Category Archives: Rugby

The Special Relationship

It’s been a tough few days to be a Welsh rugby supporter. Having failed for the 18th time to beat a Southern Hemisphere side, the press have been quick to remind us of our weaknesses.

The world was a very different place back in 1905, when Wales and New Zealand first met on the rugby field. For a start, Western Mail journalists had enigmatic pseudonyms, and there were no video replays. The first meeting of these two great rugby nations resulted in a 3-0 Welsh win. These days you could be forgiven for calling that boring, but it most certainly wasn’t. There was controversy, for a start. Did Kiwi Bob Deans ground the ball and score “the try that never was” ? We shall never know.

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The story of that moment and the debate which has swirled around it ever since is just one of many jewels in Roger Penn’s meticulous collection. It must have been great fun putting this book together. Interviewing the protagonists in the 71 Lions tour, the Scarlets’ victory over the All Blacks in 1972, and that famous Barbarians match in 1973.

Many of us don’t remember the time when Wales and New Zealand were still neck and neck at the top of world rugby. That was back before the Second World War, when the running total of matches won stood at three apiece. Since then, there’s been just one solitary Welsh victory.

Let’s not forget the strong Welsh influence on the 71 Lions and the 73 Barbarians, but those don’t count as official Welsh victories. Maybe Newport’s (in 1963) and Llanelli’s (in 1972, in case you’d forgotten) are unofficial Welsh victories.

The fact remains that after the initial decades of parity, our two countries’ fortunes have diverged dramatically.

Wales is still synonymous with a collective passion when it comes to rugby, but does our enthusiasm for the game still pervade our society as much as it did in the early 20th century?

That passion is still undoubtedly there in New Zealand. The All Black ethos is still revered and protected, albeit with a certain amount of commercial influence which is vital in these times of professionalism. It doesn’t seem to have been diluted as much in New Zealand as it has been in Wales.

One of the most striking themes in this book is the enduring kinship between ex-players from our two countries. Men who still travel halfway around the world to attend dinners in each others’ honour and to present jerseys to clubs they visited on tours which happened over 50 years ago. That enduring camaraderie reminds us that, however much the game has changed over the years, rugby still has that ability to build and maintain friendships in spite of the barriers the modern world tries to put in their way.

It would be interesting to explore some of the reasons why two very similar countries’ fortunes have changed on the rugby field since that first game in 1905. That may help us in Wales to wrestle the increasingly annoying monkey from our back.

“Three Feathers and a Silver Fern” by Roger Penn is published by Gomer.

Who beat the All Blacks?

If the lyrics of Max Boyce’s famous song are to believed, there’s only one Welsh team who’s ever beaten the All Blacks. But along with Llanelli, it should be noted that Cardiff, Swansea and Newport have accomplished the feat too.

The story of Newport’s victory on that dank, drizzly October afternoon in 1963 deserves to be told, not least because it features a roll-call of names to rival those of the Llanelli team of 1972. Brian Price, David Watkins and Glyn Davidge to name but three.

allblackandamberIn the end, the game hinged on a single drop goal from Dick Uzzell, but the truth is, an All Blacks side containing Colin Meads, Kel Tremain and Brian Lochore was hammered by Newport that day. That New Zealand side is arguably the greatest ever to leave their shores, better even than the side defeated by the Lions and Llanelli in the 70s.

Yes, it was 3-0, but back then, rugby was a different sport to the one we know today. International tours took months, rather than weeks, and our club sides were still allowed to play the tourists in front of 25,000-plus crowds on a Wednesday afternoon! Don’t forget, the players had day jobs too in those days.

Steve Lewis’ book takes us through the history of those mammoth tours, along with the background of the players involved and the historical context through which we view the match.

This kind of game would never happen these days, for many reasons. It is a shame. Call me an old romantic (I am, guilty as charged), but I would love to be able to watch my local club play an international touring side on a Wednesday afternoon, whatever the weather. These days, we get to see Wales playing the great southern hemisphere sides every Autumn, and it feels like the magic is diminishing every time.

