|Place Of Birth||Swansea|
Player Profile: EVAN SLOANE RICHARDS.
Clubs: Clifton College, Swansea, Glamorganshire, Swansea Cricket Club, Swansea Tennis Club.
Honours: South Wales, Wales (2 caps 1885, 1887).
One of the best forwards and most successful captains in the early days of Swansea Rugby Club, Evan Sloane Richards was born in Swansea in 1862, son of Evan Matthew Richards (1821-80), the industrialist, M.P. and twice Mayor of Swansea who developed the Landore steel works in the town. A former Clifton College man, Evan junior first played for Swansea during the 1881-82 season under the captaincy of George Lockwood Morris, Swansea’s first Welsh cap. Richards’ debut was against Newport on 29 October 1881 at Rodney parade. Evan played as a forward throughout his career. He played six games during the season scored a try in the home game against Aberavon on 24 December 1881, his first for the club.
During 1882-83 he became a regular in the Swansea pack where his skill with the ball at his feet was often praised during the ‘forward rushes’ that were a popular tactic of the day. He especially showed his value as a steady and consistent player during periods when the likes of George Morris and Frank Purdon were absent on international duty. Richards played in all four of Swansea’s South Wales Challenge Cup (SWCC) ties that season including the final at St Helen’s which was lost to Newport. Evan Richards’ play was commended during the cup final. He played in ten of the sixteen fixtures that season and was now an established choice in a pack that featured Welsh caps George Morris and Frank Purdon and future caps Sam Goldsworthy and Billy Bowen. Richards’ consistent play saw him play in a Welsh trial in 1883, though not selected for Wales.
The 1883-84 season was George Morris’ third and last as captain although some records erroneously give Evan Richards as captain of the first fifteen this season. Bill Gwynn filled the role of vice-captain. But Richards certainly skippered the team on 5 January 1884 against Llanelli in Gwynn and Morris’ absence with the Welsh team. Swansea beat Llanelli by 2 goals and 2 tries to nil. Richards showed he could lead a team confidently. He had also played well when Swansea met an English team for the first time at Gloucester. Though Swansea lost the encounter, Evan Richards was much praised alongside Fred Andrews and Charles Farr, for his skill as a footballer. Becoming noticed by the Welsh selectors, Richards made the South Wales team that played the talented Oxford University team in November. South Wales were beaten by a skilful University side on their own ground and fielding several current and future internationals. But Richards shone well in the match. He played later that month for Glamorganshire in the win over Carmarthenshire at Llanelli. Evan Richards was one of five Swansea forwards to play in the Welsh trial of 1884, though only Morris, Andrews and Goldsworthy made the Welsh pack. While Bill Gwynn, George Morris and Fred Andrews were at Leeds in the Welsh team against England, Richards led a makeshift Swansea to victory over Llanelli at St Helen’s by 2 goals and two tries to nil. It was a significant win in a generally unsuccessful season and the Swansea committee would not forget Richards’ contribution during a lean time. He played in 8 of the 13 matches that season.
Evan Richards was elected vice-captain to Bill Gwynn for 1884-85 in recognition of his contributions the previous season. He was prominent from the start, grabbing a try in the draw with Llanelli in October and another in a closely fought loss to Newport in November when he followed up a run from half-back Walter Jones and showed good speed to escape the clutch of Newport men around him and score for Swansea. Richards again played for South Wales against Oxford University and in the Welsh trial at St Helen’s. This time he was successful in being selected to play for Wales against England. Before the international match Swansea embarked on their first ever northern tour, a brief one taking in matches against Wakefield Trinity and Halifax. Richards went to Yorkshire with the club and was in the team that beat Wakefield by a goal to two tries. He also played in the loss to Halifax. On 3 January 1885 St Helen’s hosted its second international match when England were again the opponents. Evan Richards gained his first cap playing alongside Sam Goldsworthy and his club captain Bill Gwynn. Wales lost the match to superior English back play, but the Welsh forwards worked hard for parity, Richards playing his part. It was not a successful season for Swansea who won just 9 matches from 23 and were knocked out of the SWCC by Neath. But Richards had played consistently well in the 16 games he played in and scored 4 tries, making him joint second for the season. He had also won his cap for Wales on his own club ground.
