All posts by Pleidiol Wyf

Adversity shows us who we really are

It is hard to imagine a more heart-breaking defeat. Down to 14 men for the last hour, and having lost our cornerstone on the tighthead after only 10 minutes, Wales had no right to be in this match at all; and yet we were. Thanks to a remarkable display from the Welsh, and a remarkably negative approach from the French, we spent the last 20 minutes of the game a single point behind – and that, of course, is where the real heart-break was. We had no right to be so close – but having got there against all the odds, we had opportunity after opportunity to steal the victory, and simply could not do it. Attacking lineout after attacking lineout was thrown away, kicks at goal hit the woodwork or fell inches short, drop goal attempts went badly wrong or simply didn’t happen, and the final whistle brought an unlikely dream to a bitter end.

It is hard to imagine a more heart-breaking defeat; and yet heart-break should not be, must not be, the legacy we take from this World Cup. There is no glory in defeat. There is, however, a glory that defeat can not extinguish: the glory of finding your limits and being pushed beyond them, of refusing to break however shattering the blow, of discovering that you have more to give than anyone else imagined. This Welsh team has much of that glory already, and will win more in their response to this defeat, in their performance next week, in their performances in the months and years ahead. It takes the raging, vicious heat of magma to make diamonds – this defeat is surely painful enough to match that heat, and this Welsh squad is full of players who have the strength to become diamonds.

Adversity shows us who we really are. We will see that in how these players respond; but it is every bit as true of us as supporters, as people. We had seen what our team could produce, we had dared to dream, and those dreams have been trampled in the mud of Eden Park. It would be easy to blame the referee, to blame the fickle hand of luck, to howl against the fleeting nature of sporting opportunity – and yet that is not what we should do.

No. Instead, we should ask ourselves, ask each other, as we sit over our tasteless pints, why it is that we watch rugby, and why it is that we care. The answers should be clear. We watch it because it is the pinnacle of sport; because it marries the brutal with the poetic, marries passion with analysis, marries a dozen and more different contests in a single match. We care because it expresses something of our lives; of adversity, of triumph and disaster, of the fascinating complexities that being Welsh involves.

Those answers should help us see how this adversity will reveal us to ourselves. Perhaps ironically for a Welsh supporter, it was an Englishman (but qualified by birth to play for India) who said it best of all: ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same.’ And there’s the truth of it – triumph is an imposter, disaster is an imposter. Neither is real. Reality is the journey, not the temporary stations that we mistake for destinations. Reality is the glory of the struggle, the glory of getting back on your feet every time you are knocked down, the glory of reaching further than you think you can, the glory of life itself.

These young men of ours, these sons and brothers, have wrestled with that glory. They have reached past their own limits time and again, and they have represented us to the world as well as we could possibly have hoped. They deserve our respect and admiration; but more than that, they deserve that we should be inspired by them, and that we should collectively set our own sights higher in recognition of their endeavours.

So drink those pints of bitter, people of Wales – and then when the sun rises again, shake off your headaches and do whatever you do best a little bit better. Achieve more, laugh more, help others more, love more, live more – and make the legacy of this Welsh team and this World Cup defeat a ripple effect that gives us all a taste of glory. Every single person in Wales who was watching the game was knocked to the ground by the final whistle – let every single one of us get back up again, wipe the blood away, and aim a little higher.

Wales 2011 Six Nations Championship End of Term Report

So, a distinctly underwhelming Six Nations is over, we’re all another year older, and the Promised Land looks as distant as ever. Thank God for Italy and Ireland, who pulled off the two most entertaining results of the championship; the rest of it was all pretty hard to digest.

Wales started their last game with an outside shot at winning the Championship, and they finished it in fourth place – as clear a sign as any of how little there was to choose between the top four sides. It was almost all so mediocre, though – England showed the most adventure over the course of the season and deserved their win, Ireland came to life to make up for BallBoyGate, and that was just about it in terms of real quality.

