Hard Men of Welsh Rugby

I’m an avid reader of sports biographies and histories, so I was very pleased to get my hands on a copy of Lynn Davies’ new book, “Hard Men of Welsh Rugby. ”

As book titles go, it’s pretty Ronseal, with a great photo of one of the hardest ever to grace the Wales shirt, Graham Price. It’s a rattling good read. I was still in short trousers when many of the subjects of this book were practising their art on the rugby field, but the names will be familiar to all serious followers of Welsh rugby.

This a reference manual relating to giants of the past century or so. It describes the careers of twenty illustrious Welshmen, including all three of the famous Pontypool front row of the 70s.

Whilst it lacks the more exhaustive detail of say, Peter Jackson’s “Lions of Wales,” this would be the perfect concise introduction to the history of Welsh rugby in the second half of the twentieth century for any young rugby fan.

There are some great anecdotes, notably concerning colourful types like Bobby Windsor and Geoff Wheel, along with a sprinkling of remarkable stats relating to the achievements of these heroes. It’s particularly pleasing to see John Bevan made it into the top 20 list of rugby hard men, but J J Williams, who I’ve always maintained was an inferior player in all regards, is absent.

What’s clear from the book is that it is the communities and professions which shaped these players and forged their hardness. Steel and coal loom large in the backgrounds of many of them. However there’s also room for a tough pair of doctors, JPR and Dr Jack, and the Electricity Board’s finest, Delme and Grav.

Get your hands on a copy of this book at Y Lolfa now.

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.

Flag of convenience

In the midst of the enormous pile of lazy dross in the London press describing Wales’s ascent to glory in the Rugby World Cup, there have been some truly laughable pieces of work. The Telegraph’s “How To Be Welsh” is a particularly puerile example of the new genre peddled by the bored Jonny-Wilkinson-come-latelys of the English press.

Back in 1987, when Wales last graced the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup with their cheeky sidesteps and brutal forward play, international rugby was still a fairly level playing field. Hell, in 1991, Scotland managed to find their way to the bronze play-off game against New Zealand, only losing 13-6 at the old National Stadium in Cardiff. Professionalism was still the word that dared not speak its name. And it remained that way until 1995, when Vernon Pugh QC of the IRB announced the abandonment of the amateur ethos.

New Zealand, South Africa and Australia were best prepared for this. Uncle Rupert was ready for them with his chequebook. England soon followed the Tri Nations into the professional elite and by 1999, the gap between the haves and the have-nots of world rugby was wide enough to prompt Paul Ackford to claim that England would “put 100 points on a Celtic Nation within a couple of years.”

How we laughed at him after our victory over England at Wembley on April 11th, 1999. 32-31. The beginning of the false dawn. The Great Redeemer’s finest hour.

Wales had already beaten France in Paris in that final Five Nations tournament; the first time since the 1970s. And our first ever victory over South Africa was yet to come in the inaugural match at the new Millennium Stadium later that year. From such highs came such lows. Wales were co-hosts of the 1999 World Cup, but another needless defeat to Samoa was followed by an undignified exit from the tournament at the quarter-final stages thanks to Australia, who went on to win the tournament in a fairly one-sided final against France.

Shall we mention 2003? We must. The 22nd November: my stag party at London Welsh RFC. England vs Australia. Who to support? What a choice. I chose England, and they won.

But that was the beginning of the end for England. Yes, there was a brief flash in the burning embers in 2007, when by sheer bloody mindedness the Saes managed to drag themselves into the final, beating the All Blacks’ conquerors France on their way. But South Africa stemmed the tide to win their second World Cup.

After 2003 Wales got better, albeit with some stutters along the way. There was a Six Nations whitewash, but on the other hand we won two Grand Slams. On the whole the Noughties were an upward curve for Wales.

So here we are 24 years since our last appearance in the final four. The protagonists are the same: Australia, France, New Zealand and Wales. Is it still a level playing field? I would say it is. These days, being prepared for a big tournament means burning hours in the gym and freezing hours in Polish ice-houses. It means strict diets and recovery regimes, psychological programmes and debriefing sessions.