Commentators are forever going on about the “intensity” and “physicality” (that’s not even a word, by the way; why can’t they just say “strength”?) of modern rugby. But back then it was just as brutal. And you could forget about having a couple of days’ “recovery” in the pool or gym after a big game. Back in the 60s and 70s you had to go back to work the morning after, or you risked losing your livelihood.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It provokes strong emotions and makes people forget the stark realities of everyday life. Today, rugby is a professional sport and there’s no time for sentimentality or looking backwards. That’s why stories like this are worth taking time to read. We need to remember that rugby is about a lot more than money, sparkly hats and fireworks. At its heart, rugby is about communities and people coming together to witness great sporting moments; brief occasions where we can put the trials of everyday life to one side and gaze in wonder at this beautiful, brutal game.

All Black and Amber by Steve Lewis is published by Y Lolfa.

Gwlad is NOT shit shocker! The Collective Consciousness of Sheep

Virtually every community in Wales has a rugby club. But how many virtual communities can boast the same?

There is one Welsh community based in the ether that has managed to create and actually play as an official rugby club.

GwladRugby.com RFC is a bona-fide, WRU registered club. Its players talk a lot about rugby, mostly bullshit, but rarely put on a pair of boots – outside the bedroom.

The halcyon days of their rugby prowess were not in their youth, it never happened. Rose-tinted, redefined memories. Their ability improved with age, their proximity to once being a shoe-in for a Welsh Cap becomes closer with every new inflammation of their piles.

But how can a chat forum have the ubiquitous posts visible in every village and town of Wales? Posts are the remit of PhilBB, post-master general, no greater erector of posts than he. And unlike the askew and rusty posts in the villages, the posts of Gwlad are a paragon of spelling, grammar and punctuation. This mostly due to Chili, the pedant master, a man whose sole purpose is to keep posts straight and correct.

So GwladRugby RFC gets to play on Cardiff Arms Park. PhilBB is upset, it’s HIS ground and HIS favourite club – we feel like the son-in-law who didn’t ask the bride’s father for her hand.

Timekeeper for the match? It’s not Gouldina, he doesn’t have a watch – he thinks the world can be run from an Android phone – he needs to tell ATTR, the Ref.

And so it is, a bunch of bullshitting rugby fans have the collective wherewithal to organise a charity match at Cardiff Arms Park on the day of the Wales v. South Africa International match. A game against Magor Vets – we’re assuming Veterans rather than animal doctors.

The cause is in support of the family of Stuart Williams, the Ponty Prop, who died suddenly on 21st October.
So it’s 9th November, noon kick-off and donations via www.justgiving.com/GwladMagor2013

If the players can get off the computer and make an effort the least ewe can do is pop along and support.

Win RaboDirect PRO12 tickets for Scarlets v Ulster on 2nd November

The tickets keep flowing!

We’ve teamed up with proud title sponsors RaboDirect to bring you closer to the action of some of the most exciting rugby in Europe with an awesome competition.

To recognise how important your support is, RaboDirect is giving nine lucky fans the chance to win a pair of tickets to watch the Scarlets take on Ulster at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday 2nd November, 18:30.

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Win tickets to Scarlets v Ulster with Gwladrugby

To be in with a chance of winning the tickets you need to answer our quiz question below. Please remember to add your name, email address and phone number so we can contact you. Please don’t enter the competition unless you’re able to go to the game.

Good luck!

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE COMPETITION

Are you the biggest fan of the RaboDirect PRO12? Join Europe’s premier straight talking rugby fanbase by following @RaboInsider on Twitter.

Winners will be contacted via email on Thursday 31st October. Please make sure you check your email to see if you’ve won.

Remember: Please don’t enter the competition unless you’re able to go to the game.

It’s the coaches, stupid

My kids have just taken up rugby, so rather than stand on the sidelines nattering with the other parents, I’ve decided to get stuck in and start coaching at the local club. If you want to take it seriously, this involves doing courses. Learning how to be a coach. So I’ve enrolled on the WRU’s entry-level coaching course, which begins in November. I’m really looking forward to it.

This evening, we learned of a coaching clear-out at Cardiff Blues. For those who listen to the Welsh rugby bush telegraph, this won’t come as a surprise. Rumours of Shaun Edwards joining the Blues as defence coach have been rife for months.

Iestyn Harris as backs coach is an interesting prospect. But it seems Phil Davies’ job is safe, for the moment. A tough home game against the European champions Toulon beckons this weekend, and if the Blues don’t manage to salvage a point from that, then their Heineken Cup campaign is pretty much over before Christmas, yet again. It’s a cruel game for everyone involved: players, fans, investors and coaches.