Wales now have four games to fine-tune the side before the World Cup – unfortunately, it looks as though we need a fair bit more than just fine-tuning. So, where is it going wrong, and what can realistically change before we fly to the other side of the world?


Our side-to-side slugfest. This is a busted flush – it isn’t working any more, and there are several reasons why. First up, it is so dreadfully predictable. This allows defences to maintain their organisation far too easily, and gives teams something of a comfort zone against us. Second, it has become a largely pointless activity – there is some obvious value in taking the point of contact as wide as possible if you’re going to attack using the full width of the pitch, but if all you’re going to do is work from one side of the pitch to the other over the course of several fairly slow rucks, there really is no particular value in having started an extra five metres closer to the line. Finally, Irish sleepiness apart, it has removed any possible surprise value in using the blindside, as more than one of our players discovered against France when they found themselves the single blindside attacker against three or four defenders.


Our error count. Even with a predictable gameplan, we would have been right in the mix for a potential Grand Slam this season if our error count had been under control – but it isn’t. Time and again, we do the donkey work, build some momentum, get some field position and then cough the ball up in the tackle, or give it to a static runner who gets pinged for holding on, or try one pass too many. In the last half an hour against France, Bradley Davies got stripped in contact because he was far too upright, Alun Wyn Jones tried a miracle pass of the kind that he was sensibly NOT making in the first half, Ryan Jones took attacking ball standing still and got pinged for holding on, Hibbard lost the ball in contact – and given that you’re always going to get some calls against you, that’s already enough mistakes to leave any side seriously hamstrung.


We’ve got the platform there, of a kind. The scrum has held up reasonably well even without our two first choice props, the lineout has definitely improved (although it would be a bloody delight to see one of our forwards pinching opposition ball as consistently as Richie Gray did against Italy), and our back row have done outstanding work in defence for most of the season. We’ve got some genuine strike runners who are particularly dangerous in broken play, and we’re obviously not a team that flags physically in the last quarter any more.


We desperately need at least a little more variety. Once we’ve taken the ball out to the touchline, the next couple of phases almost invariably go to Dan Lydiate to take contact. Oh, okay, it’s not always Lydiate, and he usually does a good job of it when it is, but I’m sure you take the point. Yes, you’ve got to be prepared to do the work to tie defenders in; but if you’re dead set on going out to the touchline, why not try to use that full width of the pitch oh, just once or twice in each half? We’ve got the players to do some damage one-on-one or two-on-two if they’ve got enough space, and if we lie deep and sometimes attack the outside of the pitch instead of just looking for contact on the gainline, it will have the added bonus of making it a bit less bleedingly obvious when we do take route one.

Speed of thought. We talk about how fit we are as though it was still the deciding factor it seemed to be in 2008 – but we play an attacking game which gives the opposition plenty of time to align, and doesn’t ask them to cover all that much of the park. If we think that we can run the opposition off their feet, then we need to play fast rugby, to change the point of attack frequently and quickly, and to keep the ball in hand as much as possible. This is about patterns more than about individuals (if you’ve got the time, take a look at the French game from 59:55 to 64:00 and then 66:47 to 69:43 and you’ll see that there’s not all that much to choose between Phillips and Peel when the forwards retain possession for a while) – but having said that, Peel does have the edge in speed and quality of delivery, and it will be a ridiculous error of judgement if he doesn’t get the shirt for at least one of the summer matches. Wales might be able to play a faster game with Peel at 9, but there’ll be no way of seeing that for sure unless he gets a start.

Aggression. Not just at ruck and maul, but across the board, and in terms of our attacking intent. The way this team performs makes it look as though Gatland wants to see us play a percentage game; but a game plan based on a strong defence coupled with a predictable attack is actually quite risky rugby, because it means we need a very low error count to be able to take control of a game. Two errors meant two tries in Paris, and it would be a brave man who would bet on this Welsh team producing error-free performances in New Zealand. If we’re going to make mistakes, we need to be able to put points on the board a lot more quickly ourselves – and that takes us back to speed of play and varying the point of attack again.


