One of the by-products of the establishment of the South Wales Constabulary, 50 years ago, was the creation of a rugby team that drew together talented players from the four police forces that merged on 1 June 1969. In the first full edition of the South Wales Police Magazine the opportunity to establish a team that would make its mark on Welsh rugby was recognised.
Amalgamation brought with it the possibility of a Police side creating a real impact on Welsh football. The range of talent available could, it was thought, produce a South Wales Police Team capable of providing a surprise for many of the established Welsh Clubs. (South Wales Police Magazine, ref.: DSWP/50/1)
The optimism was not misplaced. Taking to field for the first time on a late summer’s evening in 1969 against Pontypridd at Ynysangharad Park, the Police gained a narrow victory. Further victories were secured against Swansea as St Helens by 15 points to 14 points, Penarth by 15 points to 11 and a Pembrokeshire County team at Neyland by 32 points to 8. By now the power of the new combination was being recognised with 9 members of the team selected for the British Police team to tour the West Country.
Arguably the biggest test came on the evening of Wednesday 8 October when the first visitors to the Waterton Cross Ground were the renowned Cardiff RFC. Attended by a bevy of officials from the WRU, including the Union’s President, Secretary and Chairman of Selectors, the game was organised to mark the formation of the South Wales Constabulary and to recognise the support that the Cardiff Club had provided to the Police Dependents’ Trust. From the outset the match was accompanied by a degree of controversy. In the days before league rugby many police officers played for senior clubs across Wales. However, it was expected that priority would always be given to fixtures where they were required to represent South Wales Police.
The police team on 8 October, therefore, included players from an array of clubs including Swansea, Aberavon, Neath, Llanelli, Bridgend and Maesteg. It also included two players who had been selected to turn out that day for Cardiff. The Western Mail headline on the day of the match summed it up: Police nab Finlayson. To their dismay, a mid-week Cardiff side, already shorn of several stars, found two of its key players, centre Alex Finlayson and prop forward Mike Knill, lining up in the red shirts of the opposition.
Watched by a crowd of 2,000 the Police set a hot pace when Ian Hall, capped for Wales at centre, crossed for an early try. However, Cardiff must have fancied their chances when, after only 15 minutes, the Police scrum half, Huw Jenkins, had to leave the field with a torn cartilage. In the era prior to the introduction of replacements, the Police team had to play the remaining 65 minutes with 14 players. The hero of the hour was flank forward Omri Jones who moved to scrum half, leaving the remaining 7 forwards to continue the battle with the Cardiff pack. It was testimony to the strength and resolve of the South Wales Police team, led by Ron Evans, that they not only hung on to but increased their lead to win by 21 points to 12 points. Further tries were scored by Terry Stephenson, also a Cardiff player when not ‘on duty’ for the Police, and hooker Alan Mages. The remaining points were added by full back Jerrard Protheroe. As the Western Mail reported the next day, the victory was by no means a fluke.
Cardiff in the second half attacked solidly for 15 minutes but were never able to cross the Police line and but for the accurate kicking of Ray Cheney with four penalty goals in six attempts the final score could have been an embarrassment to the renowned club. (Western Mail, 9 October 1969)
It was a victory that the Police celebrated in style, as the South Wales Police magazine recorded:
Members of the force will reflect on this victory with justifiable pride, while Cardiff, accepting this defeat in the true spirit of sportsmanship exemplified by this great Club will not, I am sure, ever again underestimate the strength and quality of the Force Team. (South Wales Police Magazine, Autumn 1970, page 87, ref.: DSWP/50/1)
The president of the WRU and the Chairman of the SeIectors could not fail to have been impressed. Ian Hall was already capped for Wales and two further members of the South Wales Police Team that faced Cardiff went on to play for Wales – Alex Finlayson and Mike Knill. They were followed by many more in later years, including Bleddyn Bowen, Richie Collins, Steve Sutton and Rowland Phillips. After the 8th October 1969 there was no doubt that the South Wales Police team were a force to be reckoned with.
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer
Glamorgan Archives holds a match programme (DSWP/PH/SPO/198) and the report of the game set out in the South Wales Police Magazine for Autumn 1970 (DSWP/50/1). There are also photographs of the South Wales Police Team prior to the match against Cardiff (DSWP/PH/SPO/75) and the full squad fielded in the 1969-70 season (DSWP/PH/SPO/76).