Not many rugby player’s get a play written about them. Ray Gravell is different and is etched in the memory of Welsh people of a certain age and era. He played for Llanelli, Wales and the British and Irish Lions at centre.
He went on to have a long broadcasting career based in Wales and also appeared in movies, soaps and dramas. Gravell was bestowed with the cultural honour of being the bearer of the grand sword during the Eisteddfod, Wales’ most significant musical and literary festival.
It’s not easy to forget a character like Gravell. Auburn of hair and beard, he was known on the field for his juddering tackles, strong running and neat passing. He was part of a golden era in Welsh rugby, winning two Grand Slams in 1976 and 1978 and was part of the Llanelli team that defeated the All Blacks in 1972. Gravell would probably admit that he was not the most talented player in terms of playing ability. There was plenty of serious talent around in those days. However, he compensated for that with bucket loads of charisma and character.
‘Grav’ is a theatre production by the Torch Theatre in Pembrokeshire based on Ray Gravell’s life. It’s written by Owen Thomas, directed by Peter Doran and played by Gareth John Bale. Not that Gareth Bale. Just in case anyone might confuse this actor with the Welsh footballing sensation! After a very successful run including awards and tours, ‘Grav’ was adapted for TV on the Welsh channel S4C recently. This was to coincide with Ray o’r Mynydd’s seventieth birthday. Ray o’r Mynydd was his Welsh, bardic moniker, meaning Ray from the mountain.
The play deals with some of the significant moments in his life and career including Llanelli’s win over the All Blacks, acting alongside Peter O’Toole in Rebecca’s Daughters, the death of his father to suicide and representing Wales at international level. He passed away in 2007 after battling with Type 2 diabetes and suffering a heart attack.
International Rugby Audience
Admittedly the subject matter might be a bit niche to an international rugby audience. Having said that there are many topics that will resonate and are relatable to many: grief, humour, illness, sporting success. During the play, you get to hear the classic line that many attribute to Gravell, “You’ve got to get your first tackle in early, even if it’s late.” This had me chuckling although these days, and with a focus on player welfare (an initiative that is totally commendable), a quote like this may make some people wince.
Another funny moment has Gravell battling with his friend and Llanelli captain, Delme Thomas late at night over a set of hotel curtains. This perhaps hints at the possibility of Gravell having low-level OCD. A trait that isn’t that uncommon among sporting perfectionists. Perhaps funny isn’t the right word, tragi-comic may be more appropriate. Thomas and Gravell were firm friends but Thomas had a mischievous streak and knew how to wind his mate up.
Grav – A Welsh centre’s story
Defeating the All-Blacks
Llanelli’s defeat of the All-Blacks plays a significant role in the play and TV adaptation. Some in the Southern Hemisphere may laugh that we still like to celebrate that particular victory. It was certainly a giant-killing occasion and those involved have gone down in Welsh rugby folklore.
It would be great to see the current Wales side repeat Llanelli’s trick and make some new memories for a new generation of rugby fans. Read about the topic of Southern Hemisphere dominance here.
Gravell is survived by his widow Mari and his two daughters: Manon and Gwenan. The family have been consulted all the way through the ‘Grav’ creative process. His eldest daughter set up a website to help young people dealing with loss and grief called Project 13. A scenario both his daughters experienced because of the loss of their famous father.
‘Grav’ aired last Sunday, September the 12th on S4C. It is in Welsh with English subtitles available and will be available on-demand through S4C Clic, i-Player and other platforms.
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