Bleddyn Bowen has always considered himself a very lucky man.
He had the honour of captaining Wales, leading them to a memorable Triple Crown in 1988, he’s had a successful business career and he has a happy family life.
But now, having just turned 60, he feels more fortunate than ever having won the biggest battle of his life.
In 2019, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer, news which he admits came as a huge shock.
But after undergoing surgery, he has happily received the all clear and is now fit and well.
When we meet up at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, where he plays a couple of times of week, he spoke honestly and openly about what he has been through and the importance of people getting checked out if they have any symptoms.
Having been down the same road myself, it’s a message I would endorse wholeheartedly.
But first the rugby and there was plenty to talk about there.
Bowen was raised in Trebanos – where he still lives today – the Swansea Valley village with a remarkable sporting pedigree.
“In the 1980s, we had three international sportsmen from Trebanos – myself, Robert Jones and Greg Thomas, who was opening the bowling for England at the time,” he says.
“We all lived within about 200 yards of each other.
“Following on from that, you’ve had Arwel Thomas and Justin Tipuric.
“It’s amazing how it has produced so many sporting heroes really. It was a brilliant village to grow up in.”
Making a name for himself as a talented young outside-half for Cwmtawe Comprehensive and Trebanos RFC, Bowen was selected for the Wales Youth tour to South Africa in 1980.
Then, following that trip, he joined the police force, which meant him playing his rugby for South Wales Police.
“We had a good side,” he said.
“You had people like Richie Collins, Huw Williams-Jones, Steve Sutton, Martyn Morris, Richie Donovan, Colin Hillman, you had Phil Davies and Mark Perego for a time.
“I had a great time with the club and played without doubt my best rugby there.
“You could say we were semi-professional because we were getting paid to do the job but were spending a lot of our time playing rugby.”
Read more:Inside the famous South Wales Police rugby ground that’s been abandoned
Bowen’s sparkling form at No 10 saw him called up by Wales in 1983, but it was in the centre that he was to win the bulk of his 24 caps.
“Outside half was my favourite position,” he says.
“That’s where I played pretty much all my club rugby.
“But when I first got into the Wales set-up, Malcom Dacey was at 10, so John Bevan – who was the best coach I ever worked with – picked me in the centre.
“Then one of the greatest Welsh players ever came in at outside-half in Jonathan Davies, so I was pushed out to 12 again.”
Bleddyn Bowen on duty at Port Talbot police station in 1984
Reflecting on the early years of his international career, Bowen has particularly fond memories of the 24-15 victory over England at Twickenham in March 1984.
“I was fortunate enough to make a break and Adrian Hadley scored under the posts,” he says.
“I enjoyed playing at Twickenham. I had some good success there.”
Injury ruled Bowen out for much of 1985, but he was back the following season, starting all four Five Nations matches and scoring his first international try away to England.
Then, in the summer of 1986, came a tour of the South Seas and a legendary encounter with Tonga at Nuku A’lofa.
“When we got on the field, it was like playing down in Tumble or Kidwelly,” he recalls.
“It was like a west Wales rugby field.
“Just before the national anthems, the King of Tonga turned up for the game.
“He must have been about 25 stone, he had goggles on, Dr Marten shoes and he arrived in like a pope mobile and sat down in the middle of the stand.
“I don’t think the Tongan side knew he was going to be present.
“You could see their eyes going white and it went from there!
“They had this prop called Tevita Bloomfield and I remember he looked like Charles Bronson.
“There was a lineout early on and he just hit Phil Davies, laying him out, which led to a mass fight.
“It was just brawling and street-fighting and unfortunately the Australian referee lost control of the game.
“There were bodies on the field, most of them were Welsh boys unfortunately.
“So I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to try and help’, so I actually ran in. It’s the first time I’d ever done it and I’m not proud of it, but I just punched him (Bloomfield).
“You know when your hand stings and I thought ‘Oh that was a good one’.
“But he just looked at me and laughed. Then he came at me.
“So I just ran away! I ran behind the posts, but he’s still coming at me.
“I got to where there were about two rows depth of people watching the game and I ran behind them. I’m hiding behind these people.
“I looked over them and he’s still coming at me, so I am running away behind the posts and there was like somebody’s garden with a bit of a fence.
