Welsh rugby has been an art form quite literally over the years. Groggs creator John Hughes was our Michelangelo of the game, passing his feats of clay on to his sculptor son Richard.

Legendary cartoonist Gren, meanwhile, always joked his ambition was to become “official war artist for the Welsh Rugby Union”. In more recent times, Elin Sian Blake has captured iconic moments of play on canvas beautifully.

And a new book puts 140 years of “fun, facts and stories” in the picture. An Illustrated History of Welsh Rugby features the words of James Stafford and the artwork of Raluca Moldovan, Carys Feehan, Josel Nicolas, Anne Cakebread and Ched de Gala.

In a week that has not been short of rugby colour – from a Triple Crown to a Cardiff name change – I have been absorbed by this tome which promises to show the game “like you’ve never experienced it before”, including “tales of fighting clergymen, poisoned arrows and deathbed confessionals.”

This promise of an unprecedented experience is bold. There are a lot of history books out there on Welsh rugby. I know because I have most of them.

There’s the bible – Fields of Praise, written with scholarly rigour by Profs Gareth Williams and Dai Smith to mark the WRU centenary. There are the statistical almanacs of game-by-game minutia – John Billot’s History of Welsh International Rugby and Howard Evans’ Welsh International Matches.

There are the in-depth studies of particular periods and players crafted by the likes of Huw Richards, Gwyn Prescott and David Parry-Jones. And, of course, enough ghosted biographies to fill a haunted library.

But, fair play, James Stafford really has done something fresh here. He has the perfect background to bring a new approach – both inside knowledge and outside perspective.

Cardiff-born and Barry-raised he now lives in the Czech Republic. A spell in Prague as a student on the Erasmus programme brought him a passion for the city and the love of a local girl who is now his wife.

After 14 years living in Dublin and London, the couple decided they wanted to raise their children back in the city that brought them together. It was here James wrote his first book, a graphic novel called The Sorrowful Putto of Prague, which numbers actor Samuel L Jackson among its fans.

He has written on rugby for almost two decades, editing The East Terrace, the witty cult website “for the rugby football enthusiast” and producing journalism for various newspapers and magazines. His amateur playing career spans Barry Plastics (now Sully Sports), Old Belvedere, London Japanese and the Czech side Nyrsko which he now coaches.

So the experience to provide words and pictures is there – Raluca Moldovan, the Romanian who heads the artwork team on the book also illustrated James’ graphic novel. The concept of a pictorial history of Welsh rugby is rooted in the Barry boy’s childhood.

As a nine-year-old in 1988 lapping up the Triple Crown of the Jonathan Davies era he was hungry for a broader knowledge of his new obsession. His mother did her best to feed his appetite by buying every rugby history book she could get her hands on.

Young James was also a cowboy fanatic and learning the timelines of Welsh rugby collided with America’s wild west sparked his fascination with the game’s heritage. “It blew my mind when I found out that Wales were playing international matches at the same time Billy the Kid was still alive. It was an amazing moment. It made it feel real.”

But there was also the realisation that much of the rugby literature of the time was too dry and inaccessible for a young mind, however enquiring. And now James has children of his own he sees the value of packaging the past for a younger generation in a suitably imaginative way. As he explains in an interview for the WRU website: “I have young kids now who have grown up outside Wales, and there aren’t a lot of books about the game’s history for younger people. The original idea was going to be solely for their demographic, but the idea now is that a ten-year-old will enjoy it as much as a forty-year-old.

“Every chapter begins with contextualising the different eras. In the 19th century, for example, it explains the economics, culture and industrialisation of Wales at the time – but in a very accessible way. There hasn’t been a chronological history of the national team for a while, and nobody’s illustrated this kind of book before either. It allows you to have a bit of fun that you couldn’t have with photographs. A lot of the photos used in history books are from 80 or a hundred years ago – many of them the same ones, so if you’ve read one book on Welsh rugby history, you’ve seen most of the images you’ll get to see in every other book too.”

The imagery certainly brings to life the characters we are used to seeing in stiffly posed team-line ups and sepia portraits.

The colour centrespread tracing the evolution of the Welsh jersey from the 1878 black strip adorned with a white leek to the red Macron shirt emblazoned with the Isuzu logo is an illustrative tour de force from the pen of Anne Cakebread, the Radyr-born artist who runs Cardigan’s Canfas gallery.

It will also delight the geekiest kit connoisseur. James’ discovery that Wales had a small Umbro logo on their jersey for a single game – Australia in 1975 – feels like an act of rugby archaeology.

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There is plenty of anecdotal colour too, adding to the fun. Like the tale of the sour-tasting rose which proves international qualification rules have always been controversial: “In 1913, Pembrokeshire-born William John Abbott Davies played at fly-half against Wales for England. A true great, he was only once on the losing side in 22 matches for England.

Some in Wales were upset by his choice of team, as a poem in the programme notes confirmed: "Hurrah for the Leek, the succulent Leek, that hallmarks our lads as true metal! Hurrah for the Rose, the real English Rose – except for the Pembrokeshire petal!”

And there are so many rugby stories that provide a snapshot of the bigger historical context –for example the fact that between the two World Wars more police officers played for Wales than miners. When Wales drew with England in 1926 six of the home pack were policeman while Cardiff averaged 10 coppers a match between 1923 and 1939. While miners were striking the long arm of the law lengthened. Soaring unemployment rates boosted police numbers to deal with industrial unrest so it had become a popular job option.

There is also a statistical attention to detail that the great John Billot – former sports editor of this newspaper – would cherish. James has dedicated the book to his father Michael, who helped him create the meticulous Results and Records section which closes the tome.

“My father’s tireless work in checking the stats for this book went beyond the call of paternal duty and I am indebted to him,” James says. Completing the family affair is niece Carys, who provided the cover image, and whose university project on Welsh art and rugby won her a scholarship to the prestigious CalArts university in California.

“It’s been a nice little family project to work on,” James reflects. He’s being modest. An Illustrated History of Welsh Rugby is a big achievement and will frame the game for young readers and curious grown-ups alike. It’s earned its place, spine to spine with the rugby historians who inspired its author to fill that gap on the bookshelf for a new generation.

An Illustrated History of Welsh Rugby (£9.99) is published by Polaris Books.