It’s all pretty small margins at the top of the game. Our ‘not turning up mentally’ in Paris saw France take two soft tries from two unnecessary mistakes – take those out of the equation, and we unquestionably had enough opportunities to have won the game, even with the error count as it was.

There isn’t a great deal that needs to change. We’ve got a platform that will see us get a decent amount of possession in our pool games – we just need to be a bit more threatening on our own ball, which we can do by changing the point of attack a bit more often, and taking the ball wide, fast, just occasionally.

We’ve produced strong performances against all the Tri Nations sides in the last year. Our bang-your-head-against-the-door-until-it-breaks style of play will beat Samoa and Fiji with something to spare – so the truth of it is that we will get two rolls of the dice in New Zealand. If we can find a win from somewhere against either South Africa or Australia, this team might grow up in a hurry.

[Probable Wales route to the final: Group runners-up, beat an Ireland made over-confident by their unexpected win against Australia, beat a Scotland made over-confident and quite possibly hallucinatory by their unexpected wins over England, Argentina and France, to lose to New Zealand in the final by 30 points and/or 2 points after an All Black forward wins a penalty in the last minute of the game by throwing himself out of a lineout.]

A team at the crossroads

The Welsh performance in Rome leaves the team at a crossroads. It is clear that the individual ability is there, but it is also clear that the rest of 2011 could be a very grim time indeed for Welsh supporters.

As against Scotland a fortnight before, Wales started brightly. Despite one ridiculous gift of a try to Italy (the clever money is that we won’t see Bradley Davies throw a pass like that again for at least another five years), Wales looked composed, dangerous, and capable of putting 50 points on the home team. But then came the rest of the match – yes, the bit you’re trying to forget. Mistake after mistake after mistake kept the Italians close enough to believe that they had a chance, and they responded by playing some of their best rugby of the championship.

You could almost see the confidence draining away from the Welsh players, and with the exception of one good passage of play which Gatland hailed as showing ‘killer instinct’ when they worked the drop goal for Hook, they spent most of the last twenty minutes looking like a club side who were terrified of finding themselves with the ball. If they give possession away like that in the World Cup, we won’t reach the quarters.

It was clear from what Matthew Rees said after the game that confidence in the side is at a very low ebb. Gatland took a gamble setting up so many games against Tri Nations sides last year – it was a necessary gamble, if Wales really wanted to challenge for the World Cup, and if we had sneaked one or two victories, we’d be looking at a very different team now. But it always had a downside – the possibility that losing again and again and again would do real damage to the team, and it now seems clear that the damage has been done. As the sum of its parts, this Welsh team is simply too good to be sweating out the last ten minutes against Italy – but the dreadful lack of confidence they are suffering from at the moment triggers a negative approach to the game as soon as anything goes wrong, and that keeps other teams in the hunt for far longer than they should be.

Looking back, the crunch match for this Welsh side was against South Africa in the autumn. To go so far ahead against one of the best teams in the world and then still manage to lose was a watershed moment, and it has left the team with what looks like an increasingly worrying fear of failure.

So where do we go from here? Rumour has it that Gatland is imposing a far stricter tactical regime than at any time since 2008, which on the face of it is probably a good thing given the lack of game management we show so often – but at the same time, who didn’t feel a little bit of themselves die when Gatland said after the game that we’d tried to play a bit too much rugby in the first half? Note to WG: that was when we were putting points on the board.

We’re lucky that our next game is at home, and we’re lucky that Ireland are looking so rusty at the moment. After scraping by against Italy and Scotland and losing to France, they’ve got no more confidence than we have, and they’ll be well aware that we closed that Scotland side out of the game even when we only had 13 players. It’s probably going to be the grimmest match of the Championship, dominated by a fear of failure – but if we manage to make it over the line against Ireland, things might start to change.

