Swansea RFC: The legendary rugby tour behind the Berlin Wall

On the tour in Romania, rugby is being played

Swansea RFC traveled to Romania in 1954 to compete against the top two rugby teams there.

A British rugby club had never before traveled behind the Iron Curtain, the political partition separating Western Europe from the eastern states of the Soviet Union.

The games against Locomotiva Bucharest and Constructorul Bucharest were scheduled to commemorate ten years since the liberation of the communists from Nazi Germany, as perceived by them.

However, throughout the Romanians' trip to St. When a mysterious defector appeared in Helens in 1955, the Cold War became more personal.

Swansea's 150th birthday celebrations this year include the St. A fascinating exhibition about the story has been created by Helens Archive.

Since 1919, Romania has participated in international rugby, and together with France, they were a major force in efforts by the sport's lower-tier teams to create a Northern Hemisphere rival competition to Britain's Home Nations championship.

However, following the communist takeover of Romania, the country's national rugby team was cut off from the top tier of the game.

Nevertheless, the Welshmen were very impressed with the level of play they saw. Tour manager Row Harding noted: "They tackle hard, their covering defense is magnificent, and they pass the ball at top speed. ".

The tour's beginnings can be traced back to Welsh swimmer Dick Smale's participation in the 1953 World Festival for Youth and Students, where he was asked to contact a rugby team that might be interested in touring behind the Iron Curtain.

Rugby in play on the tour in Romania
The tour to Romania was so successful that it led to several follow-up trips in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Aside from Cardiff RFC and Cambridge University, St. According to David Dow, the archivist at Helens, Swansea may have benefited from another Cold War connection.

Legendary Llanelli coach Carwyn James was a Swansea player at the time, the speaker remarked. It's not a huge leap of faith to assume that he may have helped get the tour approved by the powers that be given his previous work experience for the MoD and fluency in Russian.

"It's not as odd as you might think that the Foreign Office gave the tour their blessing. At the time, Romania wanted to strengthen its ties to the West and sever its ties to the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin received a major slap in the face with the mere decision to invite a British team to celebrate the anniversary of their liberation by the USSR. ".

Two of Swansea's three planes were diverted to Prague due to storms, which did not bode well for the rest of the tour.

Due to a lack of preparation time, the Welshmen struggled to handle the heat in their opening match against Locomotiva Bucharest, losing 23-12 despite a second-half comeback.

When the weather cleared up for the second game, Swansea defeated Constructorul Bucharest 16-5. The second game was postponed for a day.

Players relaxing off the field
While on tour, the Swansea team could unwind away from the field.

Off the field, according to Mr. Dow, the ambiance was very friendly.

The Swansea players, by all accounts, received exceptional treatment. They were wined and dined, and chauffeured wherever they wanted to go.

"Of course they were always being watched, the Romanians asked them to submit timetables of their proposed movements, and their rooms were bugged. This caused great hilarity for the players as they yelled anti-communist abuse while aware that the secret police were listening but couldn't do a thing about it. ".

The following year, when their side was welcomed back to Britain, it appears that the Romanian secret police weren't quite as vigilant.

Romanian prop S. Luric was able to defect to the West with the aid of Swansea players Dil Johnson, Matty Davies, and Davies' wife.

In a pre-planned move, Mr. Luric was whisked away from the house by MI5 right under the noses of the communist authorities after they invited him over for a dinner that the Romanians had approved.

About his life in Britain after 1955, not to mention his full name, almost nothing is known.

He is referred to as Stan Luric by some sources, though this has not yet been verified.

General picture of Soviet Union occupied Romania
The national team's decline occurred at the same time as Romanian communism fell and rugby became more professionally played.

There are rumors, which Mr. Dow said they are pursuing, that Luric played for Harlequins after his defection - possibly using a different name - but there isn't the slightest hint as to why he wanted to defect or why MI5 were so eager to hire him.

According to one theory, many of the top rugby teams in Romania, including CSA Steaua Bucharest and Dynamo Bucharest, are built around the military and police, so he may have had military or security information he could trade. ".

Romania was a relatively dominant force in international rugby until the 1990s, but since communism fell and the game became more professionally run, they have fallen off a cliff.

Cosmin Grigore and Lewis Douglass, post-graduate students at Swansea University, helped make the new exhibition, which includes newspaper clippings, diaries, photos, and letters, possible.

Mr. Dow claims that Mr. Grigore, who was born in Romania, has played a key role in the translation and contextualization of recent sources from his native country.

It can be viewed online by anyone, but visits in person require an appointment.

It's a fantastic chapter in the 150-year history of Swansea RFC, according to Mr. Dow.

However, considering that those tours from the 1950s resulted in Romania defeating Wales twice in the 1980s, perhaps it wasn't the best course of action for us to take.

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