MANY a Welshman has entertained childhood fantasies of playing in a red shirt in the national stadium; on Saturday, this dream came true for me. Well, sort of. My international debut consisted of playing the fool in a red dragon suit in the pre-match entertainment before Wales's Five Nations' Championship tie with Ireland at Cardiff Arms Park.

The dragon is named Dewi, not after the England scrum-half who had a try disallowed in Cardiff a month ago, but because Dewi is Welsh for David, the nation's patron saint. Dewi's job is to breathe fire into the hearts of the nation, a job description my predecessor had obviously carried out to the letter when Wales, spurred on by an inspired crowd, had beaten England. I will obviously not be asked back again as Wales lost on Saturday, and the quiet crowd, which would barely have said boo to a goose, punctuated the game by yelling boo at its own side.

Actually, despite the Welsh selectors' policy of loyalty to their team, no one has held the dragon's spot for more than one international. Quite why became clear before I made my entrance, not because I was suddenly gripped by fear at the immediate prospect of performing before more than 50,000 people (my previous relevant experience was in a school play as Banquo's murderer in front of a crowd that was 49,000 smaller), but because I was warned of the likelihood of a light mugging from overenthusiastic supporters. This blow was supposedly softened by the news that, in such an eventuality, I would be rescued by policemen once they had had a moment or two to laugh at my expense. Oh, so that was all right then.

What really worried me, though, was falling over. Dragons are famous for their size, their fire-breathing capacity and for losing in one-to-one combat with legendary English kings, but never have they been noted for their mobility. Dewi was no different. He consisted of a large, heavy costume (2ft head, 4ft tail plus extra trimmings) that was impossible to put on without help and which, should I take a tumble, would make it very hard to get up. I was not sure quite what this dragon assignment would do for my street credibilty, but being caught on Grandstand flapping around on my back like an upturned turtle certainly was not what I had in mind.

With the thought of this nightmare scenario turning up the already considerable heat in my dragon suit, I barely noticed the Welsh male choir going on to the pitch. This was 1.55pm, five minutes before my entrance and the start of my 22-minute assignment. The choir was also making its international debut but showed none of the pre-match nerves that were rattling my confidence. All of a sudden my vague instructions - 'go in there and, well . . .' - seemed a fairly awesome task.

Enter the dragon. Luckily, half the crowd were still in the pub when 2pm arrived, so I managed to slip out quietly and get in a quick lap of the ground. This involved waving, shaking punters' hands, conducting the odd spot of singing, identifying the rowdy elements who might have a propensity for dragon-mugging, and, most memorably, confronting a startled Jonathan Davies (the former Welsh captain), shaking him firmly by the hand and telling him what a shame it was that he was not playing today.

On to lap No 2. The stadium was filling quickly and my confidence was growing, though too quickly, it transpired, when I went to the East Stand terraces where the rowdies were gathered. I was busy exchanging high fives all round when I started to lose my balance. Oh dear, this was it. This was the forewarned mugging - not the 'hand over your wallet'sort of mugging, but a slow drag into the crowd that comes when someone grabs Dewi's protruding snout and you really can't control it. Please, Grandstand cameras, not now.

Luckily, the police went quickly to work - quicker than the BBC, anyway. I was soon flapping off and discovering the dragon's physical appeal to inebriated Welsh women. They poured down in their hordes (well, three's a horde, isn't it?) to embrace Dewi, whose mouth may have been nylon, but was, by this stage, probably more sensual than mine, as the cauldron-like suit had got me to within an ignition-spark of breathing fire.

My show, though, was almost over, the stadium was nearly packed and the singing grew quite tremendous. I stayed on for 'Bread of Heaven', and managed to conduct a very animated multitude of Irishmen for 'Alive, Alive- O', but was led out of the lair before 'Cwm Rhondda' got going.

I hung up my dragon suit and was in my seat for the start of the game. Sadly, then, the Irish multitude became increasingly animated, the stadium rocked to the sound of 'Alive, Alive-O', and 90 minutes later the dragons were dead and buried.

(Photograph omitted)

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