Sitting down with Steve Fenwick for a chat over a pint, one question immediately springs to mind.
Why has it taken him until now to write his life story?
“Everyone says that!” replies the 70-year-old Wales great, whose autobiography - ‘Dragons and Lions: My Life in Rugby’ - has just been published.
“I was asked numerous times to do one, from retirement at 35 all the way through.
“I never really thought I wanted to, to be honest.
“But then, as time is going on, I was still getting people saying ‘Why haven’t you written a book?’
“I thought, in the end, now is about the right time because if I don’t do it now I will never do it. So I decided I would give it a go and I quite enjoyed it once I started.
“It was nice to rediscover things you had forgotten about and people you had forgotten about.
“I would look at a picture or a newspaper cutting and it would jog a memory.
“Then I would ring someone like Brynmor (Williams) or Tom (David) and ask them about a particular game, so people have been great.”
Fenwick undertook the project very much in his own way, writing the whole initial transcript out in long hand.
“I just found it much easier that way,” he said.
“I don’t use a computer if I can help it. I am a people person.”
There was certainly plenty for him to write about.
His 30 caps in the centre for Wales brought him two Grand Slams, four Triple Crowns and 152 points, while he started all four Tests on the 1977 Lions tour of New Zealand.
Then there was his spell in rugby league, which brought further international honours, and his return to Union on the coaching and administrative front with Bridgend, along with his successful business career, which sees him still working today.
In terms of where it all began, he was born and bred in Caerphilly, cutting his rugby teeth at school and then with Taffs Well and Beddau, trying his hand at scrum-half, full-back and flanker before settling on midfield, then going on to join Bridgend.
His first representative honours actually came with the red rose on his chest, when he played for England Students while studying PE teaching at Borough Road College, in Isleworth, west London, with one of his three outings bringing a victory over the Welsh Colleges at Cheltenham.
But it was while wearing the three feathers that he was to rise to stardom.
Having caught the eye with his consistently assured performances for Bridgend, his first Wales cap came at the age of 23 against France at the Parc des Princes in January 1975.
“I felt a bit out of my depth,” he admits.
“You are looking round the dressing room and there was JPR, JJ, Gerald Davies, Phil Bennett, Gareth Edwards.
“You are thinking ‘Jesus Christ, what am I doing here?’
“Two years earlier, I was a student watching the game in Cardiff over the fence and all of a sudden you are in there.
“But, fair dos, I always remember John Dawes telling me ‘Look Steve, you wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think you had it in you’.
“He said ‘I don’t want you to change a thing. The reason you have been picked is what you do for Bridgend and I want you to do that for Wales’.
“It was great because it took the pressure off you.”
It was to prove the ultimate dream debut for Fenwick, as he went over for an early try and helped an unfancied Wales team featuring six new caps claim a famous victory.
“I got my cap, I scored after four minutes and I thought ‘I couldn’t give a s**t what happens now!’” he quips.
“In the end, I had a penalty and a conversion as well. I was over the moon.
“France away was the hardest game you could choose. There was no harder game and we had six new caps in the team - and we won 25-10!
“You had to keep pinching yourself.”
One of the other debutants that day was Fenwick’s co-centre Ray Gravell, with whom he was to form a formidable partnership over the next few years.
“Before that game in Paris, Grav had had a telegram from Tiddles the cat,” he recalls.
“Now that kind of thing wasn’t in Pontypool’s understanding.
“Charlie Faulkner came over and said ‘He’s only had a f***ing card off his f***ing cat’.
“You could see where Charlie was coming from, but there was Grav crying, tears streaming down his face, saying ‘Oh Tiddles have sent me a card’.
“The Pontypool boys were going ‘What the f***’s going on here?'"
Fenwick was to play alongside Gravell 20 times for Wales, sharing in a series of memorable triumphs.
“He was a very complex character. He was quite insecure,” he said.
“He needed to be assured that everything he was doing was right.
“That was my job. It used to wear me out.
“He wouldn’t stop talking during a game.
“He would go ‘Was I all right there?’ and I would go ‘Yes Grav’.
“He was a nervous wreck in the changing room beforehand and he would be sick over you.
“I would be thinking ‘Why do I have to be next to him?’.