Coaches. The fall guys of professional sport. The scapegoats who are always shown the door first. They take the blame for the failure of their charges on the pitch, and also for the cowardice of the men who pay their wages. Strategy and tactics are their responsibility, so maybe it’s only fair that they should take the rap.

Even when they’re successful, they’re only as good as their last game. Look at Mike Ruddock. In 2005 he guided Wales to their first Grand Slam in nearly 30 years. A year later he was gone. He resigned, but those two words don’t really paint the full, gory picture of the circumstances of his departure.

What’s my point? It’s in the title, stupid. Coaches.

It’s the conundrum which has perplexed us ever since that re-birth in 2005. How on earth do Wales manage to be so successful on the international stage, and yet their regions are so (relatively) hopeless in Europe? OK, so the Ospreys and Scarlets have won the Celtic League a few times between them. But surely a nation that’s managed to win four Six Nations titles in the past decade should be producing domestic teams who can achieve comparable success? Obviously not. This question has troubled me for a long time, and I’m not the only one.

The obvious answer is supported by tonight’s news from the Arms Park. It’s about the quality of coaching. And, importantly, the resources available to the coaches.

Team Wales have been blessed with a settled, well-funded and resourced coaching set-up since 2005, and the investment has borne fruit year after year. Only injuries to key players have prevented us from being more successful during the intervening period.

On the other hand we have the regions, having to make do with the crumbs from Team Wales’ table. A few million quid between them in compensation for access to star players (the star players whose wages they pay, I may add), and not enough money to keep those stars from seeking to make a living outside Wales.

Some people argue that this top-heavy concentration of investment is necessary for the greater good of Team Wales. The regions are a means to an end, they say. That’s great, if you just like watching international rugby. If you want to see your local team doing well, then you’re shafted. If you ever want to see a Welsh side winning the Heineken Cup, dream on.

On top of that, we have three problems which compound each other:

Firstly, the lack of success in the Heineken Cup makes the job of being a Welsh regional coach very unattractive for top coaches from other countries.

Secondly, the regions are unable to afford to pay the salaries that the best coaches now demand, and the regions’ inability to hold on to talented players (again down to money) means that any new coach will be at an immediate disadvantage.

Thirdly, the standard of home-grown coaches in Wales is not good enough for regional rugby, let alone international rugby. Sure, we have Lyn Jones who’s led the resurgence at Newport (I refuse to call that team by any other name), Nigel Davies at Gloucester and David Young at Wasps, but even they would admit it would be massive step up for them to coach Team Wales at this point.

That leaves the backroom boys in Warren’s World. Rob Howley, Robin McBryde, Shaun Edwards and Neil Jenkins. All great at their particular specialisms, but again, none of them proven at international level. Rumour has it that Shaun is on his way to the Blues, to fix their leaky defence. Good luck to him. But it’s head coaches that we’re lacking here in Wales, and I can’t see how we’re going to fix that hole.

It’s the money, stupid.

Re-live the “Lions Raw” with Gwladrugby!

We’ve got our hands on some copies of the behind-the-scenes documentary of the British Lions’ epic 2013 tour of Australia, and we want to give them away to lucky Lions supporters.

In 2013, Australia, it fell upon the shoulders of one of the youngest Lions squads in living memory to restore the honour of the British & Irish Lions – a win down under was 24 years in the waiting.

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In true Lions form, they hid from no man and opened their doors to the Lions Raw film crew who captured every moment of our crusaders journey from pre tour training camps to the emphatic demolition of the Wallabies in the 3rd Test in Sydney on 6th July.

This is the journey of the Lions 2013 – open, honest, impassioned and brutally candid. Now it is time to see what really happened behind the scenes under incredible circumstances – the personalities, the drama, the lows, the disappointments and the incredible highs.

With never before seen footage across all 10 games, this is an outstanding documentary. With unrestricted access to every meeting and training session the cameras also captured the passion and intensity of the dressing room before and after the matches, with some colourful half time exchanges and captured the pressure, up close, with the management in the coaches boxes.

From the crushing lows of injury and defeat to the highest highs of victory, this documentary delivers what no other Lions DVD has for 16 years – a winning series to savour. This is the first Lions behind the scenes film to be filmed in full HD, including stunning slo-motion and cinematic lenses.

If you enjoyed Living with the Lions you are in for a raw treat!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of the Lions Raw DVD, just answer the three quiz questions here. Please remember to add your name, email address and phone number so we can contact you.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE COMPETITION