David Duckham, England and Lions great, dies aged 76

The nickname stuck too captured humorously in the title of his autobiography, ‘Dai for England’.

If it was his misfortunate to play in an English side known more for its conservative approach, Duckham, who was born in Coventry and educated at Coundon Infant and Junior School and King Henry VIII Grammar School, still managed some memorable moments for the red rose side.

His brace of tries in a 14-6 win over France in 1973 lit up Twickenham before he became remembered for arguably the greatest try never scored at the old stadium with a stunning solo run that showcased his innate ability to side-step and swerve in the same motion, dashing down the left wing and eluding several Scottish defenders only for the referee to rule he was just short of grounding the ball in the days long before the TMO.

Yet perhaps his greatest achievement of all was the key role he played in persuading the England team to travel to Dublin earlier in the championship at the height of the Trouble to play Ireland a year after Wales and Scotland had refused to play.

John Pullin, the England captain, rightly is lauded for his leadership in deciding to travel despite the deaths of 18 people in the first four weeks of 1973 due to the spiralling violence but behind the scenes Duckham, the poster-boy of the team, was also a major influence.

Ireland would go on to win a hugely emotional encounter 18-9, but the show was stolen by Pullin, who famously remarked, “We may not have been very good, but at least we turned up” at the after-match dinner which received a standing ovation from all.

Yet watching a tearful Duckham recall the backdrop to the story many years later reveals just how much the match meant to him, a moment that transcended the game.

It was during a phone call with Willie John McBride, the Ireland captain and his Lions team-mate, that Duckham made his commitment to come.

“Willie John said ‘you must come, don’t let the terrorists win,’ Duckham later recalled. As England’s best player of the era, McBride feared that if Duckham stayed at home, so too would the rest of his team-mates. But McBride knew the character of the man.

“A lot of us were in tears to realise what it meant to the people of Ireland,” Duckham said later.

As a boy who grew up in Belfast during the Troubles, and loved watching his magic again and again on the grainy footage of the iconic rugby video ‘101 Best Tries’, I can attest to that sentiment.

They say you should never meet your heroes, but it was a treasured moment to finally meet him many years later at a charity dinner, when his warmth and humility stood out in equal measure.

He may not have been the greatest Lion of all time, but the fact that he will be remembered as arguably the Welsh supporters’ favourite Englishman says it all. He will not just be remembered as a true great, but also a true gentleman.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What are your memories of David ‘Dai’ Duckham? Send us your tributes in the comments section below

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