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Page last updated at 00:24 GMT, Thursday, 1 November 2007

Wales rugby legend Gravell dies

Ray Gravell
Ray Gravell excelled as a rugby player, broadcaster and actor

Wales rugby great and BBC presenter Ray Gravell has died at the age of 56.

The former Wales and Lions centre was taken ill on Wednesday while on holiday in Spain. He is survived by wife Mari and daughters Gwennan and Manon.

Gravell won 23 caps for his country and made the 1980 Lions tour to South Africa, playing in all four Tests.

After finishing playing rugby, Gravell carved out a new career as a broadcaster and an actor in both the English and Welsh languages.

Welsh Rugby Union chairman David Pickering led the tributes to his former team-mate, with whom he played alongside more than 100 times for Llanelli.

"Ray epitomised all the best elements of the game of rugby and he will be sadly missed, not just in the world of rugby but by everyone who knew him," Pickering said.

Ray was always in the tunnel to greet the teams with a handshake and a hug

WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis

"He was an inspiration both on and off the field and he will never be forgotten by anyone who truly loves this game of ours."

Born in Kidwelly on 12 September 1951, Gravell made his name playing for his beloved Llanelli, the club where he would eventually become president.

A hard-running centre who loved the crash ball, Gravell also proved he could link skilfully with any of the hugely talented wings he played with during his career.

Gravell was part of the Llanelli side that famously beat New Zealand on 31 October 1972 during the All Blacks' tour of Britain.

Three years later, on 18 January 1975, the fiercely patriotic Gravell made his Wales debut in a fine 25-10 win over France in Paris.

He remained a key member of the Wales teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s which dominated the Five Nations, winning two Grand Slams, four titles and four Triple Crowns.

A shoulder injury denied Gravell a place on the 1977 Lions tour to New Zealand, but he did make the 1980 tour to South Africa.

His impact as a replacement in the first Test was such that Gravell claimed a starting berth at centre for the second and he repaid the selectors' faith with a try.


His final international appearance came in March 1982, although there was no fitting send-off as Wales lost 34-18 to Scotland in Cardiff.

Gravell played on for three more years with Llanelli before joining the BBC in 1985, taking the leading role in the BBC Cymru film for S4C, Bonner.

A variety of roles followed, including a part in the big-screen adaptation of the Dylan Thomas book Rebecca's Daughters, which starred Peter O'Toole.

Gravell's career on radio also blossomed and he presented regular chat and entertainment series for both BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru.

But it was as a member of the Welsh language rugby commentary team for the BBC and S4C where he was in his element, swapping banter with players as he interviewed them and never forgetting to let everyone know that "west is best!".

One honour Gravell was most proud of was becoming a member of the Gorsedd of Bards and he was a regular at the National Eisteddfod.

Gravell was diagnosed with diabetes in 2000 and he then faced an on-going battle with ill-health.

Ray Gravell won 23 caps for Wales and four for the Lions
Ray Gravell won 23 caps for Wales and four for the Lions

A combination of factors, including problems with blood flow in one of his arteries, eventually led to the amputation of two toes on his right foot in April this year.

Unfortunately a second operation proved necessary and his right leg was amputated below the knee.

In typical 'Grav' style he bounced back and proudly displayed the Llanelli livery of his custom-built false leg.

Gravell was a big man with a personality to match and WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis said his death leaves a void in Welsh rugby.

"We are all in total shock because Ray was so full of life even through the difficult health problems he suffered recently," Lewis said.

"He was a wonderful ambassador for rugby and for Wales and a great example of how the game can bring out the best in a man.

"He stayed close to rugby as a broadcaster and was always in the tunnel to greet the teams with a handshake and a hug before and after big games.

"We will miss him as a rugby legend but more importantly, we will miss Ray as a great friend and a fine, family man."

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see also
Stradey Park funeral for Gravell
04 Nov 07 |  South west
Rugby mourns death of Ray Gravell
01 Nov 07 |  Welsh
Tributes to rugby legend Gravell
01 Nov 07 |  Wales
In Pictures: Ray Gravell
01 Nov 07 |  In Pictures
Rugby amputee thanks well-wishers
11 May 07 |  South west
Rugby hero's right leg amputated
18 Apr 07 |  South west
Street name honours Gravell
26 Jul 03 |  South west
Day the pubs ran dry
31 Oct 12 |  Celtic
BBC Sport Wales coverage
07 Aug 07 |  Wales

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