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Welsh Rugby
Davies loses cancer fight
ESPNscrum Staff
March 16, 2012
The Lions' Mervyn Davies on the charge, British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa, 1974
Former Wales captain Mervyn Davies has died aged 65 after losing his battle with cancer © Getty Images
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Former Wales captain Mervyn Davies has died aged 65, the Welsh Rugby Union has announced.

The ex-London Welsh and Swansea No.8 won 38 caps and toured with the British & Irish Lions to New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa three years later, featuring in eight Tests. Known throughout the rugby world as 'Merv the Swerve', he suffered a brain haemorrhage playing for Swansea against Pontypool in a Welsh Cup semi-final in 1976 that cut short his career.

A statement released by the WRU this morning said: "The Welsh Rugby Union is saddened to learn of the death of Mervyn Davies who deservedly earned a worldwide reputation as one of the greats of the modern game. Flags at the Millennium Stadium are flying at half-mast from today in honour."

The WRU said Davies passed away following a long illness. Leading the tributes, WRU president Dennis Gethin said: "We have lost a great player, a wonderful ambassador for the game and a true gentlemen. I played against Mervyn many times and knew just how good he was, but I also grew to appreciate him as a true friend. In later life he also became an accomplished after dinner speaker, so his loss will be felt in many ways by so many people."

WRU chairman and former Wales skipper David Pickering added: "Mervyn Davies was a man who epitomised the values of Welsh rugby and will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him and all who knew of him. He was a giant of the game, both on and off the field, for London Welsh, Swansea, Wales, the Barbarians and the British and Irish Lions. He bore his illness with courage, and his memory will undoubtedly live on within our game for all time."

And WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis said: "We have lost a true great of our game with the sad death of Mervyn Davies. His loss will be felt across the rugby world because of the huge impact he had as an icon of the game.

"He stood out in one of our great Welsh teams. but remained a modest and gentle man off the field of play throughout his life. Mervyn also played a prominent role in Welsh international rugby's former players' association. so his love of the game remained undiminished throughout his life. It is right and fitting that this weekend his memory will be honoured by everyone involved in Welsh rugby."

Davies made his Wales debut against Scotland at Murrayfield in 1969, and led Wales to a Five Nations Grand Slam seven years later. He played for London Welsh from 1968, and later joined Swansea. where he completed his playing career.

Phil Bennett, a long-time team-mate of Davies with Wales and the Lions, paid tribute to his friend today, saying news of his death was "absolutely devastating". He recalled how Davies was inspired to improve as a player during the 1974 Lions tour to South Africa by the presence of England's Andy Ripley, a rival for the number eight jersey.

Bennett said on BBC Radio Five Live: "'Rippers' was playing the rugby of his life, and Mervyn said, 'I'm going to step my game up'. And he started to play rugby football like I've never seen him play before. He was totally outstanding. I was captain of the 1977 Lions that went out to New Zealand.

"Mervyn Davies suffered a brain haemorrhage in 1976 playing (for Swansea) against Pontypool in Cardiff in the semi-finals of the Welsh Cup. Without doubt he'd have been skipper of that '77 tour and thoroughly would have deserved it. That's the fate life plays on you at times. To lose him so tragically is absolutely devastating."

Ospreys Managing Director, Roger Blyth, was a team-mate of Davies with Swansea and Wales, and he paid tribute to his former colleague, saying: "I'm very sad to hear the news of Mervyn passing away. A true legend of Ospreylian rugby and a great servant to Swansea, Wales and the British Lions, Mervyn was an inspirational leader who never took a backward step on or off the pitch. I consider myself fortunate to have known him as a team-mate and a friend."

"His career was cut short in unfortunate circumstances, but nothing will ever take away from what is a tremendous legacy as a captain of his country, double Grand Slam winner, and a successful Lion who won in New Zealand and South Africa. The thoughts of ever rugby person in Ospreylia and beyond will be with Mervyn's family and friends today."

Wales assistant coach Rob Howley began his eve-of-game press conference by paying a glowing tribute to Davies. "It's a sad day for Welsh rugby," former Wales skipper and scrum-half Howley said. "The players, the management, we all send our sincere condolences to the family.

"Unfortunately I never played with him, but from what I'm told he was a colossus. To only lose nine games as a player for Wales, the amount of caps, to play eight Tests for the Lions, he's an icon of world rugby. We can speak frequently of world-class players, but icon and legend belongs to Merv the Swerve.

"The players were told this morning. and it gives us even more motivation for tomorrow on what is hopefully going to be a great game for Welsh rugby. It's emotional, I met him on several occasions when I was captain and he gave me plenty of words of wisdom. He was a very humble man who knew the game inside out."

Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones also saluted Davies, stating: "Sometimes the word legend is overused, but when it comes to Mervyn Davies it was true. He was a giant of the game who led Wales to the 1976 Grand Slam of what was then the Five Nations. His record playing for his nation speaks for itself - two Grand Slams and three Triple Crowns.

"A true great Welshman, Mervyn was arguably the best number eight we have ever seen and will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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