“But that was the way he got up for the game, he would goad himself into it.
“He was a one-off really.
“Bridgend would play Llanelli and he would slam into me and we would go on the ground and the first thing he would say is ‘You are all right, are you Steve?’
“I would say, ‘Well I’m not sure yet Grav, I haven’t had time to get up’.
“He knew he had to hit you hard, but then as soon as he did he wanted to check you were ok. He was a gentleman. We got on really well.”
Looking back, why does Fenwick feel they complemented each other so well on the field?
“I think it was because he was the same as me in that we were two new fish in the pond and you had all these superstars round you,” he said.
“I thought if we don’t work together, if we don’t work hard, we could go under here.
“Playing with some centres, the only time you will get the ball is when there’s nothing on and about eight people coming at you at a rate of knots.
"But Grav would never do that.
“I would say ‘Look, if I miss a tackle, for God’s sake, get it for me Grav’.
“He would say ‘I’ll do that. You do that for me as well’.
“We played left and right, but I would tend to be inside him most of the time because I had the added plus of being able to kick.”
Fenwick was very much the glue in the Welsh back-line, the man who provided the reliability and solidity alongside the star names, making vital contributions at vital times, be it a kick at goal, a try, a big tackle or a telling pass.
His role as a key cog in the machine was exemplified by his part in what has been voted Wales’ greatest ever try, Phil Bennett’s touchdown against Scotland at Murrayfield in 1977.
It was Fenwick who launched the counter attack from inside his own 22, feeding the ball out to Gerald Davies and then he popped up again to give the final pass to Bennett, an instant fingertip flick that you never tire of watching.
“That try summed up the attacking mindset of the team,” he said.
“The big thing about that for me was we had been under pressure in our own half for 20 minutes.
“When we won the ball, straight away there was that belief that we can score here.
“Don’t put it into touch, which is what people normally did.
“You could sense straight away that there was something on.”
While Wales swept most teams aside, it was France who consistently provided the really tough opposition during those golden years of the 1970s.
“It was always them. They were the big rivals,” said Fenwick.
“The size of their pack, they were absolutely enormous.
“You had Cholley, the heavyweight boxing champion of France at prop, all 20 stone of him. That’s a start. They don’t come much bigger.
“You had Paco, the hooker, and Paparemborde at tighthead. He was bloody huge, he was a giant.
“You had the two second rows, Imbernon - he was a nasty bit of work - and Palmie, with his glass eye.
“Then there was Bastiat at No 8, all 6ft 8 and a half inches of him.”
So, was hard the word to describe them or dirty?
“Both. Nasty is another one!” replied Fenwick.
“I remember poor old Phil Bennett got stuck on the side of a ruck in Paris.
“You could see Bastiat spot him. The ref was the other side, so Bastiat was just dinging Benny at will.
“Benny was going from one side to the other because he couldn’t get out.
“Yeah, Bastiat was the nastiest.
“I can remember him stamping on Clive Burgess’ head in one game.
“I was thinking I can’t just stand here and not do anything, so I crept up from the side and whacked him as hard as I could.
“In the cartoons and the films, they go down, don’t they?
“Well, he just turned and growled at me!
“I thought ‘Oh s**t, what have I done here now?’.
“For the rest of the game then I was looking over my shoulder for him.”
As for the best player Fenwick lined up alongside, well he has no hesitation on that front.
“Oh, JPR Williams,” he says, picking his long-time Bridgend and Wales team-mate.
“He typified everything you had to have.
“Nobody ever had the commitment that JPR had.
“That tackle he pulled off on Gourdon in the 1976 Grand Slam game, when he smashed him into the crowd, that summed him up.
“The thing with him was he was the same whatever the game was.
“I remember once we played against Scotland on the Saturday and then Monday night it was Bridgend and Cross Keys.
“You are trying to get off the old hangover from the night before.
“But that game was as important to JPR as the Wales-Scotland game.
“I can remember him being bundled into touch and fighting with their flanker, punching his way out.
“I was thinking ‘I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t get that excited’.
“But he wasn’t British junior tennis champion for nothing, was he?
“He was such a competitor.
