The sad passing of Cliff Morgan is worthy of comment, as he was not just one of the greatest fly-halves the game has ever seen but also one of rugby’s most respected commentators. All his great achievements on the rugby pitch were more than matched by his success in broadcasting. In addition to rugby, he was responsible for the BBC TV coverage of Football Word Cups, as well as Commonwealth and Olympic Games. He then moved on to become the voice of BBC Radio Sport. He possessed a voice that one never tired of hearing, a seemingly endless vocabulary and a passion for sport which was unrivalled. That one so eloquent should be struck by cancer of the vocal chords seems a cruel irony.
Morgan won 29 caps for Wales and 4 for the British & Irish Lions in his eight year international career. During that time there were many notable achievements, but among the highlights were the wins for both Cardiff and Wales against the visiting All Blacks in 1953. He was also a key player in the Lions team that toured South Africa in 1955, drawing the test series with the Springboks 2-2. He turned down, what were then, vast amounts of money offered to play rugby league. He retired at 29, and then moved straight into his new life in broadcasting. Despite suffering a severe stroke at 41, he battled back to continue his TV career, which only went from strength to strength.
One of my early rugby memories is of watching television coverage of the famous Barbarians victory over the All Blacks in 1973. It has gone down as one of the great games and is remembered by many for, what has been frequently described as, the greatest try of all time. Scored by Gareth Edwards, the try resulted from a move started by three outrageous sidesteps by Phil Bennett in front of his own posts. The ball then passed through the hands of five players, before Edwards sprinted to score in the corner. The rugby was memorable, but the indelible mark was left by the commentary of Cliff Morgan. Morgan only got called up at the last minute because the “Voice of Rugby”, Bill McLaren, was unwell. He got to his commentary position at the top of Cardiff Arms Park’s East Stand to discover he had come without his notes and programme. By this time, the ladder to the commentary box had been removed and unaided, Morgan proceeded to deliver one of the most passionate, impartial and moving commentaries that has ever been heard. As play restarted after the conversion, he uttered the immortal line “If the greatest writer of the written word, would have written that story, no one would have believed it”.
I encountered the great man once. It was Saturday July 17th 1993, and my wife and I were making our way to Royal St Georges Golf Club in Kent for Day 3 of the Open Championship. We drove to the train station and listened to Morgan broadcasting from the Open, waiting for his account of the Bledisloe Cup game which had taken place at Carisbrook over night. As he was about to start the report, the train arrived and we had to abandon the radio so were none the wiser as to the result of the game. Sometime later as we arrived at St Georges, who should be walking towards us but Cliff Morgan. We stopped him, introduced ourselves and explained how we had missed his report on the rugby. He proceeded to give us a detailed, passionate and excited run down on the game. I pinched myself as I listened to him describe how the All Blacks had beaten the Wallabies 25-10, to retain the Bledisloe Cup. But it was so much more than that. It was the voice, the legend, the gentleman – it was a rare encounter with a truly great man and a moment we will never forget.