Wales legend Mervyn Davies dies after losing fight against cancer

Mervyn Davies played 38 times for Wales and eight times for the Lions
Mervyn Davies played 38 times for Wales and eight times for the Lions

Former Wales captain Mervyn Davies has died following a battle with cancer. He was 65.

Known universally as 'Merv the Swerve' the number eight led Wales to the 1976 Five Nations Grand Slam.

He won a total of 38 caps for Wales and went on two victorious British and Irish Lions tours in 1971 and 1974.

Davies, who died on Thursday, had his rugby career cut short in 1976. He suffered a brain haemorrhage playing for Swansea in a Welsh Cup semi-final.

Davies, who was instantly recognisable on the pitch from his thick moustache and white headband, was treated at the University Hospital of Wales for several months after the haemorrhage.

Davies joined London Welsh in 1968 after moving to the city as a primary school teacher, later joining Swansea. He won his first Wales cap against Scotland just six games after making his debut for the Exiles in 1969, going on to play 38 consecutive times.

He won two Grand Slams with Wales and three Triple Crowns. He went on the Lions tours to New Zealand in 1971 and to South Africa in 1974, playing in eight Tests.

Davies was handed the captaincy of Wales in 1975 and skippered the side to the Five Nations Championship in the same year, and the Grand Slam the following season.

In his 46 international appearances for Wales and the Lions he only ended on the losing side nine times.

He was widely tipped to captain the 1977 Lions squad but his glittering career was ended at just 29 by the brain haemorrhage.

Davies admitted he was lucky that there was life-saving equipment, and doctors, on hand at the Arms Park.

"If it had happened anywhere else," he said. "I would have died.

Mervyn Davies
Davies with JPR Williams at his 2001 induction to the IRB Hall of Fame

"If I'd been playing on some obscure golf course that would have been it."

It took him months to recover from his operation and his retirement took its toll.

"From competing against New Zealand one minute to not being able to beat my one-year-old son at tiddlywinks was a hard battle to come to terms with," he said during the BBC documentary "The Mervyn Davies Story" in 2006.

At 6ft 3in, Davies sometimes appeared ungainly on the field, but that belied his strength in the maul.

He also had an uncanny sense of anticipation, allowing him to get to the breakdown first - and his height made him useful in the line-out.

In a poll of Welsh rugby fans in 2002, Davies was voted both greatest Welsh captain and greatest Welsh number eight.

In 2001 he was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.

A year later he was made chairman of the Welsh rugby ex-internationals organisation (WREX).