Eddie Butler is that rare thing: a writer and a rugby player. It was at Pontypool that the former Cambridge Blue first rose to prominence, as a member of the most feared pack of forwards ever to play club rugby. He subsequently captained Wales, and went on the British Lions tour to New Zealand in 1983. After hanging up his boots, an equally successful career in broadcasting and journalism followed, as he became the BBC's voice of the Six Nations, presenting, commentating and reporting with sympathy, wit and insight. His rugby columns in The Observer and The Guardian are always eagerly anticipated and well received, combining as they do the lyricism of the rugby romantic with the pragmatism of the Pontypool number 8.
Eddie Butler is a charmer, and he knows it. He also knows his stuff from every angle and, as both story-teller and analyst, is beguiling, revealing and astringent in turn. If Shane Williams is indisputably our Great Entertainer on the pitch, this Cambridge graduate, media darling and ex-Pontypool scrummager is without any doubt our finest and most seductive writer on Welsh rugby today, and perhaps at any time. This attempt to pick the outstanding Welsh XV of all time is as much fun in the armchair with the cat as it is in the bar with the mates. Butler knows many of the questions he poses are unanswerable, but roves back through his sources, and through his own memories of playing with and against many of those mentioned, with colossal flair and a magicians sense of audience. This is a sumptuously presented and illustrated volume, too: proof that these days, a comparatively small publisher such as Gomer in rural Ceredigion can outdo the giants of world publishing at their own game. Butler has the poetic gift of catching a players essential qualities in a phrase: Barry [John] was a cruel player, he comments, noting the great mans delight in duping and even humiliating his opponents. He catches the steely determination of Ieuan Evans, too, dragging tractor tyres through the mud after a doubly-broken leg: this was not a thoroughbred at work but a mule, bending its back to recapture the gift of speed. His insights into the game itself are as witty as they are precise, such as the contrast between the blind-side flanker, the invisible stalker and his open-side partner, conspicuous and visible, a little ray of sunshine. And his selections? Such a book would fail, of course, if it didnt stimulate a range of dissenting perspectives and even the occasional sense of outrage. That silky scrum-half Robert Jones deserves fuller consideration, Id argue, as well as Dai Morris in the back row. And could we really send out our greatest team without including the master tactician John Dawes? But in the end, delighted and enriched by the debate, we willingly defer to the master, with his sureness of touch and his complete perspective. Its time for us readers to take a hand in this whole affair, I suggest, and invent a number 16 for the most accomplished and exuberant writer on our game. In your own words, Eddie, Take the shirt! Meic Llewellyn It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council. Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru. -- Welsh Books Council