Dicky Owen - Scrum-half

Dicky Owen
Date Of Birth17/11/1876
Place Of BirthSwansea
ClubsSwansea, Hafod Rangers
Richard Morgan Owen
Born: 17th Nov. 1876
Height: 5ft 4in (1.62m). Weight: 9st 7lb (62kg)
Playing Career: Mysydd FC (Hafod), Hafod FC, Morriston, Swansea, Glamorgan County.
Honours: Wales 1901-1912 (35 caps)

Richard Morgan "Dicky" Owens (his name was always shortened to Owen in his lifetime) was born on November 17th 1876 in Swansea. He remains one of probably the three greatest scrum-halves that Wales have ever produced, along with Gareth Edwards and Haydn Tanner.
A diminutive figure at 5ft 4 inches and barely 9st 10lb at best, his achievements are the greater for the difficulties his lack of physical presence presented in an age when the game was as rough as it has ever been. Yet Dicky Owen confounded defences and along with his club partner Dick Jones, helped guide Swansea through an unprecedented period of success for the club in the early years of the 20th century. This success was transferred to the international stage where he won his first cap against Ireland in 1901.
Owen was a superb reader of the game but his supreme skill was as an innovator of scrum-half play. He is widely acknowledged as the originator and pefector of the reverse pass. His dummy pick up from behind a scrum in a game against England in 1902 enticed his opposite number Bernard Oughtred offside and gained Wales a penalty to give them a last gasp 9 - 8 win.
In 1905, in a Welsh team who were able to react to his quick thinking, the first All Blacks suffered their only reverse of the tour as Wales were winners by 3 points to nil. Owen took a terrible battering as he defended at the back of the scrum and the New Zealand roving back Gallagher tore into him time and again. At some point in these onslaughts, Owen severely damaged his ribs. It was from a rehearsed move that Wales scored the vital try. Owen had passed to Percy Bush consistently from the scrum but now feinted to do so and swung out a reverse pass to his left to the unguarded Cliff Pritchard. Unusually, it bounced before reaching him as Owen was in such discomfort. The ball passed swiftly through hands to Teddy Morgan who scored the try that won the game. Afterwards it was discovered Owen had displaced a cartilage in his chest.
This example serves to illustrate the endurance of the diminutive man from the Hafod in Swansea. His career began with local team Mysydd in the Hafod district of Swansea, moving to the more successful Hafod team who won the District League Challenge Shield three years running. Owen progressed, in 1898, to the Swansea 2nds, playing seven matches for them. He played alongside his future half-back partner Dick Jones. But Jones was at centre then and they rarely played as a half-back pair for the 2nds, Owen partnering Frank Bevan. Dicky Owen returned to play for Hafod where he was noticed and selected to play a few games for Morriston. It was while playing for Morriston against Llanelli that he was called up to turn out for Swansea’s 1st XV alongside W. Reynolds. This was against Newport at St Helen’s on 11th February 1899. Another former Hafod player and Swansea seconds man, Reynolds had stood in for the injured Evan James a few times and, being first choice on the James’ departure north, was tipped to become a good Swansea half-back. But he was quickly eclipsed by Dicky Owen. Dicky was then being referred to as a Morriston player. He soon teamed up with his old Hafod team mate Dick Jones in the 1st XV and they became known as "The Dancing Dicks" due to their almost telepathic play flourished in a classic Swansea line up. Owen declared himself a great admirer of the James brothers David and Evan, who were the predecessors of the Owen and Jones pairing. He had seen them play many times and their inventive play must surely have inspired him to express his individuality when he progressed to the senior team.
Owen played again against the 1905 All Blacks on December 31st for Swansea in a match they very nearly won (3 - 4) and he had a try disallowed. He also played in the Swansea win over the first Australian tourists on Boxing Day 1908 (6 - 0) and for Glamorgan (lost 3 - 16) and Wales against Australia when Wales won 9 - 6.
Dicky Owen amassed 35 Welsh caps winning 5 Triple Crowns and captaining Wales for the first of three occasions, against England in 1907 at his home ground of St Helens. He played for Wales with Dick Jones as his half-back partner 13 times. The Welsh selectors had teamed him up with Cardiff's Percy Bush on occasion, notably in the 1905 All Blacks match. They were paired together again against South Africa the following year. But they were both innovative and influential in their own right and never gelled well together. This was the last time they were paired although Bush also went on to gain further Welsh caps. Owen's last cap was at St Helens in 1912 against Scotland where he was given the captaincy at the age of 34! The little giant was carried from the field on the shoulders of delirious supporters after a final victory in the jersey.
Dicky Owen was given the captaincy of Swansea in this his last season of 1911-12 as Billy Trew stood aside for him after 5 consecutive seasons at the helm. Owen’s career with Swansea encompassed their ‘Golden Era’ in which they were Welsh Champions 6 season out of 7 from 1898 to 1905, culminating in the ‘Invincible’ season of 1904-05. Swansea were endowed with a pack renowned for their scrummaging and handling skills. Owen played in a back line blessed with the genius of Billy Trew alongside Dan Rees, Fred Jowett, Willie Arnold, George Davies and Jack Bancroft, all of them Welsh internationals. But it was he as much as anyone who devised the exciting mode of play that drew vast crowds to St Helen’s and confounded Swansea’s opponents. He often invented moves on the spur of the moment, if an opportunity presented itself. Together with Dick Jones, Swansea had the outstanding half-back pairing of the era. Owen also developed attacking moves with roving back row forward Fred Scrine and between them they advanced back row play to a new and creative level.
During his career Owen collected several sobriquets: ‘The Pocket Hercules', 'The Bullet' and 'The Pocket Oracle' amongst them, the latter for his penchant for predicting scores and scorers prior to matches with great success. His 35 caps remained a Welsh record until well into the 1950's when surpassed by Ken Jones.
Dicky Owen was a ‘behinder’ in the tin mills, a boiler maker and later a publican by trade. Owen said he never trained very hard, other than a few sprints and a loosening up exercise before playing. Asked if he did extra strengthening he answered: “No. I get plenty of that in the works.” The hard physical conditions of his toils in the Hafod works certainly toughened up his small frame for the battering it would receive on the pitch.
Dicky Owen sadly took his own life in the Swansea pub he ran on February 27th 1932 aged 55. A benefit match for his family was played between a South Wales side and Glamorgan Police featured many capped players and was watched by 10,000 at St Helen’s.

