Graham Price is one of the real big names in Welsh rugby. Here is a man who started 12 successive Tests for the Lions on three separate tours, as well as winning two Grand Slams and four Triple Crowns with Wales.
Still, if fate had played a role, it could have ended up playing for the Springboks! Everything will be explained on this front as we go along. It turned out he was to win 41 close-headed Welsh caps between 1975 and 1983, most of them part of Pontypool’s legendary front line alongside Charlie Faulkner and Bobby Windsor.
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He continued to play for his beloved Pontypool until his late thirties and remained closely involved with the game as a columnist for Wales On Sunday, a role he has fulfilled for around 35 years now. There could therefore be few more suitable candidates to receive a Lifetime Achievement award from the Welsh Rugby Writers Association. Price was presented with the trophy this week by his old friend Eddie Butler, following in the footsteps of previous recipients like John Dawes, Clive Rowlands and John Taylor.
Now 70, he has a story to tell as we catch up to chat, starting with how come he was born in Moscar, Egypt?
“My father, Eric, was in the services, he explains. “He had joined the army at the start of the Second World War in 1939, then remained there after the war. He was stationed in Egypt and my mother and sister were there with him. So that’s where I was born.
“During the war he actually served in East Africa and he didn’t really want to come back to the UK. He wanted to stay there and settle somewhere like Cape Town. So it could have been Graham Price who ended up playing for the Springboks!”
Describing his family roots, he continued: “Both my parents were Welsh. My father came from the farming community in Mid Wales. Then he moved away and went to work in the mines of Treorchy. He met my mother there. His family was from Cwmparc.
“They moved to London where my sister was born. Then, at the start of the war, my father enlisted and eventually ended up in Egypt, where I arrived.
“I only stayed there for a few weeks because we were evacuated when the Suez crisis broke out. We were in Bicester for a while and then my dad got out of the army and joined the Defense Military Police.
“His first post was in Wiltshire, but my mum wanted to come back to be closer to her family in Rhondda, so he went to work at the Royal Ordnance factory in Glascoed, between Usk and Pontypool. I was five at the time. »
Piece went to primary school in Usk, then attended Jones’ West Monmouth Grammar School in Pontypool, where he started playing rugby aged 12. His talent soon emerged and he was selected to play in Welsh secondary schools, while representing his country. in the shot and discuss. Then, in 1970, while still a schoolboy, he made his debut for Pontypool.
“When I first joined the club they weren’t doing very well. They were way down the Western Mail merit table. But then Ray Prosser took over as manager and, Gradually, over the next few years, we went from being an inferior club to winning the Welsh Championship.
A key part of that transformation was the formidable base provided by the front row of Price, Windsor and Faulkner, who were to go on to enjoy such success together for Wales as well.
“The reason we were so effective together was because of Ray Prosser. More than anything he was a motivator, he made us play to the best of our abilities. He wasn’t one of those table beaters, he was a very direct speaker.
“It wasn’t just at Pooler, we knew he would be keeping an eye on us when we were playing for Wales. I remember him saying to me a couple of times ‘You came back from half a not in that first scrum. Ain’t gonna bring those bad Welsh team habits back to Pontypool! He was so good at keeping his feet on the ground.
“Bobby had come from Cross Keys, so nobody knew anything about Charlie when he arrived. He was actually 32 when he joined the club and then 34 when he joined the Welsh team. C “It was amazing. It couldn’t happen these days, but he was so motivated.
“We were a well-rounded front line. We were all a similar height and could go low in melee. The thing we would do was get to the mark and form up as quickly as possible, forcing our opponents down when they weren’t ready which meant we had an advantage and we would put them down. on the back.
While they were so compatible as a rugby unit, the trio was quite different off the pitch, with Price a quieter individual than his larger-than-life colleagues in the front row.
“Bobby and Charlie used to tell me I went to high school and college. I get mine back when I do my after-dinner talk. I tell the gag we had a combined IQ of 138 and I provided 126! We were quite different as people, but on the pitch it really worked. We then had five successful years playing for Wales, winning triple crowns and Grand Slam tournaments galore.”
Their first international match together was against France in Paris in 1975 when Price and Faulkner made their Test debuts. It was a day to remember for a Welsh side with six new caps won 25-10, Price putting the icing on the cake by claiming a thrilling stoppage-time try after a spot kick and long-range chase. As Nigel Starmer-Smith famously said, “They’ll never believe it in Pontypool”.
It was truly a forged score on the fitness levels demanded by Prosser, with Faulkner and Windsor the first two forwards in support to congratulate their front-row colleague after he landed. Price was immediately established in the team and his form over the next two years saw him selected for the 1977 Lions tour of New Zealand. It was a call that meant so much to him.
“I used to wake up early in the morning and tune my transistor radio to listen to the commentary of the Lions playing in New Zealand on the 1971 tour, playing famous grounds such as Lancaster Park, Carisbrook and Eden Park Then in South Africa there was Ellis Park and Newlands.
“Playing for the Lions was something I couldn’t aspire to, it’s something other people have done. So the fact that I ended up getting there was really overwhelming.
“The 1977 tour was a great experience for me. It was the best three and a half months of my rugby life. I was determined to play in the Tests but knew it would mean replacing Fran Cotton who had performed so well on the 1974 tour of South Africa.
“That’s what I did, with Fran going free-headed and then at the end of the tour they picked the whole Pontypool front row to start against Fiji. That’s the only time a club front line plays a test for the Lions and we are all very proud of that I guess it won’t happen again.
“Looking back, we were unfortunate in the way we lost the series to the All Blacks. We had so many chances that weren’t taken. If we had taken them, who knows what would have happened. .
After starting all four Tests in 1977, Price was to maintain that still standing record on two further Lions tours – to South Africa in 1980 and then back to New Zealand in 1983 – making a remarkable 12 successive starts.
“When you look at the players who had the previous records, you had Willie John McBride, who played 17 Tests, Gareth Edwards played 10, it’s really amazing when you think I have my name on their side. That seems really humiliating.
Away from rugby, Price studied building construction at Nash College, Newport, then civil engineering at the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, completing his first Lions tour while still a student.
Professionally, he was employed by the Pilkington Group as a building maintenance engineer at their fiberglass factory, then became assistant manager at Cwmbran Shopping Centre, before changing careers by settling as an independent financial advisor.
And, of course, since 1986 he has been a columnist for Wales On Sunday, with his work in the media recognised, as well as his magnificent playing record, by the Lifetime Achievement award he won at the 50th anniversary dinner of the Welsh Rugby Writers Association at the Arms Park.
“It was a real honor to receive the award. It’s been a great journey since that first game for Wales in Paris, scoring the try that keeps getting replayed. Then I enjoyed chronicling for Wales on Sunday, it was nice to keep in touch with the game.”
A father of three and six grandchildren, Price has spent much of his time in Pontypool but moved to Croesyceiliog, near Cwmbran, a few years ago. Speaking from home, he tells me all that rugby has given him.
“I think it helped me become a bit more confident. I was very quiet and shy back then. Prosser used to take the p*** and say ‘Dear, shut up, I can’t put a word around the edges!’
“So rugby gave me a confidence that I didn’t have before. But the big thing that I got out of it and really enjoyed was the trip. It gave me the opportunity to go to places in the world that I would never have been able to visit under normal circumstances – South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. So I have a lot to thank rugby for.
Don’t miss Graham Price’s take on Wales’ tour of South Africa this summer. He writes a regular column for Wales Online in association with