Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.

Last weekend I took my kids to watch Cardiff Blues playing Toulon at the Arms Park. They’re sufficiently young never to have known what came before regional rugby in Wales. My eldest was born the year Wales  won the first of their three Grand Slams in the professional era, 2005.

After last Sunday’s game I came home and picked up Lynn Howells’ book, “Despite The Knock Backs,” and from the first page I was stridently reminded of what a troubled birth regional rugby had in Wales. He’s known as Yoda on, and the story he tells is one of a struggle between the Valley rebels of Pontypridd and the evil WRU empire led by Darth Moffett.

Devotees of recent Welsh rugby history will know there are several sides to the sad story of the Celtic Warriors. Back then the WRU were in dire financial straits, and the regional model was born out of the need to cut costs. It wasn’t about rugby, the players or the supporters, it was about cold, hard, cash (or the lack of it).

Things are very different now. The WRU’s finances are in rude health, our national team have won three Grand Slams and came within a whisker of reaching the World Cup Final. However, the domestic garden is far from rosy. Our regions are floundering on the European stage, and attendances at Pro 12 matches hover well below the break-even mark.

Yoda tells the compelling and passionate story of how the Celtic Warriors and rugby in the South Wales Valleys were hung out to dry by the bone-headed machinations of David Moffett and Leighton Samuel. The moral of the story is that money can destroy as well as create success. There has never been enough money to support professional rugby in Wales, and it’s unlikely that there ever will be.

Once he’s done with the demise of the Warriors, Yoda turns his attention to his own career. From Maerdy, via Tylorstown and Pontypridd to the bright lights of Cardiff and back again. What we see is a loyal (some might say naively so) servant of Welsh rugby working hard to win the respect and accolades of his peers. The grandson of a communist miner, it’s clear that Lynn Howells has no time for the blazers and the money men in Welsh rugby, with a few notable exceptions such as the late Vernon Pugh QC.

Howells tells his story with a refreshing level of self-awareness and honesty, providing a stark contrast with the preening show-ponies he had often had to manage in the dressing room and on the training paddock.

I’m of an age where my experiences of Welsh rugby have bridged the wide gap between the glory days of the seventies and the glory days of the twenty first century, with all the disappointment and despair which came between. This book is a valuable companion to those memories, and it sheds a light on some of the darkest moments in recent Welsh rugby history. It is a story which serves as a lesson to those who are now trying to fix the dog’s breakfast that is regional rugby, and as a warning to those who think everything in the garden is rosy. Our fortunes on the international stage may well be blooming, but domestic Welsh rugby is withering on the vine. We need more honest men of Lynn Howells’ calibre if it is to be revived.

“Lynn Howells: Despite The Knock-Backs” is published by Y Lolfa on November 2nd.

Stuart Lancaster Nears End of Metamorphosis

Corinthian spirited, and esteemed down-to-earth rugby man of integrity Stuart Lancaster is imminently due to become a complete and utter twat, according to the RFU.  In fact, under the terms of his RFU contract, Lancaster’s descent from honourable right and properness into smug bastard-dom is already several months overdue.

“It comes with the territory,” pronounced Bill Beaumont, a celebrated English git.  “His whole demeanour initially earned him a great deal of respect from the wider rugby fraternity when he got the job, but I’m afraid that runs counter to our core brand values, critical success factors and other management bollocks.  All this honesty and humility… frankly, it’s been getting to the players – affecting their mindset.  Mark my words, by the time of the Six Nations we’ll have them all back to behaving like a bunch of shits, win lose or draw.”

Lancaster is reportedly undergoing an intensive training regime, comprising a series of ‘engagement seminars’ devised by Sir Clive Woodward and his evil henchmen.  Each of these is designed to heighten a branch of key coaching attributes such ‘emitting contempt’ and ‘acting like a cock in television interviews’.

Coaching The Barbarians – the inside track with Dai Young

With Dai Young having secured confirmation as ‘coach’ of The Barbarians for its upcoming clashes next year against England and the British & Irish Lions, explores one of the great unanswered questions of world rugby: just what does the sporadically chosen coach of a nomadic, invitation-only team actually do?

“Essentially, all the coach has to do is get a few drinks down the boys and then get them out on the paddock to chuck it about a bit,” recalls Gareth Edwards, while expectantly looking around the room for encouragement.  “Chucking it about a bit is a key tenet of the Barbarians way, along with wearing a jersey that doesn’t quite fit, and getting absolutely slaughtered.”

