Swansea RFC was saddened to hear of the passing of former ‘All White’ Mel James at the age of 74.
One of the toughest front row forwards to have donned the famous Swansea jersey, Mel hailed from Resolven and started his illustrious career at the Vaughan Field before moving to play for Swansea in 1967-68.
He made his Swansea debut as a second-row on 23rd March 1968 against Leicester and alternated between that roll and the front row for his first two seasons. By 1969-70 he was featuring almost exclusively at tighthead, a position he made his own as he established his reputation as a fearsome scrummager and formidable opponent in loose play. Mel’s departure in 1972 ‘up north’ coincided with the arrival of Mervyn Davies back to Swansea RFC from London Welsh and the emergence of several good players. Mel’s chances of a Welsh cap were surely on the rise as he was selected as captain of Swansea for 1972-73. However his athleticism, power and streetwise nous had got him noticed by the Rugby League scouts and he departed St Helen’s ground for the St Helens RLFC in October 1972, having made 185 appearances for Swansea.
Mel’s no nonsense style perfectly suited his new environment and ‘Big Mel’ became something of a legend at St Helens RLFC and made 321 appearances for the club in his 12 year career in Rugby League. This record is more impressive when it is considered that he had a horrendous injury, breaking a leg against the touring Kangaroos in the autumn of 1973 and did not play again until February 1975, when St Helens won the league. Having played just 9 matches Mel did not qualify for a winners’ medal. But he was in the side that won the BBC TV Trophy final that year and was substitute in the 1976 Challenge Cup final win and was a Championship winner with the ‘Saints’ in 1977 and was awarded a testimonial by the club in 1982.
Mel James made up for missing out on rugby union international honours by representing Wales in the Rugby League code where he won 11 caps. He also toured with the Great Britain Rugby League side to Australia and New Zealand in 1979.
All at Swansea RFC are sad to hear of Mel’s passing and he leaves many friends behind at the club. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.