Win the autobiography of Matthew Rees

Would the 2009 Lions have won in South Africa had Matthew Rees played from the start? It’s a question Warren Gatland appears to have pondered as he expresses his regret, in the foreword to Rees’s autobiography Reasons 2 Smile, that the Lions didn’t start with the all-Welsh front row of Gethin Jenkins, Rees and Adam Jones in the first Test in Durban.

Rees has always been much more than a scrummaging hooker, learning all the basic skills from a young age. He could pass off both hands by 16 and spent endless hours kicking, even during his early professional years with Pontypridd and Celtic Warriors, where he practised with one of his childhood heroes, Neil Jenkins.

“Even now, if I was required to find touch with a clearing kick, or take a straightforward penalty or conversion, I’d be confident I could do it,” says the 38-year-old.

Adam Jones, Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins, 2009 Lions

Red pride: Jones, Rees and Jenkins in 2009 – the first all-Welsh Lions Test front row for 54 years (Inpho)

His book, written with Craig Muncey, is in the most part chronological, which means a long wait before the chapter on the testicular cancer that sent him spinning in 2013.

That he was able to keep weight-training during his chemotherapy is testament to his resilience and character. Besides a fear of losing his hair – he eventually shaved his head and wore a beanie – a memorable footnote is an incident that occurred shortly after an operation to remove one of his testicles.

A young nurse was given the task of checking the scarring and took out her mobile phone. Rees reacted in horror as he thought she was about to take photos of his private parts and splash them on social media! In fact, she was using the torch.

Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins watch Cardiff Blues, Sept 2018

Old mates: Rees and Gethin Jenkins watch Cardiff Blues in a pre-season friendly (Huw Evans Agency)

That was in October 2013 and by the following March he was back playing for Cardiff Blues and by June playing for Wales in South Africa – a remarkable comeback.

Those last two caps mean he is the most-capped Wales hooker ever, with 60 Tests for his country (plus three for the Lions), although Ken Owens is now also on that figure.

If cancer is one heavy subject in his book, so too is family genetics. He was in his teens when he discovered that his ‘dad’ wasn’t his biological father and as old as 20 by the time he learnt that he was the son of an adulterous TV shop owner called Ken Gay.

Rees says if he’d known the truth earlier, he would have changed his surname because “the name Rees doesn’t mean a great deal to me, as it isn’t who I am. The surname I’d have taken would have been Edgecombe, my mum’s maiden name.”

Of course, there’s plenty of rugby chat to digest in the book too, including the shabby treatment of Celtic Warriors players after their hasty disbandment in 2004 and Wales’ 2007 World Cup failure that culminated in head coach Gareth Jenkins getting off the team bus early and trudging away disconsolately, a carrier bag in his hand, in order to avoid the waiting media throng at The Vale.

Of their shock pool exit that year, Rees says: “Our defence was all over the place: some players were drifting, some were blitzing, and the Fijians were picking us off at will.”

Wales rugby players' helicopter trip, 2010

Hovering: Rees and Co prepare for a helicopter trip on Wales’ 2010 tour to NZ (Huw Evans Agency)

The player says the coaching team lacked steel but his most stinging criticism is saved for Mark Hammett, the New Zealander who parted from Cardiff Blues in 2015 just six months into a three-year contract.

Hammett got off on the wrong foot by asking Rees, the captain, whether he thought Gethin Jenkins needed to change as a character. “I was stunned,” says Rees, who within months was contemplating retirement as the coach’s relationship with the players deteriorated and Blues plummeted to an eventual record worst finish of tenth.

Matthew Rees scores for Wales v Italy, 2007

Collector’s item: one of Rees’s two Test tries, scored against Italy during the 2007 Six Nations (AFP/Getty)

Rees captained Wales during the 2010-11 season but was denied the honour of leading them at RWC 2011 by a neck injury. When Sam Warburton initially declined the captaincy, Gatland asked Rees to intervene and Warburton had a change of heart and went on to become one of the all-time great Test captains.

Ironically, all these years later, Warburton has retired while Rees soldiers on, returning to action for Pontypridd in December after a long-running knee injury and captaining the Blues in their Champions Cup tie at Scotstoun in January.

“He wants to show he can still be the number one going forward,” said Blues coach John Mulvihill. The boy from Tonyrefail has done good.

Matthew Rees’s autobiography, Reasons 2 Smile, is published by Y Lolfa, RRP £9.99 for the paperback, and you can buy it here.

The publishers have kindly provided us with six copies to give away in a competition. For a chance to win one, look at the photo below and answer the question beneath it, filling in your details. The competition closes on Friday 15 February.

Scarlets v Stade Francais

Artful dodger: Scarlets and Stade Francais contest a Heineken Cup tie – but who is the ball-carrier? (Corbis)

Please keep me up to date with special offers and news from Rugby World and other brands within the TI Media Limited by sending me the Rugby World and other messages by , and . You can unsubscribe at any time.

Please tick here if you are happy for us to share your information with carefully selected partners, who may send you information (by email) about their offers, goods and services.

By submitting this entry you agree the terms and conditions below.

Terms and conditions

The competition closes at 23.59pm on Friday 15 February 2019.

Six winners will be selected at random, each winning a copy of the book Reasons 2 Smile, by Matthew Rees.

Normal TI Media Limited competition rules apply. Competition details form part of these terms and conditions. Entry is open to residents of the UK, Channel Islands and Republic of Ireland except employees (and their families) of TI Media Limited, its printers and agents, the suppliers of the prizes and any other companies associated with the competitions. The winners must be aged 18 or over. Proof of identity and age may be required. Use of a false name or address will result in disqualification. All entries must be made directly by the person entering the competition. Entries made online using methods generated by a script, macro or the use of automated devices will be void. The prizes are as stated, are not transferable to another individual and no cash or other alternatives will be offered. Prizes are subject to availability and the prize suppliers’ terms and conditions. The promoters reserve the right to amend or alter the terms of competitions and reject entries from entrants not entering into the spirit of the competition. The winner agrees to the use of his or her name, photograph and disclosure of county of residence and will co-operate with any other reasonable requests by TI Media Limited relating to any post-winning publicity. The winners will be chosen from all correct entries received by the closing date stated within the promotional material. Winners will be confirmed in writing. Reasonable efforts will be made to contact a winner. Failure to respond and/or provide an address for delivery, or failure to meet the eligibility requirements may result in forfeiture of the prize. If they cannot be contacted, or are unable to comply with these terms and conditions, the Promoter reserves the right to offer the prize to the next eligible entrant drawn at random. Where applicable, the decision of the judges is final based on the criteria set out in the promotion and no correspondence will be entered into over this decision. Competitions may be modified or withdrawn at any time. The Service Provider and contact details are specified within the promotional material. When you enter this competition you are consenting to be added to the regular MBR newsletters and that TI Media Limited and its partners may contact you about relevant products or services and research via email. You can opt out at any time via the unsubscribe messages in the emails you are sent.