Gareth Jenkins and Shunto among those to be belatedly capped
GOOD things come to those who wait, as the old Guinness advert reminded us, and now as many as 25 former rugby players, including ex-Wales coach Gareth Jenkins, are to belatedly receive their international caps.
Some being considered for recognition by the Welsh Rugby Union pulled on the red jersey 45 years ago, with the governing body even looking at honouring those who figured in uncapped matches further back.
The plan is to award them all President's Caps and present them during this year's autumn series.
Jenkins is the best-known name on the list being drawn up.
One of the most courageous flankers to have played for Llanelli, who went down in club legend with his display in the 9-3 win over New Zealand, he figured for Wales against Japan in Tokyo in 1975, but no caps were awarded.
Another Stradey Park legend, Roy 'Shunto' Thomas, hooker in the victory over the All Blacks, is also due to receive his stripes after featuring for Wales against Tonga in 1974.
The WRU are styling the honour as a President's Cap to avoid the confusion that would arise should they be classed as regular caps, with each Wales player down the years awarded a cap number.
Those covered by the gesture are players who never gained full international status despite playing for Wales.
The list of fixtures being assessed is believed to include the Victory Tests against France in 1945 and 1946, the two tour matches against Argentina in 1968, Tonga in 1974, Japan in 1975 and Romania in 1979.
From the 1968 series against the Pumas, Neath centre Glen Ball, Llanelli prop Brian Butler, Swansea wing Stuart Ferguson, Ebbw Vale scrum-half Glyn Turner, Newport fly-half Bob Phillips, Cardiff lock Lyn Baxter and London Welsh wing Andy Morgan could all now be honoured. Jenkins hasn't had to wait quite as long as the lost legion from the 1960s, but many will take special delight in the union opting to finally grant him treasured recognition, especially after the disappointment he experienced as Wales coach, with the union dispensing with his services after his side crashed out of the 2007 World Cup. Shunto's tale is just as heartwarming.
The popular front rower sat on the bench so often for Wales the BBC featured him in an A to Z of Welsh rugby, classing him as Shunto the Sanguine Sub. His misfortune was to have featured in an era when Bobby Windsor ruled supreme, and before him Jeff Young.
But now Thomas is to be upgraded and he couldn't be happier. "I cannot believe it," he said. "It will be wonderful that I will be a full international.
"I played at Cardiff Arms Park in a Test and I think it is great that people are now recognising it as a proper international.
"I am indebted to Clive Rowlands, because I know he has been speaking out on our behalf, and it will be one of the proudest moments of my life when I am presented with the cap. My understanding is it will be during the autumn series.
"My daughter is thinking of hiring a couple of buses for family and friends to go down to Cardiff. I don't think anyone will begrudge us. Games against Tonga, Argentina and Romania have always been hard, bruising affairs, worthy of Test status.
"For everyone who has brought this about, I can't thank them enough."
Despite his marathon wait for recognition, Thomas has never had issues with the Welsh Rugby Union. "As a rugby player I travelled the world and had some fantastic experiences," he said. "The union helped me do that and I'm just thankful I played the game and was able to bank so many great memories.
"You just have to accept the rough with the smooth in life. It has all come good in the end for me and for the other boys.
"Gareth (Jenkins) will be chuffed to get his cap. He was a top player in his day and I think he has always handled himself well. "It's just great news for us all."
Former Aberavon and Llanelli wing Jeff Griffiths will also have the rugby equivalent of a tap on the shoulder with a sword, having featured against Romania, while ex-Cardiff prop Gerry Wallace and the late Colin Bolderson of Pontypridd will be recognised, too. Rowlands, former Wales coach and chairman of selectors, is particularly pleased the union have decided to finally act. "It's marvellous news," he said.
"The players all deserve recognition. Wales were at full strength for many of the games and many of the matches went to the wire. It's good that the WRU have put this right."