Opinionista Mike Wills 30 May 2018

What’s in a name? Plenty, when the Boks play Wales and Ox meets Aled

Commentators will have a tough time keeping up with the Joneses, and even more so with the Davieses, in Saturday’s Boks-Wales match.

The Springboks play Wales in the incongruous surroundings of the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington DC at 2300 our time on Saturday night.

The match has little meaning. It’s a money-grubbing exercise wrapped up as a piece of rugby evangelism in Trumpland.

It isn’t even the brave new dawn of Captain Kolisi because he’s staying at home with the rest of the A-listers to keep fresh for the English. So, after all the justified hoop-la, it will be the altogether more conventional sight of an Afrikaans lock, in the form of Pieter-Steph du Toit, leading the SA team onto the field in the American capital.

While Siya is very definitely the first man called Kolisi to play for the Springboks, Pieter-Steph is the 7th du Toit to do so (Andries, Schalk, Fonnie, Piet, Hempies and Gaffie were the others, if you were wondering). But that frequency is nothing compared to the Davies clan who have five by that surname in this current Welsh squad alone. Spare a thought for the commentators as they try to distinguish between Bradley, Gareth, Aled, Seb and James Davies in a passing move.

By my rough count, around 60 Davieses have played for Wales since the first of them, Abel Davies, took the field against England in 1889. And that staggering number excludes a Jones-Davies or two.

Since Abel paved the way, he has been joined in the famous red jersey by others with wonderful christian names like Mefin, Cowboy, Sgili, Ianto and Hunt Davies. My favourite among them is the Reverend Alban Davies, a vicar and prop who led the 1914 Welsh team against Ireland in what was described as the dirtiest test match of all time!

Among three million people, the Welsh name gene pool is clearly very small because, as well as the plethora of Davieses, the current national squad also has two Williamses and two Joneses. The WalesOnline website has even published an All-Time Greatest Davies XV to play a mythical tri-series against the Williams XV and the Jones XV. It would be fascinating contest.

My money would be on the Davies’ boyos because four of them are legends of the game: Gerald Davies was the prince of all wings (unless you prefer Carel du Plessis), Mervyn Davies was an all-time great No.8, Jonathan Davies was a sublime flyhalf in both rugby union and rugby league, and the even-older-timers-than-me wax lyrical about the fullback boot of Terry Davies in the 1950s.

But they would have to keep up with the Joneses who would have Tom to sing Delilah for them and would field Ken, Jack, Adam, Alun Wyn, Lewis and “Pussy” Jones. The latter apparently was an absolute demon of a centre in the late 1800s. He must have been bloody good to survive on a rugby field with a nickname like that …. mind you, in the same period, the Boks selected players with first names like Birdie, Fairy, Mary, Patats, Klondyke, Spanner, Bingo and Scrap, and also someone called Uncle Dobbin.

And there would be a glittering array of Williamses to compete against – JPR, JJ, Bleddyn and Shane Williams in the backs with Martyn and RH Williams, a star of the 1955 Lions’ tour to SA, in the engine room.

In stark contrast to all this Celtic naming uniformity, the Springbok squad offers a glorious kaleidoscope of moniker variety. There’s not one repetition among the surnames which range right across our linguistic landscape from Mazozole Mapimpi to Frans Malherbe, with Cameron Wright and Travis Ismaiel thrown in.

And, in first names alone, we are simply unbeatable. Who else, in a single squad, can offer the world a Chiliboy alongside Wilco, Ox, Kwagga, Akker, Oupa, Elton and Embrose? DM

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