Cliff Morgan: One of sport’s great entertainers
The former Cardiff, Wales and Lions outhalf brought such pleasure to people with his talent on the pitch and later his work as a broadcaster
10th August 1955: Welsh rugby union outhalf Cliff Morgan is tackled by Koch whilst playing for the British Lions against South Africa at Johannesburg. He was voted player of the series after the tour, retiring three years later when he went on to a career as a radio broadcaster with the BBC. (Photo by Prior/Central Press/Getty Images)
19 Sep 1998: A portrait of Cliff Morgan during the match between London Welsh v Orrell in the Allied Dunbar Premiership Two played at Old Deer Park, London, England. London Welsh won the match 24-17. \ Mandatory Credit: Justin Davies /Allsport
“This is Gareth Edwards, a dramatic start. What a score! Oh, that fella Edwards. If the greatest writer of the written word could’ve written that story, no one would have believed it.”
It’s rare that the soundtrack to an iconic sporting moment is as evocatively memorable as the television footage. Cliff Morgan’s lilting voice that betrayed a rising sense of excitement was perfect accompaniment to Gareth Edwards’ try in the Barbarians famous victory over New Zealand in 1973. Morgan (83) died yesterday.
The Welshman’s defining moment as a commentator had occurred in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Bill McLaren had been scheduled to call the game but had fallen ill. Morgan blazed a trail from a brilliant player to a superb commentator, one of the first to do so.
The only son of Clifford and Edna May Morgan, he was born in Trebanog in the Rhondda Valley. He began playing rugby at Tonyrefail School and ascribed his development to rugby master Ned Gribble, whom he describes as the man “who did more than anyone to shape my future in rugby”.
A wonderful talent, he was one of the greatest outhalves to play the game and in the eyes of Ireland’s Jackie Kyle, the greatest. The two men opposed one another on Morgan’s debut for Wales at Cardiff Arms Park on March 10th, 1951.
They shared a lovely vignette which Morgan told repeatedly through the years. He recalled: “I felt a hand gently touch my shoulder. It was the man I was having to mark, the maestro Jackie Kyle. He put an arm around me and whispered as fondly and genuinely as an uncle would: “I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful first cap today, Cliffie.”
Won 29 caps
He went on to win 29 caps for Wales and also toured with the 1955 British & Irish Lions playing 15 matches, all four Tests - the series ended 2-2 the first time that that century that the Springboks hadn’t won it – and scored a brilliant try in a 23-22 victory in the first Test before a world record crowd of 96,000 in Ellis Park, Johannesburg.
His fellow Lions tourist, Tony O’Reilly, would later say of Morgan: “He is a man apart because of his gaiety, his grandeur, eloquence, because of his skills as a football player, and his generosity to other players, which was enormous. He is not a selfish man in life or on the field. To me he is simply the greatest of them all.”
The Welshman made 202 appearances for Cardiff between 1949 and 1958 with a brief one year hiatus in the 1954-55 season when he played for Bective Rangers. He won the Leinster Senior Cup and the heart of an Irish air hostess Nuala Martin, to whom he was married – they had two children Catherine and Nicholas – for 44 years until her death in 1999. He is survived by his second wife Patricia Ewing.
Maurice Mortell Snr, a wing who won nine caps for Ireland, scoring five tries (1953-54) played alongside Morgan at Bective Rangers. He recalled: “Cliff was an engineer and was transferred from Cardiff to a company called Wire Ropes in Wicklow Town.