RIP Dai Watkins

Everyone at Wales Rugby League was sad to hear about the passing of David Watkins MBE, one of our greatest ever players. He was aged 81.

Dai, as he was affectionately known as, is recognised as one of the greatest Welshmen to have ever pulled on a rugby shirt. He became Wales’ 28th captain in 1975 and captained the side in 13 of his 16 full Welsh capped matches, including 1975 World Cup wins over New Zealand, France and England (in the famous Battle of Brisbane). This included the last time that Wales beat New Zealand in senior rugby in either code. He also won six caps for Great Britain.

But that is just part of his story. Born in Blaina in 1942, he joined Newport RFC in 1961 from Cwmcelyn Youth but also played some games for Abertillery, Ebbw Vale and Pontypool. Before his move to Newport, he was actually offered £5,000 to join St Helens when he was only 18. His mother said “let’s all go” but his father said “my son will play for Wales!”

He famously played for Newport for seven seasons, scoring 294 points in 202 games, the highlight being a 3-0 home win over the touring All Blacks in 1963. He was capped 21 times for Wales in rugby union and six times for the Lions. And he was the current captain of all three sides when Salford came in for him in 1967 for £16,000. His move was a shock to everyone in rugby union at the time. Saturday’s South Wales Football Argus merely commented that Newport had ‘lost David Watkins’ for their 13-13 draw with Gloucester but by then Dai had already made his Salford debut. They rushed him into the team for their Friday night match against Oldham and Saturday afternoon’s Argus recorded: “The latest recruit from Welsh rugby, Dai looked well worth his record signing fee of £13,000 as he tore apart the Oldham defence, scoring a try and two dropped goals in Salford’s 12-6 victory.”

He became Salford’s record points scorer with 2,907 points in 407 games and in 1972-73 he kicked a world record 221 goals in a season. He also holds the longest scoring run record where he notched points in 92 consecutive matches for Salford from 19 August 1972 to 25 April 1974. Thanks to him, Salford won the league title in 1973–74 and 1975–76. 

In 1977 he coached Great Britain in the next World Cup as they reached the Final only to lose 13-12 to Australia. He then went on to coach Wales and also became one of the founders and coaches of Cardiff City Blue Dragons in 1981, helping to reintroduce rugby league into South Wales. He received an MBE for his services to rugby league in 1986. He remained in the Newport area and such was his standing in the community, he became the Newport RFC team manager in 1992, three years before the ban was lifted for any rugby league players to be involved in rugby union. He later became the Newport RFC’s chairman. He remained a supporter of rugby league in Wales and later became president of Celtic Crusaders RLFC and was often seen at their matches as well as games in Gwent.

In 2017, he was honoured with the Special Recognition Award at the Sport Wales Awards at Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, and in 2018, elected into the Wales Rugby League Hall of Fame

David Watkins 05/03/1942 – 03/09/2023