This article appeared as part of a year-long weekly series by the author in the Sunday Herald
Dickie Jeeps – his name so evocative of an era of good eggs, amateurism and the Corinthian spirit – was also a rugby visionary.
His name might have come straight from the pages of an Evelyn Waugh novel, redolent as it is of companionship with William Boot and Chatty Corner, but his Be Prepared philosophy was ahead of its time in his chosen sport.
In 1962 he was due to captain England in a trial match against The Rest. “I wrote to all the team and told them, ‘As far as I am concerned I want to play for England and I hope you are all with me in wanting to do the same,'” he later recalled.
“If you want to play for England versus Wales we need to win this trial match. I want you all to meet at Richmond at 2.30 next Friday [for a practice session],” he continued in his letter. “When Col Frank Prentice, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union, got to hear about that, I got a bollocking. A terrible bollocking. He told me, ‘This is not a professional game’.” The get-together seemed to work, however, as England won the match.
It was, indeed, Jeeps’s readiness that marked him out from the start. In 1955, uncapped for England, he travelled to South Africa as the British Lions’ third-choice scrum-half. Welsh stand-off Cliff Morgan liked Jeeps’s service from the base of the scrum, however, and he ended up playing in all four tests in the series, which the Lions drew 2-2.
A year later he won his first England cap, in a game at Twickenham that Wales won 8-3. (Jeeps only played in a winning side against Wales once. In 1967, he said of the Welsh scrum-half Gareth Edwards: “The sooner that little so-and-so goes to rugby league, the better it will be for us.”) He captained England 13 times in 24 appearances and also played in 13 Lions tests, a record until it was surpassed by Willie John McBride.
It was reported this week that Jeeps has had his England and Lions memorabilia stolen. Professionalism: the harbinger of foul play.