The funeral of former Wales international Matthew J Watkins was held at Thornhill Crematorium in Cardiff yesterday, where tributes were paid to a “truly fantastic human being”.
Watkins, who attended Oakdale Comprehensive School and represented Newbridge and Pontllanfraith at youth level, passed away, aged just 41, on March 7 after a courageous seven-year battle with a rare form of pelvic cancer.
The service, which was limited to ten members of family because of restrictions in response to the coronavirus outbreak, was streamed online, allowing countless people to follow proceedings.
Funeral celebrant Wyn Davies conducted the moving service, which included poems from the family and eulogies to the 18-time capped centre.
“Matthew was a truly fantastic human being, a special man. His was a life lived to the full,” Davies said.
“He fulfilled his boyhood dream of playing for Wales, but never changed.
“He was admired by everyone.”
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Throughout his battle, Watkins raised valuable funds for Velindre Cancer Centre, where he went to receive treatment, something Davies was keen to pay tribute to.
“He was so brave and so selfless, the way he faced up to his illness,” he said.
“His only fear was seeing his loved ones sad or grieving. He was more concerned about their welfare.
“He attended any charity event he could and would go into schools to do talks.
“He was a really special man who left so many beautiful memories. A lovely man, a lovely life.”
In the lead up to the funeral, Alix Popham – a former teammate of Watkins’ at the Scarlets and Wales – called for friends, family and supporters to don items such as club ties, jerseys or even a pin badge “to show how much Matthew meant to them” while tuning in to the service online.
And many followed suit, with the likes of Mike Phillips, the former Wales and British and Irish Lions scrum-half who also played with Watkins at the Scarlets, tweeting pictures of themselves wearing club shirts.
Phil Bennett, the legendary Llanelli, Wales and British and Irish Lions outside-half, who is now President of the Scarlets, paid a glowing tribute to Watkins.
“Matthew was an excellent rugby player and, above all, a lovely man,” he said.
“There was a modesty and humility about him and a concern for others.
“Despite his illness, he did his best to be positive. His love for his family shone through and it was quite inspiring and a privilege to talk to him.
“We are all there for his wife Stacey and children should they need us. The world has lost a special individual.”
A larger commemorative service will now take place later this year, allowing the many who had the pleasure of knowing ‘MJ’ to pay their respects and remember a wonderful man.