering system in 1950 from letters (a = full back to O = back row row) to numbers (1 = full back to 15 = back row) 

 

Uncapped appearances for Wales

4 victory internationals (inc v Scotland 2 Feb 1946)

v International XV 1957 (capt. No. 11)

 

BRITISH LIONS

14 appearances for the British Lions during the 1950 tour of Australia & New Zealand, 

1 appearance for a British Lions XV against Wales in the WRU 75th anniversary match (against a Welsh XV)

 

BARBARIANS

Rees was first elected to play for the Barbarians in 1947, he played against 2 major tourists, South Africa 1952 & New Zealand 1954 and was also a committee member.

 

 

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