France in Paris, with Wales as clear underdogs – we love that. This side is entirely capable of beating France, if they play with confidence and clarity, which they might just be able to do if they go to Paris with no real expectations but on the back of three straight wins. And if we got a big scalp against the French, the confidence might flow back even more quickly than it drained away, leaving us capable of getting a win or two against England in the summer – and that would leave us as genuinely dangerous floaters in the World Cup.

The alternative is probably too grim to think about – if you don’t want to, stop reading right here.

If we lose to Ireland and France, it’s very difficult indeed to see us picking a win up against England, and we’d be off to the World Cup with exactly the right teams in our group to give nightmares to a Welsh side lacking confidence.

The Ireland game is looking more important with every passing minute.

A Pessimist’s Guide to the 2011 Six Nations

It’s February, and the people of Wales are throwing themselves into our annual feast of bi-polarism with all their usual outspoken joie de vivre. In the pubs and bars of Cardiff, on the streets of Swansea, in the crèches of Llanelli, and even in some places north of the M4 corridor the usual merry optimism of the Welsh is in full flow. In several small towns, admissions to casualty for self-inflicted injuries have actually increased by a lower percentage than predicted. In a futile attempt to pour some of the cold water of realism onto this raging fire of Assembly-sponsored happy-clappiness, Gwlad contacted a spokesman for True Wales to run his eye over the lines up ahead of the England game.

He told us that Wales should be grateful to lose, that English people are simply more intelligent and inventive than the Welsh, and that if we revealed his name, he would be mown down in cold blood by Welsh-speaking killing machines from the Assembly.

Once we’d got rid of him, we decided that we could count on our own pessimists to provide the necessary calm counterbalance.

Wales vs England (inspired but not sponsored by Turks are Infidels)

Obviously enough, we don’t need to discuss whether or not Wales will win – we just need to put a ball-park figure on how badly we will lose, and what the most embarrassing moments will be. Forwards win matches, and backs decide by how much. In this case, the result was decided when Adam Jones joined Gethin Jenkins on the injury list, but the actual score will depend on how many generous interception passes James Hook decides to throw.

Our front row, of course, is decimated. Actually, if it had only been decimated, we’d be understandably happy – but since we’ve been two-out-of-three-imated, it’s got the potential to be like a re-run of the Keystone Cops. The two replacement props will be invisible around the park, Dylan Hartley will prove Gatland wrong by successfully gouging Matthew Rees when nobody is watching, and our scrummaging will make grown men cry. Unfortunately, they won’t be English.

The lineout, of course, we can depend on. It will be as much of a lottery as ever, and England will steal our ball any time we actually happen to find ourselves in their 22. We’ll throw optimistic balls to the tail of the line whenever we’re under pressure, and we’ll take the safe ball to 2 if England are down to 14 men at any point.

The all-important contact zone will be enthusiastically contested (we really have improved in this area) for at least the first half an hour. After that, Sam Warburton will go down with a groin injury that will keep him out of the rest of the championship, and we will start to produce more turnovers than a Breton crêperie. The score will begin to look stomach-churning at about this point, and weaker souls may well vomit over your shoulder and into your pint.

The backs, meanwhile, having been touted as the most dangerous unit in the northern hemisphere in the run-up to the game (in the Wasting Mule, anyway), will have been giving every single piece of possession they get to Jamie Roberts on the crash ball (apart from when they have a two-man overlap, at which point Stephen Jones will kick for Halfpenny to chase, Cueto will take the high ball and Foden will score under the sticks). If he doesn’t start, Jonathan Davies will come on at the 60 minute mark having been told to give it a lash on the off-chance we can get back to within 40 points; he will produce four bullocking runs which create overlaps, all of which will be wasted by little chips ahead from other players, and he will then try his own little chip ahead which will go straight into the hands of Chris Ashton. Foden will score under the sticks again.

