By David Williams
One of Welsh rugby’s favourite English sons – David “Dai” Duckham – has been hailed a major star of the post-war game after passing away at the age of 76.
The former England wing – who was held in rare affection in Wales – was a leading player in the 1970s and an integral part of the Lions squad that won in New Zealand in 1971.
The former Coventry player always enjoyed a special place in the hearts of Welsh supporters for his thrilling and dazzling running game with the ball in hand.
Jason Leonard, the World Cup-winning England prop, has led the tributes to Duckham, who died on Tuesday.
Leonard, who went on to become RFU president and Lions chairman, said: “So sad to hear the news of the loss of one of England’s finest players and great characters.
“I spent many an hour with David at events and it was an absolute joy to be in his company.”
Coventry Rugby is incredibly sad to learn of the news that David Duckham; ex Coventry, England and British and Irish Lions player, has died, aged 76.
Donned as arguably the ‘greatest’ ever Coventry player, our thoughts go out to David’s family at this difficult time. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/6ep0Th1tLS
— Coventry Rugby (@CoventryRugby) January 10, 2023
Duckham made nearly 200 appearances for Coventry between 1967 and 1979, where he was a homegrown hero who reached the heights of his sport.
The club paid tribute on Tuesday and will hold a minute’s silence on Saturday before their match against Jersey Reds.
In an era when England were not renowned as great entertainers, Duckham broke the mould when he burst on to the international scene.
Initially, he formed a midfield alliance with John Spencer but moved out to the wing and won 36 Test caps for his country, scoring 10 tries.
However, it was his feats in other shirts which fans remember most fondly. On the triumphant 1971 Lions tour of New Zealand, Duckham played in three of four Tests and scored 11 tries, including six in one game.
On that mission to the far south, he thrived under the guidance of legendary Welsh coach Carwyn James, and would become a respected figure throughout Wales, despite his nationality.
In 1973, Duckham’s performance for the Barbarians in their famous, glorious 23-11 win over New Zealand in Cardiff elevated him to rugby folklore.
The only English back surrounded by Welsh greats, he shredded the All Black defence and captivated the locals, who nicknamed him ‘Dai’, to reflect the fact that he was so good, he could have been one of their own.
When Duckham’s autobiography was released, it was titled Dai for England, a reference to that cross-border tribute.
“All at the Rugby Football Union are saddened to learn of the death of David Duckham MBE,” said a statement from England Rugby. ”
Duckham played 36 times for England, scoring 10 tries, and was also part of the revered Lions squad of 1971 that defeated New Zealand. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
RFU president Nigel Gillingham added: “David Duckham was not only one of the greatest and most talented of English players, but also a player so greatly admired around the world.”
“Coventry Rugby is incredibly sad to learn of the news that David Duckham, ex-Coventry, England and British and Irish Lions player, has died, aged 76,” read a statement from his former club.
“Donned as arguably the ‘greatest’ ever Coventry player, our thoughts go out to David’s family at this difficult time. The club will demonstrate a minute’s silence prior to kick-off at this Saturday’s match against Jersey and will be looking to organize a celebration of life for David, subject to conversations with the family. Rest in peace, David.”
Duckham’s England debut partner on the pitch, John Spencer, said: “It was an honor to be David’s partner on the pitch.
“He was one of the greatest ever players with ball in hand and a pivotal part of the Lions success in 1971, the only Lions tour that ever won in New Zealand. He was widely respected by players around the world and was a gentle, kind man, with a great sense of humour.
“David will be hugely missed by all who knew him.”