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The personal stories of 26 former Welsh rugby internationals

What does a warehouse worker, a lab technician, and a supermarket owner have in common? They were all Welsh international rugby players in their day and are among the 26 who have shared their remarkable stories in ‘Rugby Lives’, a new book by sports journalist Simon Thomas.

The book brings together the stories of players from very different generations – from those who started out in the 1960s such as John Taylor to those who took to the field in the noughties such as Shane Howath – all with a uniquely personal story to tell.

It includes the highs and lows on the playing field as well as their lives since hanging up their boots, and the major battles and hurdles some of them had to overcome.

Author and rugby journalist Simon Thomas said, “In the last few years, I’ve been tracking down some former rugby stars to speak to them about their rugby memories and find out what they have been up to since stopping playing.

“Some of them remained in rugby, either as coaches, administrators, or pundits but others were far more challenging to track down, having moved away from the game and relocated to places such as Qatar, Bangkok, Australia, New Zealand and the Canadian Rockies.

“There were cases of former players having gone through some very challenging times since calling it a day. What struck me was just how willing they were to speak openly about what they had been through, and I hugely appreciated the trust they placed in me to tell their stories.”

One player that found it difficult to come to terms with life after playing rugby was former Welsh captain, Mike Watkins, known throughout the game as ‘Spike’. Simon tracked him down in Bangkok, where he’s lived for the last 15-odd years.

In the book, Watkins says “It took me a long, long time to wean myself off the rugby drug. I started at the age of 11 and played until I was 36, 37, without any breaks. It was difficult. It’s like a rug being pulled from under you. One minute you have got the adrenalin and all that and then its gone.”

Another who shares his story in the book is former Wales No 8., Mark Jones. Mark talks honestly about the way his anger and self-loathing over his stammer drove him to use rugby as a way of releasing the blind rage inside him and tackling his demons.

He says, “When I look back at my rugby career, I was a clown, an idiot back then.

“I did a lot of bad things on the field and I have been looking at what made me that way. As you know, I have a stammer. I have had it all my life. That was the driving force behind all my transgressions, the way I approached the game, the way I played.

“Because of my stammer, I would get very frustrated in myself, very anxious, full of self-loathing and hate really. It would consume me. It had made me a very angry person.”

The book is a compilation of some of the best of the 80-plus life and time interviews Simon Thomas has done with former Welsh internationals. He wrote the articles initially for the Western Mail and WalesOnline and because they proved so popular, he carried on tracking down more and more ex-Wales players. In this book, he has chosen the 26 most memorable stories.

Among the other rugby stars sharing their stories in the book are Terry Holmes, Tommy David, Steve Fenwick, Rupert Moon, Mike Rayer, Craig Quinnell and Martyn Madden.