Ray Gravell

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Ray Gravell
Ray Gravell Lions.jpg
Gravell in action for the Lions in 1980
Full name Raymond William Robert Gravell
Date of birth (1951-09-12)12 September 1951
Place of birth Kidwelly, Wales
Date of death 31 October 2007(2007-10-31) (aged 56)
Place of death Málaga, Spain
School Burry Port Secondary Modern School
Carmarthen Grammar School
Rugby union career
Playing career
Position Centre
Amateur clubs
Years Club / team
1970–1985
1975–
Llanelli RFC
Barbarians
National team(s)
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1975–1982
1980
Wales
British Lions
23
4
(4)
(4)

Raymond William Robert "Ray" Gravell (12 September 1951 – 31 October 2007) was a Welsh rugby union centre who played club rugby for Llanelli RFC. At international level, Gravell earned 23 caps[1] for Wales and was selected for the 1980 British Lions tour to South Africa.

In his later career he would become a respected broadcaster and occasional actor. Gravell was also a member of the Gorsedd of Bards, an honour bestowed on him for his contribution to the Welsh language. At the Eisteddfodau Gravell was known by his bardic name Ray o'r Mynydd and was given the ceremonial role of Grand Sword Bearer.[2]

Biography[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire, the son of a collier, Gravell moved to Mynydd-y-Garreg at a young age with his family. Gravell was educated at Burry Port Secondary Modern School and Carmarthen Grammar School.

Rugby career[edit]

He first played for Llanelli RFC in 1970 and was a member of the team that beat a formidable touring All Blacks side in October 1972, eventually going on to captain the club for two seasons from 1980 to 1982. He made his first appearance for Wales against France in 1975[3] and played in two Grand Slam winning sides, usually as a centre but sometimes as a winger. Gravell was selected to play for the British and Irish Lions in their 1980 tour of South Africa; he came on as a substitute in the first test and was in the starting line up for the next three tests. In the second test at Bloemfontein, Gravell scored his second international try, though the tourists lost 26–19 to the South Africans.

Often epitomising the hard edge of rugby, Gravell was the classic crash ball centre, thriving on the physical contact of the sport. He is often cited as the source for the much repeated rugby phrase, "get your first tackle in early, even if it's late."

He announced his retirement from international rugby in 1982, and played his last match for Llanelli in 1985 having played 485 times and scored 120 tries for the club. He was President of Llanelli RFC until his death.

Broadcasting and acting career[edit]

In 1985, he joined the BBC taking the leading role in Bonner, a BBC Cymru film for the Welsh Language broadcaster S4C. He appeared in the BBC TV movie Filipina Dreamgirls, and this led to a role in the 1992 Louis Malle film Damage as the chauffeur of the character played by Jeremy Irons. In the same year, 1992, Gravell appeared alongside Peter O'Toole in Rebecca's Daughters, a British comedy film directed by Karl Francis that was based on a story by Dylan Thomas. The film also starred Joely Richardson and Paul Rhys.[4] He also played a gypsy in the 1996 Welsh cult horror film Darklands directed by Julian Richards and starring Craig Fairbrass and Jon Finch.

He also presented regular chat and entertainment shows for both BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru. Up until his death, he was a member of the BBC's Welsh language rugby commentary team where he was an interviewer during Celtic League, Powergen Cup and Heineken Cup matches. He also hosted a breakfast radio show on Radio Cymru in West Wales and co-hosted I'll Show You Mine with Frank Hennessy on Radio Wales.

Ray Gravell was "rugby consultant" and appeared as "Referee No 1" in the film Up 'n' Under.[citation needed] He also appeared in the Wales episode of Floyd on Britain and Ireland (1988) where he joined Keith Floyd in the kitchen, commented on some career highlights, and translated ingredients into Welsh.[citation needed]

Later life, diabetes and death[edit]

In 2000 he was diagnosed with diabetes and ill-health plagued his later years. On 18 April 2007, it was announced that he had been readmitted to hospital following an operation to amputate two toes as a result of a diabetes-related infection,[5] and his right leg was amputated below the knee.[6] Because of the operation, Gravell was unable to continue his bardic duties as the Grand Sword Bearer. The ceremonial role was passed on to fellow international rugby union player Robin McBryde. In the following months, Gravell continued public duties, including appearances on television and at the Urdd Gobaith Cymru.