1885-86 was Bill Gwynn’s last season as captain and it is probable that Evan Richards was again his vice-captain. It was not a good season for the club who won just 2 from 21 matches while Gwynn continued last season’s experiment with the four three-quarter system. Despite the poor form of the club, Richards maintained his own high standards and again represented South Wales in November 1885 against Oxford University, the Welshmen finally getting a win over the University team and Richards scoring a fine try. He turned out again for South Wales against Blackheath later that month. The match was lost but Richards was commended for his play. With Bill Gwynn injured Evan Richards led Swansea in the match against Dewsbury on the northern tour. Despite the run of defeats Swansea had suffered, Richards led and inspired his men to a hard fought draw with the crack Yorkshire side. During this difficult club season he was one of the few bright and constant lights and he turned out in 16 of the 21 matches Swansea played. He only managed ‘reserve’ status for Wales in 1886 but the following season would show his true worth as a player.
Evan Richards took over the captaincy of the first fifteen for 1886-87 and the turnaround in form was almost immediate. Admittedly the club had the influx of good players from the now defunct Brynymor club. But they were guided by the sure hand of Richards. The younger Gwynn brother, Dai was his vice-captain and he and his brother Bill, now released from the shackles of captaincy, proved that the innovative and creative tactics latent in the Swansea side, could flourish under a confident and attentive captain. The wins came almost uninterrupted as Swansea played a fast open game at home and away, the four three-quarter system working to perfection. In October an early defeat by Newport was avenged by a comprehensive 2 goals and 2 tries (to 2 tries) win, followed by a demolition of Llanelli by 4 goals and a try to a try. December was better again as last season’s ‘Premiers’ Cardiff were taken apart by a confident Swansea side in a win that shocked South Wales – Cardiff had lost just one match the previous season. The northern tour was cut short by bad weather and Swansea left Yorkshire with a loss (Swinton) and a draw (Broughton Rangers) behind them. But after a reverse against Newport on 18 December Swansea went through the next fourteen matches unbeaten, only losing the final match of the season to Dewsbury. During this time they beat Carmarthen and Newport in the SWCC to face Llanelli in the final. A late W. H. Howell try settled it as Evan Richards led his men to their second cup win. He was gained his second cap as one of five Swansea players in the Welsh team against Scotland in February 1887. Unfortunately Wales played poorly and were well beaten in Edinburgh.
Richards retained the captaincy for the 1887-88 season, though somewhat reluctantly as he felt his work as a mining engineer may keep him away from club commitments. But everyone at St Helen’s was insistent that he continue. George Bowen was his vice-captain. Under Evan’s guidance Swansea lost just 2 of their first 16 matches, a narrow try to nil reverse against Cardiff away and again losing by a single try at Stradey Park to Llanelli. Then following his participation in the East v West Welsh trial on 7 January 1888 Richards was badly injured whilst out training on his own at the Recreation Ground adjacent to St Helen’s. In thick fog he ran into a park bench, breaking his leg below the knee. It was some time before he was discovered and the injury put paid to his season and his playing career. Swansea finished the season without him winning 6, losing 4 and drawing 1 of the last 11 games. A comment in the Bridgend Chronicle noted: “Only those who have played with E. S. Richards in the pack know how invaluable he is there – his pack without him (being so well used to him) is as a ship without a man at the wheel, it goes well while no steering is necessary, but when the guiding head is wanted, the course is erratic.” Although Swansea were blessed at the time with other forwards of skill such as Billy Bowen, W. H. Towers, John Meredith and Harry Bevan, this comment well sums up the esteem in which Evan Richards was held in rugby circles.
Richards did not play again but did officiate at matches including those of the touring Maoris the following season against both Cardiff and Swansea. He had also been a tennis player of some note prior to his injury. Richards continued to represent Swansea at WFU meetings for some time. He stands as the most successful Swansea captain until Billy Bowen in the early 1890s. Evan Sloane Richards (his middle name came from his mother’s maiden name) died in Llandaff on 19 April 1931.
Sources: Western Mail, Cambrian, South Wales Daily News, Bridgend Chronicle, South Wales Echo, Weekly Mail, Athletic News, South Wales Press, Leeds Mercury, Aberdare Times, Manchester Courier, Cambria Daily Leader, Auty Tim, Jenkins John M and Pierce Duncan, “Who’s Who of Welsh International Rugby Players” (Bridge Books Wrexham 1991), England Scotland & Wales Census returns.
By Dave Dow (Archives team - Swansea RFC).
Click on a season for a match by match breakdown.
|Clubs:||- Swansea -|
|Honours:||- Wales -|