Owen’s abilities on the field of play were summed up by the Times rugby correspondent in his obituary:

“Owen had three qualities which entitled him to be remembered as one of the great players. Though a little fellow, he was granite in physique and spirit, a great tactician apart altogether from his box of tricks, and as near perfection as possible in the technique of passing the ball. The way he took his gruelling in the terrific struggle between Wales and New Zealand at Cardiff in 1905, and his cleverness in initiating the move that enabled [Teddy] Morgan to score the winning try, alone would have made his name. His grim little ghost of a smile and stoicism, indeed, earned for him more friends in the most unlikely quarters than his craft and skill.”
“As for his technique, it could be summed up in his own words – “I either run or pass.” He would amplify this by explaining that, if he intended to pass, he never wasted an inch or a fraction of a second in dispatching the ball. And the power behind his famous scoop away had to be felt to be believed. It was equally characteristic of the little fellow that if he elected to slip away on his own, he was not afraid to run right up to an opponent before giving his pass. Timing and courage, in fact, went hand in hand with him, as no doubt it always did and always will in rugby football.” (The Times Mon. 29th Feb. 1932 p5).
TOTAL 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cardiff 11 9 0 2 374 210 46
Newport 11 9 0 2 337 214 45
Aberavon 11 7 0 4 322 243 37
Llandovery 11 6 0 5 303 287 31
RGC 1404 11 6 0 5 286 244 31
Merthyr 11 5 0 6 329 294 31
Pontypridd 11 7 0 4 239 259 30
Carmarthen Quins 11 6 0 5 232 254 30
Bridgend Ravens 11 4 0 7 186 276 18
Swansea 11 3 0 8 212 269 18
Ebbw Vale 11 3 0 8 157 263 14
Llanelli 11 1 0 10 189 353 10