IRB Hall of Fame – Induction No.86 – Keith Alun Rowlands (Wales, British & Irish Lions, London Welsh, Llanelli, Cardiff and Barbarians) 1936-2006

Personal details

– Born: 7 February, 1936 in Brithdir, Wales
– Died: 18 November, 2006
– Family: The son of a Glamorgan Constabulary Police Inspector and husband, father and grandfather.
– Education: Cowbridge Grammar School, Aberdare Boys Grammar School & University of London

Early years

– Rowlands started playing rugby at Cowbridge Grammar School before moving to Aberdare Boys Grammar School in his second year, where he captained both the rugby (1953-54) and cricket (1954-55) teams. He played for the Welsh Secondary Schools against England in 1955.

Playing career

– A second row, Rowlands’ senior playing career started at Aberaman, a club of which he became Patron, and then moved on to London Welsh.

– While still undertaking National Service with the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Regiment, Rowlands joined Llanelli for the start of the 1958-59 season. 

– After one season at Stradey Park he moved to Cardiff, where he played 149 games for the Arms Park club until his retirement in 1967. He was in the Cardiff side that lost to New Zealand in 1963 and captained the side that beat Australia 14-8 in November, 1966. 

– He made his debut for the Barbarians at Leicester in March 1962 – the same month in which he won the first of his five Welsh caps against France and was picked for the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa. 

– Rowlands played in 18 of the Lions' 24 tour fixtures, including the first, second and fourth Tests, scoring a try in the latter.

Administrative roles 

– On retiring in 1967, Rowlands became a committee member at Cardiff RFC, acting as chairman in 1974-75. In that time he also became a member of the Welsh Rugby Union, representing District B, and was chairman of the National Selectors when Welsh rugby was in its pomp. 

– In 1983, he was appointed as one of the WRU's two representatives on the International Rugby Football Board, and was one of the visionaries who voted in favour of staging the first Rugby World Cup at the 1985 meeting in Paris. 

– From that point his strong involvement with the tournament burgeoned, both as a member of the organising committee for the inaugural tournament and also as a director of RWC 1991. Having been persuaded out of retirement, Rowlands did a superb job as chief executive of the 1999 tournament in his native Wales. 

– Rowlands' global vision for the Game helped him become the IRB's first General Secretary in 1988. At that time the world governing body's offices were based in Bristol, but under Rowlands' guidance they were moved to Dublin. He served in the role until 1996. 

– Rowlands chaired the IRB Women’s Advisory Committee which produced the blueprint for the development of women’s rugby. As such, he was one of the key organisers behind Women’s Rugby World Cup 1998, the first tournament officially supported and financed by the IRB. 

– After the conclusion of RWC 1999, Rowlands remained involved in the game as Patron of Aberaman RFC, President of Rhiwbina RFC, the Welsh Academicals, the Welsh Deaf Rugby Association, and the Welsh Players Charitable Trust. In 1994, he succeeded Tasker Watkins to become the 47th President of the Welsh Rugby Union. He was also President of the Cwmbach Male Voice Choir. 

What they said

– Sir Brian Lochore (former All Black captain, coach and team manager) said Rowlands’ reputation went before him: "He was 'Mr IRB' and he did a tremendous job for world rugby. I believe a big reason for that was the respect and support he gained around the world - and certainly in New Zealand. He was a total gentleman."

– Bernard Lapasset, IRB Chairman, said: "Keith was a great, great member of the rugby family who left his mark on the world game. His commitment was always 100 per cent and he gave great service to the game. As a player he was tough, hard and strong - always very difficult to play against. As an administrator he was the man who showed me the ropes at the IRB. He was my mentor."

– Former International Rugby Board chairman, Dr Syd Millar, said: "A man of great stature, Keith's contribution to the global development of the Game was massive. As a player he reached the heights with both Wales and the British and Irish Lions, while he also channelled the same degree of passion and enthusiasm into his role as a considerably respected administrator with Wales and the IRB.”