Rugby codes unite with tributes for David Watkins

Tributes have poured in for one of rugby’s cross-code greats following the death of David Watkins at the age of 81.

Blaina-born Watkins, known affectionately as “Dai”, played rugby union for Newport and was part of the team which famously beat the touring All Blacks in 1963.

He also won 21 caps for Wales and captained the British Lions before making a shock switch to rugby league with Salford in 1967 having resisted interest from St Helens as an 18-year-old.

A statement from Salford read: “Salford Red Devils are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of club icon, David Watkins, one of the very greatest to represent our club, and to ever play our game.

“All our thoughts go out to David’s family and friends at this truly difficult time.”

The Rugby Football League described Watkins as “one of the best cross-code converts from Wales”.

A statement from the Wales Rugby Football League read: “Everyone at Wales Rugby League was sad to hear about the passing of David Watkins MBE, one of our greatest ever players. He was aged 81.

“Dai, as he was affectionately known as, is recognised as one of the greatest Welshmen to have ever pulled on a rugby shirt.”

Watkins played a key role in Salford’s golden era, making more than 400 appearances and scoring almost 3,000 points as they were crowned champions twice in three seasons during the 1970s.

He kicked a world record 221 goals during the 1972-73 season and his feat of scoring in 92 consecutive matches for the club remains unbeaten.

His club form once again earned him recognition at international level with both Wales and Great Britain, who he represented on the Lions tour to Australia in 1974.

David Watkins toured Australia and New Zealand with the rugby league's British Lions in 1974
David Watkins toured Australia and New Zealand with the rugby league’s British Lions in 1974 (PA)

Watkins, who coached Britain at the 1977 World Cup final and later took charge of Wales, also had brief spells with Swinton and Cardiff Blue Dragons.

He moved into media work following his retirement in 1982, and was awarded an MBE for his services to rugby league four years later.

Watkins was elevated to the Wales Rugby League hall of fame in 2018 and admitted to the RFL’s equivalent during last year’s World Cup.