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Legacy of Denley Isaac to rugby across North Wales

Tributes have been paid to an icon in the world of North Wales rugby, and a “brilliant dad”.

Denley Isaac, from Babell, in Flintshire, died peacefully in hospital, aged 85, on April 28.

Known for his impact on rugby in North Wales and beyond, Denley coached Mold, Wales Youth and North Wales with some success.

The epitome of living life to the full, the former submariner himself played rugby for North Wales at 43 and earned his black belt in ju jitsu at 63.

Son Jason spoke on behalf of his mother Terrill, and siblings Mandy and Denley, about a “fantastic man” who gave 110 per cent to everything.

He said: “We’ve been so overwhelmed by the comments about dad. They have been such a comfort reading them.

“He was quite a character and he loved characters as well. The lads he coached had such affection for him.

“Dad loved them and would do anything for them, he was incredibly proud of all of them.”

His services in rugby later saw him awarded the Sports Council For Wales Coach Of The Year 2001.

Denley Isaac as a Chief Petty Officer with the Submarine Service.

Jason went on to speak about his dad’s impact on him and the family.

He added: “It wasn’t just rugby with dad, he gave 110 per cent to whatever he turned his hand to.

“He loved his music and would play the pedal steel guitar. It’s a difficult instrument to play and he practiced every day. He was brilliant.

“He was also a radio ham, he would talk to people all over the world in Morse code, sending 26 words a minute. He never lost that from the Navy

“I didn’t have a clue what he was saying but I would love listening to him.

“As a younger man he was fantastic with engines and cars, which is where my brother gets it from.

“I’m the youngest of three but with all of us, he was such a brilliant dad, you could turn to him for anything.

“He was such a fantastic man. He would take on the world for you and win.”

Leading tributes from the world of rugby was Kevin Whitehead, who managed the North Wales side, and alongside Denley, led them to the Welsh Counties Cup win.

He said: “My introduction to Denley was as a 19-year-old playing for North Wales but there was such a broad spectrum of people’s lives that Denley touched over the years.

“He was part of the Welsh Under 20s and North Wales set ups, as well as Mold and Ruthin rugby clubs.

“In 2000 I was made manager of the North Wales rugby team, and with Denley, Mark Ferguson and Wayne Pugh, we shared a vision of creating a platform for the best players in North Wales.

“I wanted the best people involved, and by the end of that journey, we had not only won the Welsh Counties Championship, we were the first to retain it.

“Denley was such an inspirational character, and believed totally in the North Wales rugby player, who he believed had always been undervalued. In turn the players loved him.

“He always said never to give up. He was a fantastic support, a real driving force, and his knowledge of rugby was second to none.”

Denley Isaac (right) rugby training in Hong Kong in 1957.

Denley Isaac (right) rugby training in Hong Kong in 1957.

Echoing such sentiments is coach Wayne Pugh.

He said: “I was fortunate to have played under Denley and to have coached him, and he was a fantastic mentor.

“He was a true gentleman, a very kind-spirited man.

“When I played for Chester, we had a huge forward pack, we were all big guys but Denley, only about 5ft 3in, would seem to tower over us.

“He was a huge presence. He instilled a lot of passion and we loved Denley.

“He gave me so much guidance, he was so generous with his advice.

“His passion for rugby was infectious, he was so engaging, enthralling in conversation. A natural showman.

“He was confident and he made you feel confident. A fantastic leader, who taught us to be animals on the pitch, gentlemen off the pitch.

“We never wanted to disappoint him, a tremendous example to us.

“It was a huge blow to hear of his passing. He is irreplaceable.”

Continuing with tributes to Denley is physiotherapist Dafydd Llywelyn.

He said: “Knowing Denley goes back to the 1990s, when he became coach of Ruthin Rugby Club.

“He was a big character, and riled against how North Wales rugby was unrecognized in the South, the injustice of it.

“He loved nothing better than to put one over on his South Walian counterparts.

“In the changing rooms his eyes were like steel, so determined, so passionate. Then in the clubhouse, he’d be into a story and those eyes would twinkle. He loved telling his stories.

“Outside that changing room there was always a smile, always a laugh. He was great company.

“What we learned from him is still being used today. His rugby legacy lives on.”

Denley Isaac.

Denley Isaac.

Where most would say Denley called home was Mold Rugby Club, and chairman Colin Ellis reiterated what others had to say.

He said: “Denley was known by such a wide circle of rugby enthusiasts across North Wales.

“I’ve been involved with Mold Rugby Club since I was about five-years-old, and I first remember Denley when I was about 15 or 16, when he was heavily involved in coaching at the club.

“I went to university but he followed my rugby career quite closely, I played in South Wales a bit and he would come down.

“When I came back up, he was coaching at Chester, and I was there at the same time.

“He was probably the most passionate man I’ve ever met in my life.

“He was as passionate about the game as he was the lads that played the game.

“He would push them to reach the highest potential that they could.

“He loved to talk, loved to reminisce about everything in life, and that came out in the players who respected him so much.

“When he was first involved with the club, there would have been very few juniors. But it’s down to people like Denley, and their legacy, that benefits the players of the future.

“In Mold he would be described as a legend, and he truly was a legend of the club.”

Denley leaves his wife of 62 years, Terrill, his children and their partners Mandy and Marc, Denley and Tracy, Jason and Jill, and grandchildren Rhiannon, George, Maddy, Ike, Martha, Matilda, Mabel and Gethin.

A funeral service will take place at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Glanrafon Road, Mold on Wednesday, May 18 at 11.30am, followed by committal at Northop Crematorium. Family flowers only but donations if desired towards British Lung Foundation. Inquiries to JE Davies & Son on 01352 700155.

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