Erith Gwyn Nicholls — the ‘Prince of Three-quarters’— was one of the earliest and brightest stars in both the Cardiff and Welsh rugby firmament. Though a native of Gloucestershire, all his rugby career was spent in the city. After his family moved to Roath in the 1870s, the young Nicholls played full-back and half-back for Cardiff Star (whose name was an acronym derived from the first letters of the districts from which its members were drawn- Splott, Tremorfa, Adamsdown and Roath) and for Cardiff Harlequins.
As an eighteen-year-old, Nicholls played for the Cardiff second team in 1892-3 before making his first team debut on New Year’s Day 1894 against Old Merchant Taylors, playing one of his three games at full-back before settling into the position of centre for which he was to become renowned.
Nicholls played 242 games for Cardiff, was club captain for four seasons and scored 111 tries, including a crucial one in the 17-0 victory over the 1906-7 Springboks. A press account of his try against Moseley in 1897 captured his speed and grace: ‘It was a sensational run, almost the length of the field; and when the race was over and Nicholls fell across the line the crowd went wild with excitement over the finest effort of the season…’
He won 24 Welsh caps and captained the team on 10 occasions, most famously in the 1905 victory over New Zealand. He also played in four tests for the British Isles in the 1899 tour to Australia, scoring two tries in a 3-1 series win. In 1908, Nicholls produced one of the first coaching manuals, ‘The Modern Rugby Game and How to Play It’. After retiring in 1909, he sat on the Cardiff RFC committee for a number of years and was also a Welsh selector.
On December 26th, 1949 the Gwyn Nicholls Gates were erected in his memory at the Quay Street entrance to the Arms Park; they were re-located to the Angel Entrance in 2001 and can still be viewed there today. The gates were funded by public subscription and are a tangible reminder of the esteem in which Nicholls was held by the Welsh rugby public. He is a member of the club Hall of Fame and was inducted to the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2005.
'A History of Blue and Black - The Greats' is a new series brought to you by Cardiff Blues, in association with CF10 Rugby Trust and local artist, Tim Driscoll. We look back at the life and careers of Cardiff Arms Park's most iconic figures - from the rugby team's inception in 1876 through to the 21 century and the regional era.