Dennis Gethin . . . Player, Lawyer, Guv’nor And Hugely Popular Figure In Welsh Rugby

Dennis Gethin alongside the Princess of Wales. Pic: Getty Images.

Dennis Gethin . . . Player, Lawyer, Guv’nor And Hugely Popular Figure In Welsh Rugby

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Dennis Gethin, the former secretary and president of the Welsh Rugby Union, has died at the age of 79.

Born in Seven Sisters, he enjoyed a hugely successful career in both rugby and the law. He was the 11th and last secretary of the WRU – the role became CEO in 2002 – and the 40th President of the union, serving between 2007-19.

His 12-year stint as president made him the second longest serving person in that office, behind Horace Lyne, who served from 1906-47.

He was also chairman of the Trustees of the Welsh Rugby Charitable Trust.

“Dennis served for 12 years as president of the Welsh Rugby Union and was known not only for his hard work, dedication and statesmanlike gravitas, but also for his unique and infectious sense of humour,” said current WRU chair, Richard Collier-Keywood.

“Dennis followed in the footsteps of some of the greatest rugby men in the history of our game and not only fulfilled the role astutely and with tremendous grace, but also took it on in leaps and bounds and made it his own.

“In 2016, he was awarded an OBE for his services to Welsh rugby, having also served as secretary for a five-year period from 1998. This was a most fitting tribute to a great man.

“He will be most remembered at the WRU for his unwavering advocacy for the Welsh Rugby Charitable Trust charity and his dedication to the individuals it supports.

“The sympathies of everyone in Welsh rugby are with his wife, Jan, family and friends at this difficult time. Dennis was an incredible servant to the game in Wales and will be sorely missed.”

Prior to joining the WRU, he had been chief executive of Taff Ely Borough Council between 1982 and 1996.

After leaving the union, he became a member of the BBC Broadcasting Council in Wales from 2004-2009.

He learned his rugby at the famous Neath Grammar School nursery before heading to Cambridge University to study law.

He won two caps for the Welsh Secondary Schools in 1963, playing in the 14-6 home win over England and the 5-5 draw in France.

He was a goalkicking full-back, scoring eight points against England and landed a conversion in Bergerac against the French. His Neath GS teammate Ron Jones was in the pack, and he went on to win five senior caps for Wales.

Current WRU president, Gerald Davies, was in the three-quarter line along with another Wales and British & Irish Lions star, Maurice Richards.

Former Newport captain John Jeffery played in the pack and another future Cardiff clubmate, double international Keri Jones, played against the French.

Having gained a place at Cambridge, he found himself thrust in at the deep end after going up to Selwyn College by playing against the touring All Blacks.

He would eventually play against all three southern hemisphere touring teams before hanging up his boots in 1971 to concentrate on his job in the legal profession.

When his family heard he had won a place at Cambridge, his oldest brother Meredith, a coal miner like their father, presented him with a new pair of boots.
They cost him two weeks’ wages, but he was able to wear them against the All Blacks.

Another kind gesture came from another former Neath GS player who had just finished at Cambridge, Brian Thomas.

“Having left college the year I was going up, Brian arrived at the house with a gown, books and other items that Cambridge had listed as essentials and which he knew my mother, then a miner’s widow, could never afford to buy for me,” recalled Dennis.

“You don’t forget things like that. Community spirit is still strong in Wales, and it’s fueled by community rugby. We have a duty to honour and preserve that.”

A star-studded New Zealand side won the game at Grange Road 20-6, with Dennis picking up tips both on and off the field from the great Don Clarke.

“Being able to play rugby was a key part of me getting into Cambridge. It was part of the whole interview process at Selwyn,” recalled Dennis.

“I went up to Cambridge from my home in Seven Sisters in 1963 and a few weeks later found myself facing the All Blacks. I was only a teenager and found myself playing against the greatest full-back in the world in Don Clarke.

“It was quite an eye opener for me. As we came off the field the great man came over to me, shook my hand and said ‘let’s have a beer afterwards’.

“In the clubhouse, he sought me out and sat talking to me about the game for about half-an-hour. He’d given me a masterclass in full back play during the game and here he was doing it again over a beer afterwards. He really was a class act in every way.”

He played against the 1966 Wallabies for the Light Blues, in a side captained by another former Neath GS product, life-long friend and Wales hooker Brian Rees. They went down 6-5.

He also played in two Varsity Matches at Twickenham, converting a try by Rees in a 5-5 draw with Oxford. The pair were on the losing side, 8-6, in 1966.

Having played a few games for Seven Sisters, Swansea and Neath as a schoolboy and while at Cambridge, he joined Cardiff in 1966 and made 109 appearances in Blue & Black through to 1971.

In the 1968-69 season he scored 199 points to equal the club record that had stood since 1894.

He faced the 1969-70 South African tourists at Cardiff Arms Park in a game the Springboks won. After leaving Cardiff, he played a few games at Glamorgan Wanderers.

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