If you look at the last four standing, in these terms alone Wales are well above the average in their preparedness. The best thing about this is that the new superiority hasn’t come at the expense of traditional Welsh attributes such as flair and imagination. The ability to create magical attacking moves from almost any area of the field is still there. But now it’s accompanied by ferocious, unrelenting tackling, intelligent commitment to the tackle area, a reliable lineout and probably the strongest scrummage in the world.

We have three world-class fly-halves and the best scrum-half on the planet by miles. Shane Williams, Leigh Halfpenny and George North have been the most threatening back three of the tournament so far, and we have the sumptuous prospect of Jamie Roberts smashing holes in everything in front of him.

Wales stand on the cusp of greatness. Fleet Street’s finest Anglophiles are now courting us. On the one hand, it’s nice to have the attention. But on the other it feels a bit uncomfortable. What if the boot was on the other foot, as it was in 2003 and 2007. England in the final: who do you support? In 2003 I supported England, mostly because I was surrounded by a number of my favourite English friends and I didn’t want to offend them. But I also wanted a Northern Hemisphere team to strike a blow against the Southern dominance of our sport. And they did.

2007 was different. The England team were a gnarled old bunch of whinging buggers, and they were universally hated by the rest of the rugby world. After having seen France steal a win against New Zealand in the quarter finals, I wanted to see them go and win the whole thing. But England spoiled it. Nothing much has changed this time around, except that France have done the job they failed to do last time, and where they’d previously just spoiled it on the pitch, England also spoiled it off the pitch. Good riddance to Prince Bendy-Nose and his dwarf-chucking neanderthals.

But in the midst of England’s shame, there was a beautiful moment when Pitbull-turned-puppy-dog Brian Moore lost a bet with Gwladrugby.com over the outcome of the France vs England match. True to his word, Mr Moore donated £50 to the Gleision Miners’ Fund and encouraged many others to do the same. Diolch Brian.

Here in Wales we don’t need an excuse to whip ourselves up into a national frenzy when we look like we’re about to win something, and this time is no exception. We’ve even managed to persuade David Cameron to fly our flag over his house.

I’m always suspicious when politicians take an interest in the sporting success of their constituents. That’s why I was never keen on seeing Rhodri Morgan and his mates on the pitch before an important match at the Millennium Stadium. The campaign of the last few days has seen Kevin Brennan (Lab, Cardiff West), Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport West), Cheryl Gillan (Con, Chesham & Amersham) and David Cameron (Con, Witney) all attaching themselves to the success of the Welsh rugby team.

Basking in the glory of someone else’s effort and achievement is so much easier than doing the hard work yourself and delivering bad news which may or may not be a result of your own incompetence.

Unfortunately, over 16,000 people in Wales have lost their jobs since June, so you’ll forgive me for being a little bit cynical about the motives behind David Cameron’s decision to fly our flag over his house. What annoys me even more is that the people who are supposed to be fighting Cameron’s job cuts are tripping over each other to wrap themselves in the flag.

Delilah’s ‘other man’ was French

Tamping

That’s right, the bloke who drove Tom Jones to murder his woman back in 1968 was named Pierre. He met Jonesy’s woman in Pontypridd Co-op having ‘accidentally’ reached and grabbed hold of the same cucumber in the grocery aisle. Having overwhelmed her with suggestive eyebrow raising and the aroma of cheap rollies and garlic, he insisted on going back to hers for “making zee pashonat lurving”. This turned out to be a rough artless pounding over the arm of the sofa and the curr never even had the decency to take his socks off.

He left early doors the next day for the ferry back to Dieppe, but by then Jonesy had been outside all night in a right old stew having witnessed the silhouetted piston-like transaction of the previous evening on the blinds of the front room. Spending all night in Ynysangharad park and getting through 8 cans of kestrel, Jonesy steamed in to have it out with her. Sadly he looked a right state and she just burst out laughing when she opened the door, so Jonesy felt the need to stab her 43 times, drive her in the boot and drop her in the Taff with bricks in her dressing gown pockets.

The judge was very reasonable, and in summing up at the trial, said: “for the rest of her life – had she lived – Delilah would have had day-dreaming yearnings for a French portion; once women have had a taster of some Gallic contempt-sex it stays with them forever. It was kinder this way”. Jonesy was sentenced to an afro and a duet with the as-yet-unborn Robbie Williams.

