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Celebrating the national game’s origins

The teams line up
The teams line up

LAMPETER: it’s a small town, tucked away on the borders between Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, which has played a role out of all proportion to its size in the history of Welsh culture, and particularly Welsh sport.

On Wednesday, (Mar 23), hundreds of people gathered in Lampeter to take part in celebrations to commemorate the 150th anniversary of competitive rugby in Wales.

The nation’s favourite game was brought to Lampeter in 1866 by Rev Professor Rowland Williams, the Vice-Principal of Saint David’s College, now part of University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

It is believed that Professor Williams first played the sport during his time at King’s College Cambridge and once he took post in Lampeter he believed that rugby was what was needed to get the students in better shape and to enhance their development during their spare time.

Acknowledging the important contribution that both genders make to the sport, the day started with a women’s rugby match between UWTSD Women’s XV and Lampeter Town Ladies. The match was evenly played and showed some excellent skills by the two development sides; however, in the second half Lampeter Town upped the ante and took a 24-15 victory.

The headlining match of the day took place between ‘UWTSD Fighting Parsons’ and touring XV the Welsh Academicals. An amazing performance by UWTSD saw them leading by 11 points at half time but the Academicals had a strong second half resulting in a final score of UWTSD 21 – 71 Welsh Academicals.

The matches were well supported with locals businesses, students and locals in attendance as well as some notable visitors such as Ryan Jones, former Wales number 8, Venerable Randolph Thomas chair of council UWTSD, several members of the Lampeter Town Council, as well as rugby legends Barry John, Roy Bergiers, Delme Thomas and Derrick Quinnell.

To celebrate the momentous occasion, the President of Lampeter RFC and local historian, Selwyn Walters has written a book on the history of the game and its origins. The book was launched at the event and is available to purchase from the university.

Selwyn Walters tells the story of the development of the Fighting Parsons team, the acknowledgement that the WRU has given of Lampeter’s contribution of the sport, and tells the story of the 1966 centenary match played between St David’s College and an invitational Welsh XV at the college pitches 50 years ago which featured Welsh greats Barry John, Carwyn James and Delme Thomas.

As part of his visit, ‘King’ Barry John unveiled a monument in the grounds of the university marking the anniversary and giving credit to Rev Prof Rowland Williams.

The beautiful stone sculpture of a rugby ball was carved by UWTSD groundsman Mark, using stone from the original Canterbury building that stood proudly opposite the iconic St David’s building still present on the Lampeter campus today.

During the unveiling of the monument an exhibition was displayed in the university library showing a variety of rugby related items from the Roderick Bowen archive and many students past and present. Distinguished guests at the event enjoyed the excellent display of material, unique to Lampeter and its amazing archive.

Following the presentation of an honorary fellowship to Barry John for his contribution towards sport and rugby in particular, the day came to a finale with a celebratory dinner in the Lloyd Thomas Hall.

There was an excellent atmosphere, with all of the rugby teams joining in to enjoy an evening of locally sourced produce, presentations from the teams and the university, excellent Welsh music from UWTSD students and inspiring, and amusing stories from both Ven. Randolph Thomas and Selwyn Walters on rugby through the years and its significance to Welsh life and Welsh heritage.

The whole experience capped an excellent day of celebration that recognised the contribution that the little Welsh town of Lampeter has made to the Welsh nation’s biggest, best, and most loved sport.

  • Monuments to Welsh rugby: The King and his Court

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Dayne Stone

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