FIRST PERSON: Newport rugby hero, Dennis Perrott

South Wales Argus: FIRST PERSON: Newport rugby hero, Dennis Perrott FIRST PERSON: Newport rugby hero, Dennis Perrott

He was in the Newport RFC side which famously beat New Zealand back in 1963. Dennis Perrott talks to CAIO IWAN about how his heart was always set on rugby.

“I LOVED school and I didn’t want to leave, but on reflection I probably paid more attention to my sporting achievements than my education. Everybody thinks they could have done better don’t they? Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I have a twin brother, David – we’re like chalk and cheese. He was always interested in animals and farming when he was young, but my heart was always set on rugby.

Playing soccer gave me a great advantage – I played it for the first three years at secondary school. It gave me the ability to identify space awareness, balance, and to be good on my feet.

I left school to do national service when I was 18. I had finished school for two weeks when I joined the RAF, based initially in Cardington in Bedfordshire and then at Wilmslow in Cheshire for basic training for 16 weeks.

They put us in a gas chamber once. We went into this enclosed space in Wilmslow with gas masks on. I was born in 1937 so we always carried gas masks with us but that was an awful experience. The discipline was a big element – they were as mean as anything.

I had a job supervising the loading of 500 pound bombs in Milford Haven Bay – unbelievable. We’d go out in our RAF launch and tell people how to be careful and all the rest of it. You could make very good friends in 16 weeks, but then you had to part with them.

When I was based in London, Newbridge would pay my fair home to get me to play for them which was one guinea. There was a chap who was on the committee for London Welsh; Colin Bosley. He came from Blackwood so he knew me and asked me if I would go over to play for them. I didn’t train with them as such, but I played and I was as fit as a fiddle.

There was a small athletics track not far from where I ended up in London, Kidbrooke near Blackheath, so I used to keep my athletics ticking over.

In 1958 (for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games) I was selected in the Welsh squad for 440 yards, which I had been Welsh junior champion at twice previously, but national service messed that up for me. But I had a letter asking me to carry the baton with the Queen’s message in it.

I started right at the bottom of the Sirhowy Hill in Tredegar and went right to the top, with a Rolls Royce behind me. It was eventually passed on to my idol in both rugby and athletics, the great Ken Jones. Athletics had started at school and that’s why I didn’t concentrate on my studies. But I trained as a teacher and specialised in physical education which isn’t a surprise either. I did my training in Cardiff after leaving national service, so I wasn’t at home for long.

I played for the college team and we were all disciplined and fit as fleas having come from the service. We managed to win against St Luke’s College Exeter once, which was a giant killing at the time. Bryn Meredith, the three-time British Lion, had played for St Luke’s just before and that’s how he came to the fore really. In one season they scored 1,300 points and Bryn was in that side.

I got a job at Cross Keys College, the first sixth form college in Wales. It’s there where I met my wife Beryl (they married in 1967 in Llangwm).

We eventually bought this place in Newbridge. It was always my intention to go close to home because I was imbued with this rugby.

When I was at Abertillery, Graham Tovey was playing on the wing and he was selected to be the captain in ‘58. I played in the trials match and then went and scored four tries in my first game for them. He eventually came up to me and said ‘I’m going to leave the club. While I stay here as captain, you won’t get in the side, and I don’t want that because you’re a better player than me’.

Graham said that, and he had just been made captain. That was a sad occasion for me but I never let him down after, I was a star player in that side.

I thought I’d never be selected for the match against South Africa, but I was. There were no substitutions in those days. We played the last 15 minutes with 14 men. They were a different class altogether those touring sides.

I played three seasons at Abertillery with great success but then I went to Newport because it was a great ambition of mine. I was going to see Newport at the age of 15 every week and catching the bus from Oakdale to watch these players.

What I would say is, if you’ve got an ambition and you are willing to do anything necessary, you can do it. That was my ambition – to get into a top class side.

Italian side Roma came to play at Newport once. I scored a late try from 75 yards to save the match – it would have been unheard of for Newport to lose to an Italian side at Rodney Parade.

But the big one was the All Blacks (in 1963). We won 3-0, probably wasn’t the greatest of games but what a feeling to have played in it. I still have the shirts with me to this day, but I’ve got the memories to go with them as well – and you can’t take that away from me. It was an honour to be in that winning side and to have played my part on the wing.

I stopped playing for Newport in 1970 but they wanted me on the committee so I stayed on for two seasons. Then, an official from Oakdale RFC came knocking on my door and asked me if I could play a couple of games for them because they were lacking in experience.

I wrote a letter to the secretary saying I was going to return to Oakdale. I was 35 and I went back and played until I was almost 40. The pace was goood but I was still faster than a lot of them in a way. But it was in my 40th year, February 1977, when I went past this fellow and he stuck his leg out and caught me on my shin. My knee went the other way. I did my medial lateral ligaments and the cruciate ligaments – I never played a game of rugby after that. That was it.

The thing that wrangles with me really is that I’ve done all that, obviously proved myself on the playing field by all consensus of opinion, and never played for Wales. I played against every major touring team and scored 144 tries. I’m not bitter about it, but I played against every prospective winger in Wales and could always get the better of them.

I’m a bit disillusioned with rugby today; the emphasis is not on skill but about brute force.

After 36 years at Cross Keys College, I retired in 1997. I’m now secretary of the former players at Newport and have been a member of the Abercarn and Newbridge Rotary Club for 27 years, which is an important part of my life now.

Environmental charities are important to me, so I spend quite a bit of my money and time perhaps on those things. Religion means a lot to me too, and I feel it is important to me for the simple reason I have felt all my life to be blessed to be able to do the things I’ve done. It has been a gift.”

l Dennis Perrott played 335 senior rugby games, scoring 144 tries in the process. He is among a select group of players to have played against touring sides from New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. He was also the Welsh Junior champion and RAF home command champion at 440 yards in 1955 and 1957 respectively.

* Dennis Perrott played 335 senior rugby games, scoring 144 tries in the process. He is among a select group of players to have played against touring sides from New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. He was also the Welsh Junior champion and RAF home command champion at 440 yards in 1955 and 1957 respectively.

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