With 15 minutes to go, the English supporters will break out into a four-part rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and we’ll have to listen to them for at least five minutes. You’d be well-advised to take an iPod along with you to get you through this stage of the match – although the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) say it will probably make you deaf. No, really. With ten minutes to go, however, you’ll be given a level of temporary relief when Shane Williams scores two spectacular solo tries. The second of them will bring Wales back to within only 45 points, and convince the nation that we are, and I don’t quote, ‘going in the right direction’.

Warren Gatland will tell us after the game that Wales have shown they can be competitive with the best in the world for 15 minutes, and only need to keep that up for the other 65. The WRU will promptly offer him a contract extension and a holiday home in the Gurnos.

England will move on to their second Grand Slam in the professional age, while Wales look forward to facing Scotland at Murrayfield on the back of news that Matthew Rees will be out for the rest of the championship, and that Stephen Jones has an ingrowing toenail which will prevent him from travelling to Edinburgh. Some Welsh supporters will think this is a good thing, but they will be proven tragically wrong in the worst result for Wales since Llywelyn the Last took on Edward the Bastard.

Disclaimer: this article apologises for not having mentioned Gavin Henson. He will be injured at an autograph-signing session in Soho during the England game, and will spend the rest of his rugby career trying to break into the Saracens 2nd XV.

Players hit light speed to beat Millennium Falcon

Welsh rugby’s fastest players stepped into another dimension yesterday and declared ‘anything Habana can do I can do better’.

Bryan Habana versus a cheetah
The cheetah clearly didn't hear the starter's pistol

Wales’ international stars went one better than their South African counterpart Bryan Habana, who famously raced a cheetah, as they took on a Peregrine Falcon, at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium today (Thursday 1st April).

Habana, whose World Champion Springbok side travel to Cardiff to play Wales at the Millennium Stadium on 5th June, faced the world’s fastest land animal in a foot race – a South African Cheetah which reaches top speeds of up to 70mph – in one of the most famous pieces of internet video footage available for download on youtube.

So, with this summer’s clash with the South Africans at front of mind, Stadium bosses decided to put the players to the test and race them against the Millennium’s very own Falcon.

Harry, the Peregrine Falcon who is housed at the National Stadium and flown around the main bowl area to keep the pigeons away, can dive headfirst down through the sky at speeds of up to 200mph when he decides to pounce on prey – making his species the fastest on the planet.

“The Falcon obviously has the added advantage of being able to make full use of gravity,” said Joe King, a sports scientist from the Llewbacha University in North Wales who officiated on the race with the Millennium’s Falcon.

“So we rigged up a special ramp running from the roof of the Millennium Stadium to the centre of the pitch for the players to run down.

“We clocked some speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour and actually it was some of the larger forwards who recorded the fastest times.

“It’s all to do with the equation between terminal velocity, size and gravity, it helps if you get a good jump on the Falcon at the start and put a good slide in towards the end.

“Once it started to rain two props actually came down at speeds which were off our scale, so we have recorded them as hitting light speed as they definitely came down faster than the human eye could see.

“In the end everyone beat the Falcon, Harry wasn’t really interested in racing and just sort of flapped a bit when we told him we thought Shane would have beaten him easily.”


Tickets for Wales’ clash with the world champion Springboks on Saturday 5th June at the Millennium Stadium are available now via a pre-registration system at and are priced at £25, £40, £50 and £65.

The world’s fastest living things:

- If there were a flying race, the Spine-tailed Swift would win (106mph).

- If there were a running race, the Cheetah would win (70mph).

- If there were a swimming race the Shortfin Mako shark would win. According to the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research, ‘It has been reliably clocked at 31 miles (50 kilometres) per hour, and there is a claim that one individual of this species achieved a burst speed of 46 miles (74 kilometers) per hour.’