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.

28 thoughts on “Adversity shows us who we really are”

  1. Wonderful article! The semi defeat was a hard blow but the lessons learnt from it will stand Wales in good stead 4 years from now.The Welsh team has won the hearts of people even as far afield as India.

  2. Yes great article – well done, much to be proud of and much to look forward to with this team I hope. Such a shame to miss out on the final this way and more of a shame for rugby that such an unadventerous team made it through at our expense. I used to enjoy watching the French play – they had a similar flair to us, but I see none of that in their side now – just negativity. Great to see all involved in the Wales set-up acting with such enormous dignity when inside they must be in pieces – so many things they should all be very proud of themselves for.

  3. Very moving piece that I’ve just read to my partner in tears. A brilliant campaign by Wales the future is Red!

  4. The contrast between the team that actually played on Saturday morning, and the Hobbit – appearing in another “reality show” on Friday night – could not be greater.

    1. I’ve just read this and did cry, like a baby! The article put into words everything I’ve been feeling since Saturday. It was like reading poetry, thank you! I know I’ve always loved rugby; both my sons now share that love and play the game. I can now use words to explain why I love it so much. I was born in England, to English parents, but moved to North Wales when I was 3 years old. I’m now 48 and have lived in the Vale of Clwyd all this time. I know what Hiraeth is, and this article goes a long way to translating it for me.

  5. Excellent article. Diolch yn fawr.

    You have expressed the sublimity of rugby wonderfully. Weirdly there is something good, worthwhile and positive we can take and apply to our lives from how a group of men conducted themselves in preparing for and running around a distant field.

  6. Brilliant piece of writing well done ………………..thank you………we have waited 40 years for a captain and a team like this …..the futures bright ..a new Golden Era has dawned ………and somehow this defeat not the previous victories was the confirmation we all needed.

  7. An erratic Referee does not hide the facts we missed 11 points and lost 5 lineouts on our own throw ins

  8. In years to come I will tell my grandchildren that I remember one of the greatest welsh teams in history, and that I am proud to be welsh.

  9. Excellent, great post. We’re much better than that result.

    In Newport yesterday afternoon. everyone still wearing their red shirts with pride and kids around kicking rugby balls around.

    We’ll be back! We’re Welsh!

  10. Thanks – I needed that before I face the Australian office in which I work and sadly take down my flag…

      1. Had to look like I’d moved on… French colleague printing out a French flag for me was a little insensitive though. Used it as scrap paper…

  11. As an Englishman living in Wales for 13 years, I feel very proud of the way Wales conducted themselves on and off the field throughout the tournament especially today – Jamie Roberts decorum in the interview afterwards speaks volumes. Even in the wake of such a cruel defeat they remained exemplary ambassadors for the game, which shows immense character. Their style of rugby gained admirers from all the rugby nations around the world, and I’m sure has inspired thousands of young lads to want to play rugby – they were great advertisement for the game.

    There were some great players on that pitch that won’t be returning in four years time, and their boots need to be filled, but if Wales can retain the team spirit, discipline, and belief they showed in New Zealand then the next four years should produce some incredible rugby and some better times for Wales.

    I know a lot of people will bemoan the missed chances and mistakes and compare them with Wales of old, but I think you’re absolutely right in focusing on what was good – and there was a lot – about this campaign and look forward to a Welsh team that can build upon this success, and go beyond it, to make everyone in Wales proud even the odd Englishman.

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