“I jump over the fence and he’s still coming. You can’t believe it, can you?
“This is an international rugby match!
“I got back onto the pitch by the halfway line and he’s still chasing me.
“Eventually it calmed down a little bit, with ambulances on the pitch and we won and are still here to tell the tale. It was an experience to behold that’s for sure.
“Adrian Hadley got laid out and taken to hospital for treatment but the story goes there was no medical staff at the hospital because they were all at the game!”
Bleddyn Bowen tackles opposing centre Clive Woodward during Wales’ victory over England at Twickenham in 1984
The summer of 1987 saw Bowen playing for Wales in the inaugural World Cup, sharing in the quarter-final victory over England in Brisbane.
“That was great because all the English supporters had booked hotels for the semi-final the following week, thinking they would beat us,” he said.
“That was a sweet moment.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of that World Cup. The occasion was wonderful.”
Bowen also started the semi-final defeat to New Zealand, a game he describes as “an eye-opener”, before his hamstring went, ruling him out of the third-place play-off against Australia, which Wales famously won.
With World Cup captain Richard Moriarty bowing out of international rugby following that memorable tournament, it was Bowen who took over as skipper, marking his first game at the helm with a brace of tries against the USA in November 1987, on a rare Test outing at No 10.
Then came the campaign for which he is probably best remembered, as he led Wales to the 1988 Triple Crown.
First up, it was England at Twickenham.
“Having beaten them in the World Cup, we went up there fully expecting to win and fully confident,” said Bowen.
“We had four outside halves in the back line, with Jonathan, myself, Mark Ring and Tony Clement, so it was a very exciting time.
“The footballing ability within that back division was phenomenal, with Ieuan Evans and Adrian Hadley on the wings.
“We played an exceptional game that day and came away with Adrian scoring two wonderful tries and winning 11-3.
“So it was a nice base to start that season off.”
Bleddyn Bowen, with co-centre Mark Ring in support, gets the ball away against England at Twickenham during Wales’ 1988 Triple Crown campaign
Next came Scotland in Cardiff, a rollercoaster of a match which swung one way and then the other before Wales ultimately triumphed 25-20.
“As a game to watch and encourage children to get involved in the sport, there’s no doubt that was a wonderful spectacle,” said Bowen.
“That’s the way Wales were renowned for playing rugby and that’s how we should look to play the game going forward.
“That was great entertainment.”
The match is best remembered for Ieuan Evans’ side-stepping run to the line and for Jonathan Davies cheeky kick-and-chase touchdown.
“That Jiffy try, you can’t plan anything like that, can you?” said Bowen.
“It was bad ball from the scrum, but Rob Jones just managed to get it away with a reverse pass, which threw the Scottish defence.
“Then Jiffy cut inside and it was all off the cuff.
“I don’t think anybody else would have scored that try, with his grubber kick through and his pace.
“It was something different, something you can’t coach.
“Then there were the two fantastic drop goals from him at the end to win it. That took some doing with those old Mitre balls!
“You can’t tell somebody of his talent how to play the game, it’s just trying sometimes to keep his head.”
It was a very different kind of match against Ireland in Lansdowne Road two weeks later.
“That was a great pressure game, because Wales hadn’t won the Triple Crown for nine years,” said Bowen.
“It was a dour game that we had to grind out a win. That was probably my proudest moment, to lead Wales to a Triple Crown.
“The celebrations out in Dublin were fantastic.
“I still have nightmares about the France game, which we lost 10-9 in the rain in Cardiff.
“I played against France in ‘84 and ‘86 and we were lucky to come second, they were that good.
“But in ‘88 we had an opportunity. We should have beaten them. We were the better side, but we didn’t take our chances.
“That still haunts me, to be quite honest with you. It’s not often Grand Slam games come about.
“But if someone had said to me ‘Look Bledd, you will captain Wales to a Triple Crown one day’, then I am going to take that.
“I still get a lot people coming up to talk to me about that season more than 30 years on.
“It’s the way that we played that year, the Welsh way if you like.
“It’s in our blood, it’s in our tradition.
“We had that attitude of how we wanted to play the game.”
