Over the past two years, WalesOnline has set about tracking down some of the most loved Welsh rugby figures of the past.
It has been a chance for them to tell their stories, in their own words. They are stories of different times, of unique characters and shocking moments.
They have also provided fascinating insight into what comes after the rugby stops, when the camaraderie and sporting brilliance that defined them is no longer there.
Often, the stories that have interested our readers most are those of the players who disappeared off the Welsh rugby radar to start new lives.
These are some of the incredible stories we’ve told.
Five years after becoming a 2005 Wales Grand Slam hero, Cockbain returned to Australia having had enough of the game.
His time in Wales had seen him become a popular figure, while he also experienced tragedy following the death of his one-year-old son, Toby, from a brain tumour in 2004.
After 2010, few people in Wales were still in touch with Cockbain and very little was known about his whereabouts.
Rugby correspondent Simon Thomas managed to track him down to a coal mine in the Australian outback, where his life had taken a very different path. You can read his remarkable story in full here.
Mike ‘Spike’ Watkins
Former Wales captain Mike Watkins pictured in Bangkok with his wife Maew
Spike Watkins is one of those names that will forever have its place in Welsh rugby folklore.
Watkins was the Cardiff hooker who played and spoke with a brutal directness that left nobody in any doubt about his intentions.
His confrontational demeanour, and troubles with the police, meant he played just four times for Wales, all of them as captain.
Sixteen years ago, in his 50s and with his life “going nowhere really”, he took a trip to Thailand to visit a friend that changed his life.
Simon Thomas found him in Bangkok, and you can read his story here.
Shane Howarth now runs a supermarket in New Zealand
(Image: Shane Howarth)
Shane Howarth was a Welsh rugby revelation.
Brought to the country by Graham Henry, the full-back was a player of the highest calibre who quickly endeared himself to the Welsh rugby public with his outstanding performances during a remarkable run of victories.
Then, one Sunday night in 2000, his world came crashing down as the Granny-gate scandal erupted, eventually ending his Wales career.
Simon Thomas located him working in an Auckland supermarket 20 years on where he heard Howarth’s story of lingering hurt over what happened and the reason behind his unlikely new life. You read that here.
Former Wales rugby international Ricky Evans, who is now a Budhist living in Dubai
(Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
Ricky Evans is the cult 1990s Welsh rugby hard man who found Buddhism.
He didn’t even start playing first-class rugby until well into his 20s but he went on to become a much-loved part of the Wales set-up in the 1990s.
His career, though, was ended with one shattering and cowardly act from an opponent.
Ben James managed to pin him down in an M4 motorway service station, which was quite a feat considering his life has taken him to Bermuda, Belize, Germany, Falklands, Canada, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and Lebanon.
Now living in Dubai, Evans told his story of rugby, life and religion. You can read that here.
Former Wales No 8 Mark Jones now works as a lab technician in an international school in Qatar
Few of the interviews we have done have been as impactful as this year’s with Wales rugby international Mark Jones, perhaps for the interviewee as much as anyone else.
When Simon Thomas tracked notorious hard man Jones down in Dubai, he was ready to talk about his violent past indiscretions and the self-loathing that had driven his behaviour.
It was an eye-opening account of how a childhood stammer and the bullying and frustration it caused sent him down a path towards self-destruction.
This is his story.
Andy Allen was another Welsh rugby hard man, who made his name at Newbridge and played for Wales in 1990. It was a career of promise but his international days were over at just 22 and his entire rugby career finished by 28.
What followed was a sad tale of depression, alcohol and eventually prison.
After being released from jail, we spoke to him about everything that happened and the redemption he now seeks.
You can read Allen’s story here.
Hal Luscombe enjoying life in South Africa
Where to find Wales Grand Slam-winner Hal Luscombe?
On safari in South Africa, as it happens.
Luscombe actually divides his time between South Africa – with a home in Paarl, about 40 minutes out of Cape Town – and Newport, where he runs his own property management company, Luscombe & Co.
You can read his i nterview on the move here.
Chris Wyatt is enjoying his life out in France
They don’t really make them like Chris ‘One Man Riot’ Wyatt these days.
During his Wales playing days he would smoke 20 cigarettes a day, while a pint or two was never far away from his lips. Still, he remained a sensational player.
So what happened to him after he finally hung up his boots in 2012?
Simon Thomas found him living the dream in Provence, France.
Peter Rogers is now a care worker
In 1999, Peter Rogers was seen by many as the best loosehead prop in the world, having destroyed a succession of scrums during Wales’ 11-match winning run under Graham Henry.
A year later his international career was over as he completely slipped off the international radar.
While he never left these shores, few knew what had become of him.
He now works as a carer in Cardiff and remains baffled by the way his Wales career ended.
Here’s his story.
Matt Cardey and his family in New Zealand
Who can forget the flame-haired full-back who was such a distinctive figure in Welsh rugby during the Graham Henry era?
Cardey only actually played once for Wales but made an impression in Newport and Llanelli during his time in Wales.
He was another to be caught up in the suspicion of the Grannygate scandal, and now has a very different life with his young family in New Zealand.
His interview with Ben James is here.
Former Wales prop Ben Evans is one of the great Welsh rugby characters who moved to the other side of the world a long time ago.
But, when we heard he had returned to his hometown of Caerphilly at Christmas, we managed to get hold of him to find out what happened to him after his Welsh rugby career ended.
As we discovered, there had been difficult times for the man who always wore a smile on the outside.
You can read his story here.
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Allan Martin was a Welsh rugby stalwart for the great team of the 1970s who loved the game so much he carried on playing until he was 50.
For the past six years he has lived abroad but is now returning home.
He had some fascinating stories to tell from Portugal.
Rob Ackerman’s story is the perfect illustration of the unique opportunities presented by a life in rugby.
Both as a player and a schoolteacher coaching the game, he has had a series of spells in New Zealand, a country he fell in love with on the Lions tour of 1983.
At present, he’s back in Australia, where he played for a couple of seasons in the mid-1980s. He lives in Victoria, in the town of Daylesford, which is where Simon Thomas tracked him down with the assistance of his old pal Mike “Spike” Watkins.
It’s been some journey, one which took a dramatic turn 16 years ago when he suffered a stroke, temporarily losing the power of speech.
He tells his story here.
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