Monday, June 16, 2008

Column, October 23, 2007

THERE was an odd moment watching the rugby on Saturday night.
Matthew Tait, a man who seemed destined to be remembered for being folded in a tackle by Gavin Henson, made THE break of the whole tournament.
A darting, twisting, sidestepping move that will have WRU selectors deliving through the records at Somerset House to see if there isn’t some Welsh blood in the Tait ancestry somewhere.
It was pure, instinctive brilliance.
It set alight what promised to be a tense, but ultimately unspectacular final – as so many finals are such are the stakes.
And in at the corner went Mark Cueto.
That’s when it got a bit odd.
Because I found myself on my feet cheering. Cheering a man in a white shirt.
I think I even shouted words to the effect: “Go on, get in there.”
Fortunately I was in a sitting room in the heart of England, not a pub in Wales, so I reached the end of the evening untarred and unfeathered.
But how could this be, how could I cheer on the old enemy? I’ve tried to work it out since Saturday and my best guess is that I love rugby more than I dislike England (the team, not the country, that is). And England showed more of what rugby is about than did Wales this World Cup.
A week or so ago I was invited to join a Facebook group. Facebook, for those of you fortunate enough not to have heard of it is a ‘social networking’ website wher bright young things can amass lists of friends who they can then inform what a wild time they are having at any given moment (when they’re really cutting their toenails while watching Corry, the soap, not the rugby player)
It also allows members to band together in groups of common interest and I was invited to join a group supporting anyone but England to win the Rugby World Cup.
Now, while I’m all for that sentiment when watching the overpaid nancies who play football, I can’t say the same for rugby, because rugby is different and I think unless you’ve played you won’t understand this.
In rugby you can spend 80 minutes trying to genuinely hurt your opponent, you go into a tackle hoping you’ll hit him so hard his grandmother will feel it. Or else, as was the case with me, you spend 80 minutes trying to run so fast that those intent on burying your mincing winger’s body beneath a pile of forwards cannot catch you.
And when it all boils over it’s proper punches, not the handbag-waving histrionics of footballers who have an attack of the vapours when someone so much as brushes their elegantly coiffed hair.
Yet at the end of those 80 minutes you clap them off the pitch, shake their hands, sink a beer, or two, with them and sing songs with them that are musically and lyrically off-key.
No hatred, no accompanying violence on the terraces, no matter how much they see on the pitch. That’s rugby.
And rugby is a team game, where effort, spirit, courage, and honour still count for something.
And I’ll tell you what, England had all those qualities in spades.
Before you tear up this page in a fit of what you think is patriotism, let me give you one warning.
Unless we learn to be more like England we are destined to forever repeat the dismal performance we put up in this World Cup.
By more like England, I don’t mean play like them, I mean try like them, care about it like them and show the sort of self-belief they did, even when everyone was dismissing them as over-the-hill. They were the antidote to Southern Hemisphere arrogance that we failed to provide.
Sadly there’s a certain karma to the fact that the try they probably did score but weren’t given in this World Cup has made up for the goal that they almost certainly didn’t score but were given in the World Cup in 1966.
But even that they have borne with the dignity expected of rugby players rather than the aggrieved whining we’re accustomed to from football managers.
Lest we forget, we had the beating of England since the last World Cup, and that impetus was squandered in a couple of short years.
Lets try to make sure that in four years time we have something to as proud of as the English do now.

CONTINUING the sporting theme, can anyone explain the amount of coverage devoted to Lewis Hamilton’s failure to win the Formula 1 world championship?
A sport whose dullness is inversely proportional to its volume does not seem to me to be the stuff of headline news, and yet night after night this past week it’s been on our screens in one way or another.
Reporter after reporter tried and failed to come up with reasons why I should care whether Lewis Hamilton became the first British driver since Graham Hill (maybe Damon) to win the world championship.
Still, at least they have got over the breathless way at the start of the season they reported that, whisper it, a black man was driving a fast car. The tone of surprise they adopted seemed to suggest they thought he was lucky not to get pulled over on suspicion of having stolen his McLaren machine.
For those of you who were too busy watching the paint dry on your walls, the world championship was won by someone else in a phenomenally fast car. You heard it here last.

YOU can see why Gwynedd Council has decided to take the axe to 29 of its primary schools.
After all, when it comes to cutting costs, closing schools will do the job for you..
But look at it another way. Gwynedd has a well-known problem of attracting and retaining young people.
One of the key factors young families will take into account when deciding where to live is whether there’s a good school in the area.
And what do Gwynedd go and do to attract young families into their rural communities? Close down the small local schools.
But that’s the sort of brilliance you get when all you bring to the table is an ability to count beans.

GOOD to see the Llyn peninsula and the Mawddach estuary both making it into one Sunday paper’s top worldwide ‘secret’ holiday destinations.
Had to laugh when the writer said that those queuing in traffic to the Lake District should have turned off for North Wales to avoid the jams.
Clearly he’s not been down the A55 during school holidays then.

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