REVEALED: Semi Final Reaction Articles Already Submitted.

In a discovery that will SHOCK readers of the Western Mail, Gwlad can confirm that two articles, one for each possible outcome of Wales’ RWC Semi Final against France, have already been submitted for print by hacks at the paper.

The articles starkly display the blinkered extremities of rugby journalism in our proud nation; the first, blisteringly optimistic following a Welsh win, the second desperately pessimistic following a Welsh loss.

Here are the two articles, one of which will be printed in the Wales on Sunday next Sunday:

USE THIS AND EDIT AS APPROPRIATE IF WALES BEAT FRANCE:

At 0900 yesterday morning, Valleys Time, sleepy supporters sat glued to their TVs, radios and computer screens, with the taste of victory, and toothpaste, on the tips of their tongues. In the following (80/100/100 or so) minutes, their appetites were gloriously sated and now, this morning, a nation waits to find out who stands between Wales and the William Webb Ellis Cup.

Whisper it quietly but Wales have been building strongly and steadily to success at the final ever since their heroic defeat to South Africa 5 weeks ago. The exceptional victories that followed against Superb Samoa, Nifty Namibia, Fabulous Fiji, Incredible Ireland and Fantastic France mean that Wonderful Wales are just 80 minutes or so away from immortality. A nation, quite rightly, expects.

Forget all the lows of 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and the start of 2011 because they no longer matter. For the time being, this is the best Wales side of all time. No matter who we face next weekend, we know we are more than capable of beating them with a Solid Shaun Edwards defence, a Rapier-like Rob Howley attack and a WALES SUPREMO WARREN GATLAND OBE tactical nous, led by Captain Fantastic, Sam Warburton.

After the (emphatic/hard-earned) win yesterday everyone in the world agrees that New Zealand and Australia had better watch out. Wales are now a team who will fearlessly take on all comers, without the pressure of history at their backs and with the wind, well and truly in their sails.

Bring on next weekend!

USE THIS AND EDIT AS APPROPRIATE IF WALES LOSE TO FRANCE:

At 0900 yesterday morning, Valleys Time, sleepy supporters sat glued to their TVs, radios and computer screens, with the taste of victory, and toothpaste, on the tips of their tongues. In the following (80/100/100 or so) minutes, their appetites collectively became that of a starving, dark ages pauper and now, this morning, a nation waits to find out who stands between Wales and the stupid, shoddy, third bastard pissing place, arsing playoff next shitting weekend. FFS.

Shout it from the rooftops: Wales have been nothing but average ever since their humbling defeat to South Africa 5 weeks ago. The scrappy victories that followed against Stupid Samoa, Nobodies Namibia, Fumbling Fiji and Inept Ireland before succumbing to FUCKING FRANCE mean that Woeful Wales are just 80 minutes or so away from Jack Fanny Adams. A nation, quite rightly, has lost all faith.

Forget all the lows of 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and the start of 2011 because they no longer matter. For the time being, this is the worst Wales side of all time. No matter who we face next weekend, we know we are already on the plane home, empty handed all thanks to a boring Shaun Edwards defence, a plunger-like Rob Howley attack and a lack of a “Plan B” from “supremo” Warren Gatland. Even Sam Warburton only single-handedly turned over possession at thirty rucks, which, at this level, is simply not good enough.

After the humiliating defeat yesterday in front of the world’s press, who for some stupid reason had tipped Wales to go all the way, New Zealand and Australia now play to avoid the stupid, shoddy, third bastard pissing place, arsing playoff next weekend against a Wales team totally lacking in ideas and go forward and a “Plan B”. Wales are now, and always have been a team who crumble at the slightest mention of pressure. I wish a pox on them, on you for supporting them, on your children for believing in your dreams and your pets for pissing on the rug after I swore loudly at the ref.

Bring on 2015…

No one from the Western Mail was available to comment on this SCANDAL but it is believed that Andy Howell and/or Delme Parfitt are “very tired” having had to “wake up early every bloody weekend for the last five weeks” and from “not having anything remotely negative to write.”