The greatest fly-halves of all time: Cliff Morgan
Cliff Morgan wasn't on the international scene for long, but the Welshman left a lasting imprint
Major teams: Cardiff, Bective Rangers
Test span: 1951-58
Wales caps: 29 (29 starts)
Lions caps: 4 (4 starts)
Test points: 12 (4T)
Twelve international points – four tries – seems a meagre return for one of the legendary fly-halves, but Morgan was one of the finest playmakers the game has seen.
His alacrity for running and passing the ball was instilled in him at Tonyrefail GS, where so insistent was gamesmaster Ned Gribble on the need to supply the wings that he once dropped Morgan for kicking a match-winning drop-goal. Morgan never attempted a drop-goal in international rugby and only landed two goals for Cardiff during an illustrious career spanning most of the Fifties.
Joining the blue-and-blacks straight from school, he was blessed to play alongside three Lions in scrum-half Rex Willis and centres Bleddyn Williams and Jack Matthews. It was Williams who taught him how to execute a scissors – turning the body totally and seeing the ball into the receiver’s hands – and he used it to stunning effect with Ken Jones in particular.
Game plans didn’t exist in that era, which played into Morgan’s hands, for he thrived on playing off the cuff. “It was the players with immediate reactions who made a success of the game,” he said.
Hailing from Trebanog in the Rhondda Valley, Morgan made his Wales debut at 20 and was caught out by the great Jack Kyle, who lulled him into a false sense of security by always moving the ball wide, only to strike like a viper when Morgan drifted out too early.
It was a lesson the spring-heeled Morgan heeded well during a golden era for Wales that included a Five Nations title when he was captain in 1956. He missed just three games for his country from 1951-58 and, with 29 caps, held the Welsh stand-off record for 37 years until broken by Neil Jenkins in 1996.
His high point was sparking one of the all-time great back-lines as part of the 1955 Lions squad. Morgan captained the Lions to victory in the third Test in Pretoria, a result that ensured they couldn’t lose the series, though it’s the first Test in Johannesburg, a thrilling 23-22 win in front of a 96,000 crowd, that is most celebrated.
Retiring at the age of 27 because of the need to make a proper living, he joined the BBC and became a giant of broadcasting. He suffered a stroke in 1972 and later cancer of the larynx, before passing away in 2013.