Carwyn James was arguably the greatest Welsh coach, is it time to revive the spirit he brought to the field?
Time for Welsh rugby to revive the spirit of Carwyn James?
Wales will face the All Blacks in Cardiff on Saturday the October 30. They last faced each other in the World Cup third-place play off in Tokyo, Japan in 2019. New Zealand have been playing regularly and recently clinched the Rugby Championship. Wales on the other hand lost a series at home to Argentina in the summer. Although missing some of their Lions representatives, and with no disrespect intended to a strong Argentinian team, this doesn’t bode well for Welsh squad depth or for the Autumn internationals.
Fortuitous Six Nations?
Wales somewhat fortuitously won the 2021 Six Nations. However to give Wales their dues, and as the sporting cliché goes, “you make your own luck.” There were some good moments but it was an unusual tournament played against the backdrop of no fans. How useful a yardstick was it for measuring Wales’ progress? This brings us to the crux of this article, “Is it time for Welsh rugby to revive the spirit of Carwyn James?
James famously coached opposition against the All-Blacks and was on the winning side on three occasions. Defeating New Zealand is an anomaly in Wales, and indeed James was something of an anomaly himself. His Llanelli, British and Irish Lions and Barbarians’ teams tasted victory in the early seventies. Regretfully he was passed over when it came to the big job in Wales. The powers that be in the WRU were put off by what they perceived as his demands prior to employment.
Wales best ever coaches
James’ attributes were his quiet man management, his belief in attacking rugby and his visionary thinking. Does Welsh rugby need to embrace some of these leftfield, outside of the box strategies on and off the pitch?
Warren Gatland was a pragmatist in some ways. He eked everything he could out of the Wales squad. Using all the latest coaching developments and with a talented squad at his disposal, he and his players got close to a World Cup final, particularly in 2011. This is not to say that there weren’t moments of great rugby amongst the pragmatism. For this Gatland is rightly considered, alongside John Dawes as Wales’ best ever coach.
When thinking of anyone comparable in today’s rugby to the enigmatic James, it would probably be Rassie Erasmus. Although not outwardly or physically similar both weren’t, and aren’t scared to go against the grain, or challenge the current orthodoxy. The results back it up too. South Africa are the current World Champions and also recent Lion tamers. The Rugby Championship was a mixed bag for the Boks, but they still go toe to toe with the All Blacks, their rivals for the top spot in the rankings.
If Wales have a poor showing in the Autumn Internationals, should Pivac step aside? Next season’s Six Nations is a better barometer of where the coach and the team are. Perform well in both competitions then you’d be inclined to think that Pivac deserves his chance in a World Cup.
Should things not go well, is it time to rip up the rule book? Try something in a similar vein to nonconformists James, or Erasmus? Perhaps a retired Welsh international, someone who would get most of the team’s instant respect?
Mike Phillips has recently come out of retirement at thirty nine, for a one-off game. Could he be persuaded to have a go as a coach? Maybe consider James Hook, or Ken Owens once he retires? It didn’t work out for Sam Warburton as Welsh defensive coach but he didn’t have overall control, and didn’t desire it either.
A Welsh great
Welsh great James was born in Cefneithin, and was one of four children. One sister had diphtheria and was looked after by James’ mother. This meant that he had to be looked after by his other sister, while his father worked in a coalmine.
James played outside half at a high level and earnt two caps for Wales. His place in the national team however, was taken by another Welsh great, Cliff Morgan. Later on, James would come into his own as a coach, having prior to that spent time in the navy, and as a teacher.
He also expressed an interest in politics and stood as a parliamentary candidate for Plaid Cymru, the national party of Wales. James was a pacifist in his later days. During the apartheid era he protested against a travelling South African side by refusing to bring his Llanelli team out of the dressing room to play the Springboks.
James was a heavy smoker and drinker. He passed away in 1983 of a heart attack whilst on holiday alone in Amsterdam.
“Main photo credit”