“And I remember the line-out calls were all-wees a load a bollix,” according to Willie John McBride and his toupee.  “The hooker would just shout out a few numbers and chuck it in dere.  Alan Phillips used ta get his 2s and 5s all mixed up anywee.  But he made up for it in all da fights.  Dai needs ta make sure he picks enough hookers for dis tour, so to speak, to be sure to be sure begorra.”

Critical to supporting a successful coaching and conditioning environment for the Barbarians players is the role of the Team Manager, Derek Quinnell.  “I got big hands see, and big hands means you can get a big round in,” he thundered.  “I also got to make sure all the players get flown in from around the world and put up in the right hotel.   Once, before a Scotland game, Thomas Castaignede was mistakenly put up at a boarding house in Pyongyang and never heard from again.”

“Campaign For More Rigid Beer Receptacles” Launches Today!

Ham-fisted rugby spectators are taking their passive-aggressive tendencies to the High Court up in London today, in a bid to escalate their quest for access to drinking vessels of greater thickness than a Smart Price bin bag.

The news comes as molecular physicists at the University of Pontardawe have been called in to investigate fresh reports of several Welsh rugby regions serving their diluted beer cordial in nets fashioned from the webs of spiders:  “It’s a disgrace,” spat Professor Dai Ing-Foradrink.  “Cutting costs is all well and good, especially as many people don’t have a pot to piss in.  Piss in one of these, mind, and it’ll leak everywhere mun.”

Only last month, fans at a Cardiff Blues encounter were censured by ground staff for smuggling in condoms ‘with intent to use as an improvised beer container’.  Entrepreneurially spirited Executive Chief CEO Man, Richard Holland, allegedly agreed to drop charges on the basis that rugby revellers use any such condoms/balloons/Gregg’s carrier bags under a special license, available for only a quid.

Out of the shadows

Before I start, a confession: I didn’t know that much about Dai Morris until I picked up this book. “That hard back rower from Neath” was about the sum total of my knowledge of the man they called “The Shadow.” Turns out he wasn’t from Neath at all; he was from Rhigos.

Now I know a bit about Rhigos. It’s that place at the top of the Cynon valley that always gets snowed in during the winter. I’m always hearing that on Radio Wales.

If you went by weather forecasts alone, you might come to the conclusion that Rhigos is an inhospitable place. But you’d be wrong. Dai Morris tells a familiar story of a small Welsh village, battered by the elements and the iron fist of the industrial revolution, a village which got back up after the knocks and started again. They’re all over Wales, these villages, and every so often they produce quiet, honest, strong men like Dai Morris and his great friend Delme Thomas. Quiet men who stood up and left their mark on the world.

The story of Dai’s progression goes thus: Rhigos; Glynneath; Neath; Wales…. but never the British Lions. Many players and pundits of that era have offered plausible explanations for the fact that Dai Morris never reached the pinnacle (in those times before the World Cup, at least) of a Lions tour. None of them doubt that he deserved a place. Dai tackles the issue head on, as he did every opponent on the pitch. I’ll leave that in his huge, capable hands.

“Shadow” is probably one of the most apt sporting nicknames there’s ever been. Barry John and Gareth Edwards were so sure that Dai Morris would be there, at their shoulder, at the right moment, that they can probably count the number of times he wasn’t on one finger.

Dai certainly had no time for the WRU blazers back then, and like many of his team-mates he would often come straight off a shift at the local pit and onto the rugby pitch. Even when he played for Wales in Paris on a Saturday afternoon, he’d be back to the day job come Monday morning. In the modern era, one wonders if there’s much more to life than rugby, endless gym sessions and lunches in Nandos, for our professional players. There was certainly a lot more to life in Dai’s days. Tough work with modest rewards.

For me it’s not the tales of derring do on the rugby pitches of Wales, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere which made this book so enjoyable to read; it’s the picture it paints of the shy, home-sick boy from Rhigos, with his love of horses, his family, his friends and his landscape that bring the story of Dai Morris to life. There are many Welshmen who will recognise those traits in themselves and their friends, and smile. Quietly.

“Shadow: The Dai Morris Story” is published by Y Lolfa.