“When we were playing for Bridgend, he would come up behind me and say ‘Hey, Steve, you and I are going to have to change the direction of this game.’
“You would go ‘Eh?’, but he meant it.
“It was like Roy of the Rovers.”
Together, they twice won the Welsh Cup with Bridgend, triumphing in successive years in 1979 and 1980.
And with Wales, there were the Grand Slams of 1976 and 1978, along with four Triple Crowns on the trot in the final years of the decade.
They were heady days indeed.
“For us to keep at that standard for six or seven years was great for the nation and for ourselves,” said Fenwick.
“You had all the adoration and people just loved the way we played rugby.”
Disappointments were few and far between, but when they did come, there was a common denominator - the All Blacks.
First there was the 1977 Lions tour, where Fenwick played in all four Tests - partnering Ian McGeechan in the centre - as the series was lost 3-1.
“We did well and we were unlucky,” he says.
“We won the second Test and we were the better side in the last two Tests and should have won the last one. We had our chances.”
But there was to be an even more bitter experience to come the following year.
With just a minute to go at Cardiff Arms Park, Wales were leading and on course for their first victory over New Zealand since 1953.
But then Kiwi second rows Andy Haden and Frank Oliver jumped theatrically out of a lineout and a penalty was awarded, with replacement full-back Brian McKechnie slotting the kick to snatch a hugely controversial 13-12 win.
“That was terrible,” says Fenwick.
“It was the first time I had seen soccer tactics in rugby.
“I thought it was disgusting.
“We deserved to win. We were the better side that day.
“They had to go to that, which shows they were desperate.
“It should never have been.
“In the function after the game, you can imagine the air was rife, it was not a good atmosphere.
“They were having a bit of a chuckle and we were snarling.
“We were sat in the dinner next to each other. Then, all of a sudden, Geoff Wheel said 'Frank, can you dive over here with the pepper and Andy can you dive over with the salt’.
“That broke the atmosphere and everybody had a laugh and a drink and a joke together, which is what rugby is all about.
“But looking back, I felt terrible because we were conned and to beat New Zealand with Wales was one of the things I really wanted to do.
“But, then again, you can’t be bitter all your life.”
Fenwick was captain for his last three games for Wales, with his final cap coming against Scotland in February 1981, ahead of him switching to rugby league later that year.
Having signed for the Cardiff City Blue Dragons, he went on to win further caps in the 13-man code before hanging up his boots at 35.
He returned to Union as first backs coach and then chief executive at Bridgend, going on to have coaching spells at Newport and Abercynon.
Away from rugby, he taught for ten years, the bulk of that time at St Cennydd School in Caerphilly, prior to setting up a successful chemical supply company - Triple Crown Industrial Chemicals - with Tommy David.
For the past two decades, he has worked in recruitment and he has recently taken up a role as business development manager with Darcy Associates.
Although he turned 70 in July, the Groeswen-based Fenwick has no great urge to head into retirement.
“I had a year and two months on furlough doing nothing,” he said.
“It was driving me up the bend. There are only so many programmes you can watch on the television.
“I am glad to be back.
“As I say, I have been a people person most of my life.
“Rugby is a people’s game and then teaching is a people thing, so is repping and so is recruitment.”
As for his family life, he has been married to his wife Wendy for 49 years and they have two children, son Sion and daughter Kate.
Reflecting finally on his rugby journey, what was it the game gave to him?
“It gave you a sense of well-being,” he said.
“There is no thrill like going out on the field against France or New Zealand.
“You are just lucky to be alive to experience that.
“As a boy, your aims and objectives were club success, then playing for your country and then playing for the Lions and I did all of that.
“It was like a dream come true for a kid really. That’s the way I look upon it.
“But the people are the most important thing. Wherever you go in the world, you will bump into somebody from rugby.
“It’s a hard, physical game, but it’s an enjoyable experience and you can have a laugh about it after.
“There are not many sports where you can knock seven bells of s**t out of each other and then have a pint with each other afterwards.”
And, with that, we supped up and it was time to bid farewell to one of the real greats of Welsh rugby, a man who achieved so much in the game.
* Steve Fenwick's autobiography 'Dragons and Lions: My Life in Rugby’ is published by St David's Press.
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