Rugby codebreakers: Welsh 'icons of the game' immortalised in home city of Cardiff for first time

A statue has been unveiled to celebrate the legendary 'codebreaking' Welsh rugby players in their home city of Cardiff.

First displayed to the public on Wednesday morning, the statue immortalises Billy Boston MBE, Gus Risman and Clive Sullivan MBE – three of the greatest rugby league players in the history of the game.

Despite having a number of streets and statues dedicated to them across England, it is the first time the iconic sportsmen have had a formal commemoration in their home city of Cardiff.

It is also the first statue in Wales ever to feature non-fictionalised, named black men.

The public and a special panel of experts agreed on the trio to be immortalised as a statue

Billy Boston, Gus Risman and Clive Sullivan – three of the so-called 'codebreakers' – were among the first players to controversially switch from the 'amateur' ranks of rugby union to become paid rugby league stars.

Some battled racism and prejudice before being hailed as heroes in rugby league teams in the north of England.

Welsh rugby union legend Sir Gareth Edwards told ITV Wales on Wednesday that the trio were "icons of the game."

He said: "It is recognition of some local heroes who have been neglected possibly, for want of a better word, due to the fact that they played rugby league which was frowned upon in this part of the world back in those days, in my early career."They were some of my heroes."

Clive Sullivan's wife, Rosslyn Sullivan, told ITV Wales it was a "very emotional" day.

"It's so sad he wasn't able to see it for himself," she said.

"This would have been the icing on the cake for him, because first and foremost he was a very proud Welshman and this is just the pinnacle of everything he has ever achieved. To be here, and back home, it's just wonderful."

Martin Risman, Gus Risman's grandson, added: "To be commemorated with Billy and Clive on the same statue here at an iconic south Wales, Cardiff Bay venue – He'd have loved it."

Cardiff Council said it is "a fitting tribute to the players who did so much to improve race relations across Britain".

Who are the Codebreakers?

In total there were thirteen Codebreakers, all of whom grew up within a three-mile radius of Cardiff Bay.

Following a public vote which received over 14,000 votes, the trio – Billy Boston, Gus Risman and Clive Sullivan – were selected for the statue.

Amongst the thirteen there are three World Cup winners, 12 Welsh internationals and three Rugby League Hall of Famers.

The statue comes from the project ‘One Team – One Race, Honouring the Cardiff Bay Rugby Codebreakers’ launched in 2020

Seven of the Codebreakers won 17 Challenge Cup finals and nine Great Britain internationals, as well as four members of the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame Roll of Honour.

Cardiff Council said it hopes the statue will ensure their stories live on and "inspire future generations".

Who are Clive Sullivan, Billy Boston and Gus Risman?

Clive Sullivan

Born in Splott in 1943, Clive Sullivan was the first black sportsman to captain a Great Britain national team and the last man to lead a British team to World Cup glory, when his try against Australia in 1972 helped Great Britain to win the title. He has a road named after him in the city of Hull.

Billy Boston

Born on 6 August, 1934 in Butetown, Billy is in the Rugby League and Wigan Halls of Fame, was made MBE for his services to sport. He was also the first black sportsman to tour with Great Britain. He also has a statue dedicated to him at Wigan, and is included on the Rugby League statue at Wembley Stadium.

The statue celebrating Billy Boston, Clive Sullivan and Gus Risman was unveiled during a public ceremony in Landsea Square in Mermaid Quay

Gus Risman

The son of Latvian immigrants who settled in Tiger Bay, Gus was born on 23 March, 1911. He won four Rugby League Championships, went to Wembley for the Challenge Cup final three times, and picked up five Lancashire League titles and three Lancashire Cup winners medals. He has a street in Workington named after him.

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