Black lives matter. In rugby league, this is something we’ve always been proud of. Our inclusion record is amongst the best in sport, and has been for over 100 years. We, in Wales Rugby League fielded our first black international player 85 years ago. We have since continued to produce quality rugby league players from all races and genders.
As part of the work that the Wales Rugby League CEO Gareth Kear is doing, our board will soon have a 60-40 gender and BAME parity split to reflect society and the rich heritage of rugby league.
On June 23 2020, which was Wales women’s captain Rafiuke Taylor’s 42 birthday, Ian Golden selected his Welsh BAME XIII based on full Wales or Great Britain internationals.
This article was republished on October 1 2020 to celebrate the start of “Black History Month”, and four of these 13 players are now up for nomination for ‘One Team – One Race, Honouring the Cardiff Bay Rugby Codebreakers’. New for October 1 2020, click on the player names for extended player profiles…
1 Phil Ford
He was the rubber man. He delighted rugby league crowds all around the world with his performances for Wales and Great Britain after coming north from Cardiff. I first saw him for Wales v PNG in 1991 where he had a majestic performance scoring a hat-trick of tries.
2 Billy Boston
Famously came up north after knowing he wouldn’t be selected for Cardiff RFC or Wales due to his colour. He scored 29 tries in 33 tests for Great Britain but only played for Wales in non-test games, as we only had two full internationals when he played in the 1950s and 60s, and he was injured or unavailable for both.
3 George Bennett
On New Year’s Day 1935, Bennett became the first black player to ever turn out for a British international rugby league side and the first to play rugby for Wales – nearly 49 years before the first black Wales rugby union international. He was Newport born but signed for Wigan from Weston Super Mare, such was the reluctance of Welsh rugby union sides to select him in the early 1930s. He later joined Bradford Northern.
4 Roy Francis
More famous as a winger but he did also play at centre at times too. He won five caps for Wales and one for GB between 1945 and 1948 but then became famous as not only one of the greatest rugby league coaches of all time, but the first ever black British professional coach in any sport when he took charge of Hull in the 1950s before moving onto Leeds, Bradford and North Sydney Bears.
5 Clive Sullivan
The second black captain of a British international side, and the first in 90 years, leading GB to the 1972 Rugby League World Cup. He scored more than 1,000 points in his RL career, winning 15 caps for Wales, many of them in the 1975 World Championship, and 17 for GB. Having a road named after him in Kingston Upon Hull proves his legendary status.
6 Danny Wilson
The father of current Wales association football coach Ryan Giggs, Wilson played four times for Wales between 1981 and 1984. Rated very highly by all who saw him at stand-off, he played for Widnes, Barrow, Swinton, Springfield Borough and Runcorn after going north from Cardiff.
7 Alex Givvons
He played at loose forward for Wales but he was also a very useful scrum-half whilst at Oldham. Born in Newport, he signed from Cross Keys in 1933. The second black player to turn out for Wales, he finished on the winning side in all six of his games between 1936 and 1939. He played 241 times for Oldham, and in January 1995, sixty-two years after his arrival, he performed the unveiling of the initial Oldham R.L. Hall of Fame.
8 Anthony Farrell
A strong prop for Wales, he won six caps between 2000 and 2003, this after pulling on the England shirt twice, once against Wales. Playing for Sheffield Eagles, Widnes Vikings and Leeds Rhinos, he moved to the Wales backroom staff after retiring and eventually became a prison officer.
9 Lloyd White
A product of the youth system in Wales, Lloyd White, who is Phil Ford’s nephew came into prominence after a man of the match performance for Newport Titans in the 2007 Welsh Grand Final, despite being on the losing side. He was snapped up by Celtic Crusaders and came through their reserves, also playing for South Wales Scorpions in 2010 before spending many years in Super League with Widnes Vikings. Currently on 15 Welsh caps, he now plies his trade with Toulouse in the RFL Championship.
10 Phil Joseph
Winning 15 caps for Wales between 2005 and 2017, Phil Joseph was primarily a tough loose forward for Wales but did make a couple of appearances at prop at the very end of his international career whilst at the 2017 World Cup in Australia. Qualifying for Wales via the grandparents rule, Joseph played for ten clubs in his career, one of them being a short spell with North Wales Crusaders.
11 Tyson Frizell
Australian born with Welsh and Tongan parentage, Tyson Frizell played six times for Wales between 2011 and 2013 before transferring his allegiance to his birth country. Due to the rules in international rugby league, he is welcome to switch back to Wales at any time. His brother Shannon, a New Zealand RU international would also be welcome if he ever switched codes.
12 Colin Dixon
Despite “just” 16 Welsh caps, Dixon is Wales longest serving international, making his debut in 1963 and his final appearance in 1981 – the gap between his first and last cap is 6,604 days, just 17 days longer than Jim Sullivan. Played in the 1972 World Cup winning side for Great Britain and was part of the Wales side who beat England in the 1975 competition. A tough utility player, primarily second row, with over 700 first class appearances, his grandson Chester Butler is a current Wales international.
13 Rafiuke Taylor
Rafiuke Taylor started playing rugby when most would be thinking about retiring. Discovering women’s rugby union at aged 34, she started playing for Barry Ladies. After winning five Welsh rugby union caps, the first at aged 36, she discovered rugby league in 2019 with Cardiff Blue Dragons. She eventually became Wales Women Rugby League’s first ever captain and Wales’ first ever dual code women’s rugby international in 2019. She’s also a fantastic person to know and work with. She celebrates her 42nd birthday today, June 23rd 2020.
Plus in Wheelchair Rugby League…
James has played 14 times for the Wales Rugby League Wheelchair side, scoring three tries. He was part of the 2017 Wales side that won the second of their four consecutive Celtic Cup trophies. He started out in his sporting career as a swimmer, and progressed on to other Paralympic sports. He competed for Great Britain at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, finishing fifth in the trunk and arm classification in adaptive rowing. He also competed for GB at the 2012 Paralympics in London, finishing 8th in the sitting volleyball. He also played wheelchair basketball for Rhyl Raptors and Wheelchair Rugby League for Gravesend Dynamite and North Wales Crusaders.
Where to go after this? The wingers positions were pretty much nailed on, but it could probably be possible to pick a Wales BAME side entirely composed of wingers (if that was allowed). There’s Clive Sullivan’s son Anthony for a start. Then there’s Regan Grace, Dalton Grant, Gerald Cordle, Frank Wilson, Johnny Freeman, Paul Sterling and Dennis Brown to name just seven more. Not forgetting Billy Boston’s grandson Wes Davies and Rafiuke Taylor’s niece Savannah Ledsam, both full-backs, as well as Colin Dixon’s grandson Chester Butler, a second row forward. Check them all out in our player archive.