BBC The Rugby Codebreakers

 Dai Watkins. The Only player to ever captain the British and Irish Lions in Rugby Union and Great Britain in Rugby League

Dai Watkins. The Only player to ever captain the British and Irish Lions in Rugby Union and Great Britain in Rugby League

In 1895, Rugby league and rugby union become separate sports. Twenty rebel clubs, agreed to resign from the Rugby Football Union and form their own governing body – the Northern Rugby Football Union over The issue of professionalism. The stridently amateur RFU, based in London and dominated by Southern clubs, objected to the so-called “broken time” payments that were made to compensate players for time off work. This was a big problem for the predominantly working-class teams from the north, whose players could not afford to forfeit a day’s wage.

A few weeks back, BBC 2 broadcast a documentary that looked into the story of welsh players who left amateur rugby union to play professional rugby league, and in doing so were banned from ever playing rugby union again. You can watch the excellent documentary here.

Broadcaster and journalist Carolyn Hitt investigates why so many men gave up their dreams of playing rugby union for Wales, seeking fame and fortune among the mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire by committing an act that was considered tantamount to treason - switching codes to play rugby league. Her journey explores the impact of class, race and economic change on the game at the heart of Welsh identity. During rugby union’s amateur era (1895-1995), more than 150 full Welsh union internationals and hundreds of uncapped union players did the unthinkable and ran the risk of being both ostracised and vilified by their fellow countrymen. They may have headed north with a heavy heart, but once they had switched codes, many went on to become huge success stories across the north of England - stories that have remained largely untold in Wales.

Carolyn hears open and honest reflections from former players on both sides of the border, interviewing Welsh rugby legends Gareth Edwards and Jonathan Davies in Wales, and heading north to meet the players who didn’t come home. They reveal their life-changing experiences as rugby codebreakers and Carolyn uncovers the hidden history of the players who were forced to turn their back on Wales because of the colour of their skin.
— BBC

This film comes a good few years after my documentary on the same subject, that I produced while I was still a documentary film student at Newport Film School. My documentary focuses on the life story of the legendary Newport RFC and Wales Rugby Union international Dai Watkins.

David Watkins takes us from his earliest rugby days in rugby union with Newport, Wales and the British and Irish Lions to his decision to move north to rugby league with Salford, a decision that resulted in him being shunned by the rugby union community. The Only player to ever captain the British and Irish Lions in Rugby Union and Great Britain in Rugby League. A canny, darting fly-half from the mining community of Blaina in north Gwent, Watkins used his sport to expand his horizons and make his name known and respected worldwide.