The 43 Welshmen who have all officially been the best rugby player in Wales

The 43 Welshmen who have all officially been the best rugby player in Wales

The official Welsh rugby player of the year award has returned this year after a three-year Covid-enforced hiatus.

Will Rowlands has claimed the top award after impressing in Wales’ Six Nations campaign, playing all but one Wales match during the season.

He is the first Wales player to receive the award since Alun Wyn Jones in 2019.

Voting for the top player in Wales by the writers started in 1969 and the gong has since been issued under various different guises.

Lions legend Gareth Edwards was the first winner 46 years ago and was joined two years later by ‘The King’ Barry John.

Perhaps surprisingly though, neither of those two greats were to be honoured again with nine players – Terry Cobner, Mervyn Davies, Terry Holmes, Scott Quinnell, Rob Howley, Neil Jenkins, Gareth Thomas, James Hook and Alun Wyn Jones – being awarded the accolade twice.

Meanwhile, some more surprising, yet richly deserved, winners include one-cap wonder Ray ‘Chico’ Hopkins, Clive Burgess, Gwyn Evans, Mark Titley, Phil Davies, Arthur Emyr and Chris Wyatt.

Here, we chart all the Wales players who have been hailed as the nation’s greatest:

1969 Gareth Edwards – Considered the greatest ever and fittingly, this accolade’s first recipient. The only surprise is this Lions legend never won the award again. Went on to make 55 consecutive Wales appearances until retirement in 1978.

1970 Ray ‘Chico’ Hopkins – Maesteg scrum-half honoured for perhaps the most famous super-sub appearance in Welsh rugby history as he inspired his nation to victory at Twickenham as a second-half replacement for Edwards on his first and only cap. You can read what has become of Chico here.

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1971 Barry John – He helped orchestrate the Grand Slam and went onto be known as ‘The King’ for his brilliant displays for the Lions in the series win in New Zealand later that year. Retired a year later in 1972 aged just 27.

1972 JPR Williams – The fearsome full-back notched the first Welsh four-point try with a crucial score in the 12-3 over England at Twickenham. Would go on to score five of his six Test tries against England. Read more about the great man and how he was always different from the rest here.

1973 Tommy David – Only won first cap in the final Five Nations match against France in Paris. But was part of the Llanelli side who defeated New Zealand 9-3 that season and was an uncapped Barbarians player who played in the famous match against the All Blacks in Cardiff.

1974 Terry Cobner – The Pontypool skipper made a memorable Five Nations debut against Scotland and celebrated by scoring the game’s only try.

1975 Mervyn Davies – He oversaw the birth of a new side as captain which included six new caps in Paris for Five Nations opener. A Grand Slam was only denied by a 12-10 defeat against Scotland in Murrayfield.

Legends Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and captain Mervyn Davies at Heathrow airport in 1975 when Wales toured Japan

Legends Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and captain Mervyn Davies at Heathrow airport in 1975 when Wales toured Japan

1976 Mervyn Davies – The Lions No. 8 was an inspirational figure as Wales completed a Five Nations clean sweep. He was not to figure for Wales after suffering a haemorrhage on the field while captaining Swansea against Pontypool.

1977 Phil Bennett – Benny took over captaincy from ‘Merve the Swerve’ and led Wales to a Triple Crown and skippered the Lions in the summer in New Zealand. He scored a brilliant try in a memorable Murrayfield move started by Gerald Davies.

1978 Terry Cobner – The flanker won the award for a second time as a reward for his consistency in a season which saw some brilliant individual performances from JJ Williams, Steve Fenwick and retiring duo Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett.

1979 Terry Holmes – How to fill the huge shoes of Edwards was always going to be a testing conundrum but this young abrasive Cardiff scrum-half burst onto the international scene as part of Triple Crown-winning side. Read more about the legend who refuses to live in the past here.

1980 David Richards – The silky centre scored tries against France and Scotland in a season best remembered for Paul Ringer’s infamous sending-off against England at Twickenham.

1981 Clive Burgess – The Ebbw Vale flanker was key member of the 1977 Triple Crown-winning side and on his recall from the international wilderness in 1981 was promptly voted Welsh player of the year.

1982 Gwyn Evans – The Maesteg full-back completed 50 Test points faster than any other Welsh player and kicked a then world record six penalties in 22-12 win over France in Cardiff. He toured New Zealand with Lions in the following year.

1983 Terry Holmes – The Blue and Blacks No. 9 won the award four years after his first after proving the inspiration behind 23-9 home victory over Ireland.

1984 Mark Titley – The Bridgend wing, who would later join Swansea, scored in the opening Five Nations defeat against Scotland as Wales celebrated away victories in Dublin and Twickenham.

1985 Mark Ring – The Cardiff centre was a shining light in another mediocre season with his trademark sizzling side-steps helping set up an excellent try for Mark Wyatt in Scotland.

1986 Jonathan Davies – The twinkle-toed outside-half had made his debut the year before and helped Wales win two games in 1986. One of those was the victory in Scotland which will be remembered for Paul Thorburn’s monster penalty.

1987 Stuart Evans – This was the year Wales finished third in the World Cup and Robert Jones was voted European play

…. to be continued
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