Just six months after the operation and 35 years to the day after Llanelli's famous win over the All Blacks, Gravell died of a heart attack, aged just 56. He was taken ill on 31 October 2007 while on a family holiday in Spain, but did not recover and died late that night. After his death tributes were led by Welsh Rugby Union chief executive, Roger Lewis, who said "We are all in total shock because Ray was so full of life even through the difficult health problems he suffered recently. We will miss him as a rugby legend but more importantly, we will miss Ray as a great friend and a fine, family man."[7]

A public funeral was held at Stradey Park on 15 November 2007, attended by up to ten thousand mourners from all over Wales. Gravell's flag-draped coffin was carried on to the field by six Llanelli players, from past and present, and placed on a red carpet as the ceremony was conducted. Tributes were given in both Welsh and English by First Minister for Wales Rhodri Morgan and by a number of friends and colleagues. During the ceremony, the scoreboard read "Llanelli 9 Seland Newydd 3", just as it did at the end of that famous match in 1972. After the ceremony, the coffin was given a guard of honour by both the current Llanelli Scarlets squad and the remaining members of the 1972 Llanelli RFC team that beat the All Blacks. Following the public service, Gravell's family and close friends conducted a private ceremony at Llanelli Crematorium.[8][9]

At the time of his death, Gravell was mentoring ex-Welsh Guardsman and war hero Simon Weston in the BBC Wales 'reality' TV show The Big Welsh Challenge, in which a team of five celebrities were tasked with mastering the Welsh language in just 12 months. Simon made the decision to pull out of the show as he felt unable to continue without his friend of 20 years.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Gravell and his wife Mari lived in Mynydd-y-garreg, Carmarthenshire, with their two daughters, Manon and Gwenan, on a street named after him, Heol Ray Gravell (Ray Gravell Road).[11] His father had committed suicide when Gravell was a young man.

Tribute[edit]

At the Wales v France match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on 15 March 2008, Gravell's daughters, Gwenan and Manon, led the Wales team on to the pitch carrying the Triple Crown plate. In the same match, Neil Jenkins, Wales' goal kicking coach, and other members of the coaching staff wore number 13 shirts bearing Gravell's name.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Rugby Clubs of Wales pp81, David Parry-Jones (1989) ISBN 0-09-173850-4
  2. ^ Ray Gravell The Independent 2 November 2007, Meic Stephens
  3. ^ Fields of Praise, The Official History of the Welsh Rugby Union 1881–1981 pp442, David Smith, Gareth Williams (1980)
  4. ^ "Ray Gravell: Man of the people". WalesOnline. Media Wales. 4 November 2007. Retrieved 1 June 2009. 
  5. ^ "Rugby legend readmitted after op". BBC News – South West Wales. 18 April 2007. Retrieved 18 April 2007. 
  6. ^ "Rugby hero's right leg amputated". BBC News – South West Wales. 19 April 2007. Retrieved 18 April 2007. 
  7. ^ "Wales rugby legend Gravell dies". BBC Sport. 1 November 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  8. ^ "Thousands bid farewell to 'Grav'". BBC News. 15 November 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2007. 
  9. ^ "Fans flock to service for Ray Gravell". WalesOnline. Media Wales. 15 November 2007. Retrieved 1 June 2009. 
  10. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/learnwelsh/bigwelshchallenge/news/simon_goes.shtml
  11. ^ "Rugby hero's right leg amputated". BBC News. 18 April 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Derek Quinnell
Llanelli RFC captain
1980–1982
Succeeded by
Phil May