A young Bleddyn Bowen races through against Japan in an uncapped game in 1983
What I wonder was it like playing in between Jonathan Davies and Mark Ring?
“Jonathan was a special player and Mark was hugely talented, the ringmaster as I call him,” he replies.
“I enjoyed playing with these lads.
“You had to keep control of the two of them!
“But you also had to give them their head and that’s when they were at their best when they had that.
“They would play what they saw in front of them.
“Jonathan had so much pace and Mark had so much ability.
“Then you had Ieuan who was a great side-stepper and Adrian was such a strong runner and so quick, while Robert Norster was a huge influence up front. I couldn’t tell the forwards what to do. That was his job.
“It was a great time that 1988 season, a wonderful era, a great time to be be involved in Welsh rugby.”
Bowen continued as captain for that summer’s tour of New Zealand, only for injuries to rule him out of the Tests.
So he only actually did the job for five matches, but they were pretty memorable ones.
Looking back, what kind of captain does he think he was?
“I wasn’t a shouter or a bawler before a game, not at all,” he said.
“During pre-match, you had to be assertive, but fair.
“I would like to think people respected me as captain and that my decisions on the field justified being skipper.
“When you are a young boy, growing up watching the stars of the 1970s in my case, you always dream of playing for Wales.
“But you never think one day you will captain Wales and that’s something I don’t think anybody can prepare you for.
“You are what you are, you are that individual and don’t change.”
Having moved to Swansea, Bowen played on for one more season with Wales, winning his final cap against Ireland in February 1989, before hanging up his boots at 29 after suffering serious cruciate knee ligament damage for the second time in his career.
Outside of rugby, on leaving the police, he went to work in sales for photocopying companies Peter Llewellyn and Konica.
Then, seven years ago, he set up own business, Infinity Document Solution, of which he remains managing director.
As for family life, he is married to Denise, who he has been together with since they were in school, and they have two daughters – Lowri, 29, a doctor, and Catrin, 27 a physiotherapist.
All was good, until a couple of years ago.
“I have been fit and healthy through my life,” he says.
“But, then in October 2019, I got diagnosed with bowel cancer.
“It was a huge shock to myself and my family.
“However, I battled it and, like yourself, I am out the other end.
“Having been told I had cancer, I was very lucky to have the support of my family and my close friends.
“It’s a huge psychological, mental battle that you’ve got to go through when you are told that you have cancer.
“You think ‘Has it spread, what phase of cancer do you have?’.
“I lost a stone in weight in a month, thinking I could be preparing for my funeral.
“You have these thoughts in your mind, it’s natural.
“But I must say – I am getting pretty emotional here – the medical people that looked after were phenomenal.
“Within a month, I was in for a bowel resection. They took over 12 inches of my colon away, took lymph nodes away and I was fortunate that it hadn’t spread.
“And now I’m here to tell the tale that I am fit and healthy.
“Luckily I am clear, I haven’t got any after-effects of it.”
Now Bowen has a message he is keen to send out.
“I don’t want to push this down anybody’s throat, but like all cancers if you get an early diagnosis, it can be the difference between life and death, it’s as simple as that,” he said.
“What I will say is if anyone gets any symptoms of bowel cancer, bleeding, loss of weight, pain in the stomach, then they have to go straight away to their doctor and get it investigated.
“People sometimes are reluctant to go to the doctor, but please get the screening tests, please be aware of changes within your body.
“It’s important people realise it’s not a death sentence. There are so many success stories now.
“If you get it early, then you have got a good chance of surviving.”
Bleddyn Bowen at 60, pictured at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club with Rest Bay as the backdrop
(Image: © Huw Evans Picture Agency)
So, given what he has been through, how does he reflect on the journey he has been on?
“My outlook on life is different,” he said.
“I cherish each and every day.
“My daughter got married a month ago and that was a fabulous day
“In 2019, I did think ‘Am I going to walk my kids down the aisle?’”
He concluded: “When I look back, I do feel very fortunate.
“I was brought up on a council estate in Trebanos.
“If somebody would have said to me this is the life that you will have, I would have taken it with both hands.
“I have been very fortunate, I’ve had a great life.
“I feel so lucky, particularly with what I have experienced these past couple of years, and I just look to make the most of every day now.”
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