Peter Jackson: JPR’s a Wales legend but was Price even better?

Anniversaries have been all the rage of late, from the 25th of England’s last Grand Slam double under Will Carling to the 50th of Gareth Edwards’ debut for Wales. Another came and went on Friday without a peep of public acknowledgement, an occasion mourned by family and old friends with fond memories of a player hailed by one Lions captain as the best Welsh full-back of all, better than JPR Williams and Lewis Jones.
Terry Price lost his life on April 7, 1993, in a road accident on the A34 near Bicester. He was 47. Those of us who remember him in his pomp cannot understand why a player of his towering stature should have become such a relatively understated figure during the 24 years since his sudden death.
His career, like his life, may have been cut short but for the benefit of the uninitiated, the miner’s son from the village of Hendy performed deeds which all but the very privileged few could only dream of.  Those achievements are truly the stuff of legend.
Imagine one of the most famous clubs in the world taking a boy straight out of the classroom and picking him to play against the most famous of all international teams, the All Blacks. Llanelli, back in the day when the town was spelt Llanelly, took Price out of the local grammar school straight onto the left wing against one of the mightiest of all New Zealand teams.
The 18-year-old made his bow on New Year’s Eve 1963 and while the Scarlets duly fell to Sir Wilson Whineray’s fifth All Blacks, Price left a mark on the tourists which they would feel for the rest of the trip. His tackle put Waka Nathan into hospital and the greatest of all Maori forwards has never forgotten “the kid from Wales who broke my jaw”.
Who else could win his first cap against England at 19 on a day when the January squalls turned Cardiff Arms Park into a puddled swamp? The crowd that day included a couple of newly-weds who had made the trip from Hollywood – Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Nothing, and nobody, ever fazed Price. As David Watkins, Wales’ outside-half that day and a Lions Test captain in New Zealand the following year, recalled: “I still rate him a better full-back than JPR Williams, although he lacked John’s aggression and dedication.
“Terry could have been the best full-back of all time but he was plagued by injury at a vital stage of his career.
“He strolled into the dressing-room that day against England, changed and walked out onto the pitch as if it was a Saturday afternoon kick-around. I’ve never seen a young player who exuded so much confidence.’’
That confidence laid the foundations for a joyride at Twickenham the following year, when Wales won again and Price’s three goals made all the difference. Alun Pask’s corner try prompted the captain, in his paternal manner, to ask the young full-back whether he thought he could nail the conversion from the touchline.
Price, the story goes, grabbed the ball and told Pask: “Just watch it sail between the sticks.’’  Some of his team-mates were struck at how their full-back turned his back on the ball once he had put it to flight, certain that it wouldn’t miss.
Who else could find the nerve and the power to drop a goal from virtually halfway and in doing so seal a Triple Crown at the first attempt? Price did that against Ireland at the Arms Park in March 1965 and he did it despite the rain.
Who else could become a Lion in New Zealand at the age of 20, as Price did albeit as a replacement? His last international, an abortive Grand Slam bid against France in Paris where he missed a volley of penalty shots, happened to be Edwards’ first.
And after Price had cashed his Union chips in for £8,000 of Bradford Northern’s money, who else would then be spirited off to America by the Buffalo Bills? He signed a contract with the then newly-formed AFL franchise but they never quite managed to get him as far as the ball park.
“My dad trained with them over a period of several months,’’ David Price, his 49-year-old son, said. “They wanted him to stay out there but he wasn’t keen. He wanted to get home and so there was a mutual agreement to sever the contract. As far as I know, he didn’t play a game in the NFL.’’
Others claim he did, an uncertainty that extends to the circumstances of that fatal accident in Oxfordshire near Bicester. Price Jnr, who runs an insurance business in Horsham, never realised the full extent of his father’s fame before the tragedy.
“I got a phone call from my mum to say that my dad’s died. I couldn’t believe it.
“He’d driven my nanna up to Oxford and had decided to drive straight back home to Hendy, probably in time for a pint at the rugby club. He was involved in a small altercation with another driver and there was a bit of damage.
“My dad went to pick something up from the road, I think it was a bumper but, on his way to his car, he was struck by a car driven by a little old lady. I hold no malice to her. I don’t think she was culpable.
“Driving home the next day, they interrupted Radio One to announce my father’s death. That was a big thing. It was also the first real idea I had of what he had achieved as a rugby player.
“The funeral really brought it home to me about how much the people of Hendy and the whole of Wales admired him. A lot of famous players were there, including Barry John.
“I’m Welsh through and through. I’d grown up thinking JPR was the best full-back ever but then I started to hear some people say that JPR was there at the start because my dad had gone North. Really? Yes, really.
“After the funeral I asked the BBC for some recordings of his matches. And they included that monster of a drop goal against Ireland. From such a long way out, you’d imagine the ball had just crept over the bar. Instead it sailed over and kept going.
“My dad is an understated person in the history of the game but I don’t think he’s forgotten. He’s certainly not forgotten by people like Gareth Edwards, CliveRowlands and Phil Bennett who never miss an opportunity to say how great a player he was.
“To me, he was my dad, my old man with the dodgy knees. I was lucky enough to play cricket with him. He was such a wonderful outgoing person and my eldest, Aled, is a fly half at Bristol University and a real chip off the Price block.’’

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