|Place Of Birth||Swansea|
Born : December 22 November 1863
Position : half-back/three-quarter/Forward
Teams : Llandovery College, Swansea Juniors, Swansea, Brynymor (Swansea), Cardiff.
Wales Caps : 2. Points : 0
William Henry Howells (his surname was more commonly spelt Howell in his time and was so on his birth certificate) came to the Swansea first team in the 1881-82 season from Swansea Juniors where he had been playing as a quarter-back in 1880. His Swansea debut was as a three-quarter against Llanelli in a drawn match on 12 November 1881 at St Helen's. He was still 10 days shy of his eighteenth birthday. W H Gwynn and William Shugg were the current half back pairing at the club, though Howells did partner Gwynn and Shugg each once during his 5 appearances during the season.
Howells continued as a regular in the three-quarter line, captaining the team that beat Wakefield Trinity at the Belle Vue Ground during Swansea's northern tour of 1884-85. He scored his first try for Swansea against Llandeilo in the South Wales Challenge Cup in January 1885 and turned out twice for the Brynymor club against Swansea during 1885-86, before that club's demise and absorption by Swansea.
During 1886-87 he was tried out as a forward, a successful development for a three-quarter with both speed and strength. It was in this position that he played in the Challenge Cup matches for Swansea and won a winners' medal in the final against Llanelli in February 1887, scoring the only try of the game, which Dai Gwynn converted. He grabbed two tries against Neath in January as Swansea romped home by 8 goals and 3 tries to a try at St Helen's. Howells also scored in the fifth and final encounter with Llanelli that season. He was reported as having "got possession of the ball and by a very strong run forced his way over the goal line near the corner flag." Howells combined the attractive passing game he developed as a back, with the power of a strong running forward. His tackling was always sure and his pace made him difficult to get past, though he was prone to the occasional error as in the Llanelli game above when "Howell, by mistake, kicked towards his own territory, amidst laughter." When Broughton Rangers came to Swansea having beaten all Yorkshire opposition, they were beaten by 2 goals and a try to NIL, as Howells "by a really good sprint, got over and obtained a try." His record was 5 tries for the season, an impressive haul for a forward.
His good form continued into 1887-88 as he crossed the whitewash against Newport and then against powerful English side Swinton on their own ground. "The Manchester Courier reported that "Howell subsequently picked up neatly from a loose scrummage and adroitly evaded all opposition, gaining a try in good style." Swansea won the match by a goal and try to 2 tries.
W H Howells' club form saw him selected for the international match at Newport on 4 February 1888 against Scotland. He was one of 7 new caps and was joined by Swansea forwards Tom "Canary" Williams and John Meredith, also winning their first caps. Swansea's George Bowen was in the three-quarter line. A try to nil to Wales meant they had beaten Scotland for the first time, having achieved just a draw in 1885. Howells with the rest of the Welsh pack were for the first time able to dominate the big Scots pack. He came in for praise as the game approached its final minutes and Wales were under pressure. "A Gould got off with a fine dribble and sent it in touch at the centre. The throw in was taken by Howells, who jumped for the leather like a cat." Howells kept his place in the Welsh side that played Ireland at Lansdowne Road, Dublin on 3 March. A difficult crossing of the Irish Sea left several Welsh players seasick. Llanelli's 'Ned' Roberts had to retire injured during the match, which was lost by two tries (one of which was converted) and a drop goal to nil. Howells was not reselected.
At some point in mid 1887-88 season William Howells was employed and played in Cardiff for the Cardiff club. He was employed at the Swansea Brewery and went to work in the Hancocks Brewery in Cardiff. He is known to have played 4 matches for Cardiff that season, including one against Llanelli. In another he scored a try at Cardiff Arms Park, against Newport "amidst frantic cheers" in a match lost to Newport by a goal to a try. The Western Mail implied that "the Cardiff team had lured away Howells". this move to the metropolis was clearly work related though, as he was soon to return to Swansea.
Returning to the town for 1888-89, William Howells continued to turn out for Swansea and during his last season of 1889-90 he often played at half-back when required, still possessing those silky handling skills that made him such a versatile player. His last match was at St Helen's in the win over London Civil Service on 24 February 1890.
Howells was a keen bicyclist and joined the Welsh Racing CC. He competed while in Cardiff in the cycle races at Cardiff Harlequins Sports meeting in June 1887, where he won the one mile bicycle handicap race as a "safety" racer. This meant he was allowed to start with other serious riders ahead of the main group. He also won the three mile handicap and was clearly a serious racer in his day.
W H Howells died on 7 January 1913 aged 49 and was buried in Llansamlet on 10 January 1913.
Sources: Census returns England, Wales & Scotland, Western Mail, South Wales Daily News, Cambrian, Cambrian Daily Leader, Manchester Courier, Howard Evans, “Welsh International Matches 1881-2011” (Y Lolfa Publishing 2011), D. E Davies ., “Cardiff Rugby Club: History and Statistics 1876-1975: The Greatest”, (Cardiff 1975).
Thanks also to rugby historian Howard Evans for help in compiling this player profile.
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