I'm as Welsh as an old Mountain Goat eating Leeks and Coal for his tea. My Father worked underground. My Grandfather, Great Grandfather too. I have a Gladys Pugh 'Hi de Hi' accent and I sing when I'm drunk with the enthusiasm of Tom Jones in Vegas circa 1974. I was born and bred in Merthyr Tydfil a town so Welsh that Pete McCarthy in 'McCarthy's Bar' said that he genuinely feared for his life when having a pint there just by having an English accent. My credentials are impeccable. Except in one thing...I'm a football fan. The amount of times people, just by me opening my mouth, have assumed that I'd have deep inside knowledge of 'second phase ball' or 'drift defences' is in the thousands. I am Welsh, therefore I should be a Rugby fanatic. Well, while I obviously want Wales to win in anything...even tiddlywinks...I have to admit to wanting Merthyr or Cardiff to win in the round ball about 40 million times more that Wales winning in Rugby.
But here I am typing away about Wales in the Rugby World Cup as the good people of Sabotage Times have asked me (as a Welshman) what my thoughts are about it. So, here goes. Wales are quite young and have a New Zealand coach called Warren Gatland. New Zealand (and even I know this) are the best at Rugby except in the World Cup where they will eventually lose in a close 'epic' to France or Australia. This will then mean that either England or South Africa (and sometimes Australia) will then win it in a scrappy final decided (much like Football) in who has the best aim in actually kicking the thing rather than running it. Wales will always fail gloriously to someone like Australia or the English or get beaten in a massive shock by Fiji or the Orkney Islands causing weeks of introspection in the Welsh press where everything will be blamed from the closing of the mines to there not being free milk for kids in schools anymore.
International day is a funny old thing in Wales. Tony Rivers once wrote in 'Soul Crew' that it 'turns the nation into babbling, pissing freaks and he had to be somewhere else'.
When I was a kid (and there was free Milk) we were all told we had to play rugby in games. I think even in England you had the psychopathic Welsh Games teacher resplendent in a retro adidas trackie, side boards and a magnificent moustache. Mine was even an ex-boxer just for good measure. In '82 I actually thought I was Paul Weller and had that early Style Council French Crew with a beautifully shaped square back. To then stand on a wind-swept Welsh Slag tip with 30 other shivering kids and be thrown an Egg shaped thing and then told to run at 'Tank' who was already 15 stone at 12 wasn't my idea of fun. I wanted to play football, like Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Mickey Thomas. Not be squashed into the mud by Tank who would then rake you with his giant studs (have you ever seen Rugby Boots? In the words of Ian Brown...the marquis de sade don't make no boots like these..) needless to say, I hated it. I would get my paternal Grandfather to make more and more fabulous excuses for me to get out of 'games' while that evening I'd play football with my mates until it was so dark you couldn't see in front of your face.
International day is a funny old thing in Wales. Tony Rivers once wrote in 'Soul Crew' that it 'turns the nation into babbling, pissing freaks and he had to be somewhere else'. It is one glorious piss up. A party that begins with a hearty breakfast and ends with drunken fumblings with some 'Nessa from Gavin and Stacey' type in Chip Shop Alley at 3am the next morning. It's not for the feint hearted. The Welsh Rugby team have always fascinated me. I missed the glory years of the 1970's. The genius of Barry John and Gareth Edwards and instead got the awful late 80's and 90's. A time of losing by 90 points to South Africa and going out of the world cup to Western Samoa (the joke was...what if we'd have played the whole of Samoa?!). It was a painful time for Welsh Rugby but much more in keeping with our national character. The gallant Celtic losers who heroically go down fighting. I mean, that's our history. How many other countries end up un-lucky enough to be next to the most aggressively expansionist mob since Caesar and those Roman fellas? But that was us. Ever since the Germans arrived and said 'I fancy a bit of this place' we've been on the back-foot. Even our name for 'England' is LLoegyr...it literally means 'our lost lands' I mean how dramatic and melancholy is that? And it's been like that ever since.
I was actually at the last World Cup. Working for ITV Wales. They sent me over as a 'footy fan' to do funny(ish) skits with the fans. Me asking questions and them bringing me up to speed. Was a good laugh too because that is the nature of Welsh Rugby Fans...they are funny. They have a black, gallows humour developed over two decades of more ups and downs that that big old Rollercoaster in Blackpool. Most would be happy with a good Quarter Final performance against the Irish, who we can beat sometimes. The Southern Hemisphere teams have a massive psychological edge over us. We've only ever beaten the Saffa's once in 100 years and the Kiwis haven't been beaten since the 1950's. These things weigh heavy on Welsh hearts and minds. What Wales have to do now is beat Fiji (we didn't last time...I was there. It was horrible. It meant I had to cancel going to Marseilles...the useless bastards...I mean Fiji mind) and then put in a great performance against Ireland in the Quarters. Wales are a young side with some superb players. James Hook has that silky way of moving of the Welsh greats but it's up-front we'll win it. The Irish will be strong in the scrum and compete for everything on the floor. The game (as the cliche goes) will be won and lost up-front...maybe Wales should draft Tank in? Wonder what he's doing now?
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