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Player Profile: John Robins

5th May 2004

Name: John Denning Robins Born: 17th May 1926Position: PropCountry: WalesClub: Royal Navy, Coventry, Birkenhead Park, Bradford, Sale, London Welsh, Cardiff, Leicester, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Barbarians

Though from Llanishen in Cardiff, John Robins played all his first class rugby outside Wales. As a teenager, he had played two Service internationals for England against Wales and Scotland in 1944. It was not till the 1949-50 season that he gained his first full cap. This was in the scarlet jersey rather than the white one. He took part in all four matches of Wales’ Grand Slam season.

John Robins had the build of a bulldog and the mind of a mathematician. He thought about the game as intently as he played it. He was a solidly built prop forward, mobile in the loose, who had the added ability of being a reliable place kicker, though he had not been called on to do so in internationals prior to the tour. In the 16 matches he played on tour, he scored 36 points from 15 successful kicks. Ten points (Two penalty goals and two conversions) were scored in the five Tests he played in. After playing in the first three Tests, Robins was dropped as the Lions tried to find an improved scrummaging combination to counter the All Blacks in the Fourth Test. When that did not work, Robins was restored for the two Australian Tests. Here, against the looser Wallaby forwards, the Lions forwards played some of their best rugby on tour and Robins revelled in the carefree 15-man rugby they adopted.

He played another 7 times for Wales. Then in 1966, John Robins came back to Australia and New Zealand with the Lions. He was breaking new ground. Though his title was assistant manager to the Lions manager, Des O’Brien, it was not as an administrative assistant. Robins was the de facto coach, the first to accompany the Lions. Since then, the coach has been an integral part of every tour.

After a very successful Australian leg of the tour, in which they were unbeaten, the Lions met one of the great All Black sides at the peak of their powers. Much criticism was poured on O’Brien and Robins as the Lions were whitewashed in the Tests and lost four of the provincial matches. There was much wrong with the state of British Isles rugby over which they had no control and contributed to the lack of success of the Lions. Nor should it be forgotten that they were up against a tremendous All Blacks side with the legends such as Colin Meads, Brian Lochore, Waka Nathan, Ken Gray, Kel Tremain and Chris Laidlaw in the team. So 1966 was a less happy experience for John than 1950, but he took the opportunity to appreciate and learn about New Zealand techniques as he had in 1950.

These lessons were learnt. After winning his 11 caps, he coached Loughborough Colleges, where he brought much innovation into their rugby and made their reputation as one of the most formidable of student sides. Future great Welsh players such as Gerald Davies and John Taylor benefited from his coaching whilst at Loughborough. Gerald Davies remembers:

‘John [Robins] argued that we should follow the New Zealand example of “getting fit to play rugby, rather than playing rugby to get fit”.