The Priest and the Politician

A tale of two cities, this time Coventry and Paris; two players Tom and Jacques, united in their love of rugby.

Tom Gavin

Both had their promising international playing careers cut short by a ‘higher’ calling. Tom as a priest chose the church and teaching, but Jacques, had events thrust upon him due to the upheaval of World War Two, he became a resistance fighter and then a politician.

Tom Gavin, [1949, 2 caps], played at centre for Ireland, – the only Catholic priest to have played international rugby. Born in Coventry to an Irish family, he went to Cotton College Seminary in Staffordshire, ordained in 1946 and went on to read Classics at Christ’s College Cambridge, graduating in 1949. He played for Coventry, Moseley, Cambridge University (Varsity Match) and London Irish. He was called to play for the Irish side that defeated England to lift the 1949 Triple Crown playing alongside Karl Mullen and Jack Kyle. Some of his fellow clergy expressed doubts about him playing rugby, but at the time he had the support of the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Bernard Griffin, who had also studied at Cotton College.

His career cut short – after graduating he spent a year, teaching at Ampleforth the Yorkshire College that excels at rugby. (In the 1960’s the college had England International John Willcox, (16 caps), as sports master. Another later pupil Lawrence Dellaglio, went on to win 88 English and British & Irish Lions caps). Monsignor Tom Gavin was an outspoken and inspirational priest, returning to Cotton College, where he was a teacher, formidable rugby coach, and later headmaster.

He was a keen educationalist, and parish priest of St Thomas More, in Coventry, where he became the local papal organiser, of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1982, (the mass at the city’s Baginton Airport was attended by some 300,000 people). He had been described as a ‘Toby Jug’ of a man, often combining his clerical ‘dog-collar’ with multi-coloured braces. Looking back on his brief International career, he reflected on one of his fellow players, the Irish fly-half, Jack Kyle, declaring, ‘… he was an absolute rugby genius, a star in any era. He was worth the admission price alone’.It is perhaps poignant that he died on Christmas morning 2009 aged 87.


Jacques Chaban-Delmas, [1945, 1 cap], played on the wing for France, born Jacques Delmas in Paris, educated at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris, his promising rugby career cut short by World War Two. He spent several years in hiding as one of the key leaders of the French resistance under Nazi occupation. He rose to become the youngest general at the age of 29, taking part in the Parisian insurrection of August 1944 (Alain Delon played him in the 1966 film, Is Paris Burning?) He captained an ad hoc Paris XV at the Parc des Princes, against the RAF (Royal Air Force) in Jacques Chaban DelmasNovember 1944, but his only cap for France was against the British Empire Forces at Richmond in April 1945. The French side lost 27 – 6, although they were playing against a formidable XV that had five Welsh internationals including Bleddyn Williams and Gus Risman.

Pre-war he had played for Stade Français (CASG) and in an exhibition match for France. This was against Romania -as part of the Paris World Fair in 1937. After the war, he formally changed his name to Jacques Chaban-Delmas, acknowledging his Resistance nom de guerre. His post-war political career included a role as Charles de Gaulle’s most significant lieutenant, (he wrote his biography in 1980) and served as Prime Minister under Georges Pompidou from 1969 to 1972.It was said his influence is credited with the enthusiasm shown by De Gaulle for Five Nations internationals in the 1960’s. France excluded from the Five Nations Tournament between 1931 and 1939 due to various allegations of professionalism, and on-field violence, has Jacques to thank for helping to re-instate them again in 1947.

He also was accomplished tennis player winning the senior men’s doubles championship in Paris in 1970. In addition, he was Mayor of Bordeaux (1947 to 1995) –where he has a bridge and sports stadium named after him. He died in Paris November 2000 aged 85.


Tom Gavin, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/club/3141241/Father-Tom-Gavin-gives-London-Irish-faith-against-Sale-Rugby-Union.html

Jacques Chaban-Delmas http://www.espn.co.uk/france/rugby/player/4778.html



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>