Defeat is hard to take. For a player, a team, a nation, losing always hurts and so it should for anyone with hope, with aspirations of better things. What is worse than losing in itself is losing to poor opposition, playing without skill, without passion. Over the years I’ve seen Wales lose a lot of games. I’ve watched them lose to Romania, to Canada, to Italy, Fiji, Argentina, Samoa (both Western and the whole island) and worse still Ireland. All teams we could and should have beaten. I’ve seen numerous displays of rugby ineptitude interspersed with moments of breathtaking, delectable rugby gold served “the Welsh way” – ie with a side order of infighting and melodrama. Defeat inevitably leaves me hollow, miserable, depleted.
But after Saturday’s game I didn’t feel that bad. Part of this is that I had already accepted that Wales had no chance of winning. Part of it is that unlike the abject misery of the defeats to Argentina and Samoa there is no shame in Saturday’s loss. There is no shame in losing to a side far superior, as New Zealand obviously are. They occupy an ethereal plane of rugby that Wales can only fleetingly attain, reached in a thumping tackle on Israel Dagg, a show and go from Jonathan Davies. Gone in the time it takes for Paul James to spill the ball or Mike Phillips to take 2 steps before he passes.
But more than this, something happened on Saturday to re-kindle the passion and joy of being a Welsh rugby supporter. Battered, bruised, down by 33 point to none with all hope of victory gone did they give up? Did they bow their heads and hope the man next to them would shoulder the responsibilities of a nation. No. They fought, they dug in they took the game back to the best team on the planet and gave them 30 minutes to think about. And if that wasn’t enough they gave us something both joyous and incredible. Something wholly bizarre and wonderful which in all my days of playing rugby I’ve only seen once before in an under 12’s game down the local park….the all-in-14-man-driving-lineout.
It was in that moment, glorious in defeat, that I rediscovered my love for Wales. This unlovely, baffling and most enigmatic of lands where watching your entire backline join a driving maul brings redemption. The roars in the stadium, the joy on the player’s faces, you’d have thought they’d won the game, not brought the score back to 5-33.
And so, from the steelmen of Port Talbot to the pizza makers of Flintshire I urge you to raise your heads, raise a glass, raise a smile and remember why we love Wales, oh so much. There is yet pride, there is yet passion and hope springs eternal. Bring on Australia and let’s take them down.