BY CRAIG MUNCEY
To play for your country – The ultimate in sport. The moment you step onto the field of play regardless of which game you play. A moment never to be matched. Your family and those who have played a part no matter how minor. You have achieved your goal.
Now think about how someone must feel to be selected as a replacement for an incredible 25 times over a six years’ period, but amazingly, never to get onto the pitch in a recognised international game, so close yet so far, the frustration must be tangible. Well, let me share with you the story of Roy “Shunto” Thomas.
Thomas was born in Penclawdd, which is a village situated to the north of the Gower Peninsula. Shunto as he was known first starred in first-class rugby in Wales for Swansea in 1966 and his first season with the club he played 43 times. Shunto would play for Swansea 169 times until in 1970 he moved to another West Wales side, Llanelli. Shunto was earmarked for success in the early stages of his career, but his international ambitions were thwarted by players such as Norman Gale, Brian Rees and Jeff Young all very talented Welsh hookers.
Indeed, Gale had captained Wales, but his rugby career was coming to a conclusion. Shunto moved to Llanelli to replace the retiring Gale and with a lot of talented players around him no doubt Shunto felt it gave him a more significant opportunity to follow Gale into the Welsh side. Which in 1970, Jeff Young was the incumbent in the number two shirt.
Shunto regularly was named on the replacements bench for in the early 1970s for Wales. In those days’ substitutes only got onto the field if a player was injured. Jeff Young hardly ever got hurt enough to leave the field or not take the field, Shunto sat and waited and waited. In 1973, another Welsh hooker burst onto the international scene a certain Bobby Windsor from Pontypool. “The Duke” as Windsor was nicknamed was an authentic tour de force at hooker, alongside his other front-row Pontypool friends, Charlie Faulkner and Graham Price, a front-row dreaded across the rugby union world. Windsor also starred for the triumphant 1974 Lions and was so durable he never missed a game, Shunto sat and waited and waited.
Shunto did play for a Wales XV in 1974 against Tonga, but it was not recognised as a full international. He did earn a Presidents cap years later for selection for this game, but he was still craving that full Welsh cap, yet, Windsor never waned. Shunto waited and waited, the dream of a cap still not quite a reality.
As Windsor’s star started to dwindle, this coincided with father time catching up with Shunto compatibly. Emerging Welsh hookers such as Mike Watkins and Alan Phillips were now on the scene, and they soon would be fighting it out for the right to wear the famous red shirt. Shunto’s time had passed he would never represent Wales in a full international status game. A player who was hugely talented a fantastic club player, just never getting the opportunity he yearned so much.
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Nevertheless, this should not read as a story of failure, Shunto has always spoken positively of his rugby career, and just selecting one highlight which certainly should not be forgotten, was the part he played when Llanelli in October 1972 defeated the touring New Zealand All Blacks. A momentous occasion for the town and Shunto played a noteworthy part of the Llanelli team that day that will go down in legend.
At the conclusion of his Llanelli career in 1978, he had amassed 183 appearances for the Scarlets and played his part in four consecutive WRU Challenge Cup wins between 1973 and 1976, which illustrates just how good a side they were. Players such as JJ Williams, Roy Bergiers, Ray Gravell, Phil Bennett, Ray Hopkins, Barry Llewellyn, Delme Thomas, Derek Quinnell, Tommy David and of course, Shunto just to name a few. Some real rugby talent in their ranks.
Roy Shunto Thomas, 25 times in a sedentary position, just waiting for a chance. Striving to play for his beloved Wales but due to bad luck and timing his career integrated two Lions hookers in Jeff Young and Bobby Windsor and the durability the pair had, over long careers, the dream never ensued. Shunto Thomas the Welsh rugby’s serial sub.