Oh, what a wailing and gnashing of teeth there was! Wales v England at Cardiff, Grand Slam at stake, game of the season – and your correspondent trapped, stymied, foxed, unable to go. For it was the school play, ‘Guys and Dolls’, gala performance, inked in before the Six Nations fixture list (probably), with youngest daughter ripping it up in the role of her life (yes, a nightclub dancer, nothing wrong with that, surely). ‘Come on Charlie, you’ve got to go, this is immense’, the calls coming in, the texts, ‘Where are you sitting on Saturday?; ‘Are you on the Orient Express with Victor?’ (‘NO! Dammit…’)
So to the village pub, (not very) big screen, and a fearsome gang of desperadoes, ex- players, mostly forwards and all well up for it, Butcombe sloshing all around the piece, landlord Pete smiling (for once) because everyone’s there, everyone’s drinking and England are going to win! Not a Welshman in sight (apparently there are a couple up the hill, been living with Mike, I’ve never seen them, nobody knows where they are now, and who cares anyway…) ‘COME ON ENGLAND!’
Anyway, we’ve seen Italy stuff up Ireland (hmm, maybe a niggling feeling that if the Azzuri had found that self-belief and control last weekend then England could have been properly cooked?), but, whatever, the underdog won and we’re underdogs here, right? Playing the Champions, Grand Slammers themselves, in the cauldron of the Millennium with the roof closed (what was that all about, Stuart, please?). But let’s hope it’s not going to be like it was in Ireland two years ago, our lot are humble now, taking nothing for granted, saying all the right things. They’ve got character, they believe in each other, they went to Dublin this year and won with guts…
And it wasn’t like Dublin two years ago, was it? There, the game was up after ten minutes, men against boys right from the off, the end never in doubt almost right from the start….oh no, here, it was a proper contest, massive collisions throughout the first half, England opening up space for Tuilagi to smash into (and drop the ball), Farrell showing some smart moves at ten, everyone tackling hard, take that team spirit into the dressing room at half time, sure they’re in the lead, but…
Oh, bugger it, let’s not kid ourselves, it was way, way worse than Dubbers two years ago! To start with, it was Wales, and they really don’t like us us, really, whereas the Irish tolerate our Englishness with their natural charm and bonhomie. But on the rugby field, boy did they tear us apart. The scrum creaked at first, then buckled completely, we lost all the go forward in the collisions, the breakdown ceased to be a contest (we were praising Steve Walsh at half time, saying how open he’d allowed things to be, but the two Welsh number 7’s were now clearly playing him like a Stradivarius), and then the pace and power kicked in, Cuthbert vs poor old Mike Brown became a crude mismatch, and we lost by a record margin! More than in the days of Mervyn and Barry, JPR and Gareth even! Unbelievable!
So as the final nails were being hammered into the English coffin by a brilliant Welsh performance, your correspondent had left the shocked inmates of The Plough to cry into their ale, all shoulders slumped and shocked silence. For he was able to breathe in deeply from that priceless anaesthetic, the irrestistible fantasia of ‘Guys and Dolls’, where there was no hint of even a solitary rugby thought to haunt the troubled, troubled soul of an Englishman …Thank heavens for little girls, and, thank you God not to be in Cardiff that night!
PS In the cold light of day, as Stephen Jones’ ‘I told you so’s’ fall like a bitter rain upon the breakfast porridge, it is perhaps hard to imagine any English players making it into the Lions side to Australia: let’s just pick the whole Welsh squad! Yet England hammered New Zealand, and Wales were well beat by Samoa, in the Millennium Stadium, no less, to say nothing of that first half against what has become a hapless Ireland side. Perhaps it shows how important passion, and maybe more importantly, the controlled channelling of passion, has become in modern international rugby, where the preponderance of bulk, fitness and above all finely organised defences, can narrow the differences between sides. The good news is that the crowd have a huge role to play too: think of the tears and roaring and mayhem in Rome, and then hats off to all you Welsh for that unforgettable, roof-lifting rendition of ‘Hen flad fy nhadau’ that really gave their boys an ultimately unstoppable momentum in Saturday’s great match. And let’s get down to Oz and give those Lions boys the same lift in June!
Were you in Cardiff at the weekend? Tell us what your experience was like..