One of the great rugby players of his generation
Success on field mirrored in broadcasting
Cliff Morgan is tackled short of the line during the the Lions win of the first test against South Africa in August 1955 at Ellis Park. PHOTOGRAPH: ALLSPORT HULTON/ARCHIVE
Cliff Morgan, the former Wales and Lions outhalf, one of the greatest players of his generation, has died at 83. He was a revered figure in Wales and held in great esteem across the rugby world, not least in Ireland with which he had a close affinity.
The son of a miner, he was born in Trebanog in the fertile rugby area of the Rhondda valley. He was educated in Tonyrefail Grammar School where he showed the promise as a player. He joined the Cardiff Club in 1949 and won his first cap for Wales against Ireland in Cardiff in 1951. His immediate opponent in the game was the great Jack Kyle, who prior to the match went over to wish Morgan well. It was the beginning of a friendship that endured through the years.
The match ended in a 3-3 draw, costing Ireland a Grand Slam and Triple Crown. It was Kyle who shone the brighter that afternoon, scoring a try, but that was cancelled out when Wales got a penalty goal. The following year Morgan was at his best as he helped Wales win the Grand Slam, and in December 1953 he played brilliantly in the Welsh team that beat New Zealand in Cardiff, the last time they have done so.
After taking up a business appointment in Wicklow, Morgan joined Bective Rangers in the 1954/55 season and helped the club to win the Leinster Senior Cup in April 1955, its first victory in that competition for 20 years. He had some able cohorts at his side as that Bective team included five men who played for Ireland.
In the cup final Morgan scored an early try to lay the foundations for an 8-0 win over an Old Belvedere team that included a young Tony O’Reilly in the centre. A few weeks later they were teammates on the Lions team that drew the series against South Africa 2-2.
Just as Kyle had captivated Australia and New Zealand with his performances on the Lions tour in 1950, Morgan left a similar impression in South Africa with one of the South African journalists describing him as “the best outhalf ever to play in the country.”
The following season he returned to Cardiff and in 1956 married an Irish woman, Nuala Martin. He was given lucrative offers to go to rugby league but resisted them and retired from the game in 1958 having won 29 Wales caps.
He took to broadcasting and left a lasting impression just as he had done on the field of play. He joined BBC Wales as its sports organiser then moving to independent television as editor of a current affairs programme. After two years he returned to the BBC.