A starved nation feasts on victory

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The Independent Online
They may be a small nation, living in the shadows cast by giant neighbours, and left behind by the major developments of modern rugby, but Wales showed on a cool, still evening by Swansea Bay yesterday that their rugby glories are not all past.

The Welsh masterplan has worked a treat. After years of under-achievement in international rugby union - including, famously, defeat by Western Samoa in the 1991 World Cup - they sent the cream of their talent up north to earn a few quid and develop their skills.

They returned home yesterday fitter, stronger, faster and more hungry. The Welsh crowd, starved of success for so long, greeted this victory - even though it was by the representatives of the once-hated professional code - with scenes of uninhibited joy.

It was a brutal encounter, and such was the ferocity of the game that the scenes by the dug-outs were often reminiscent of a field hospital. The difference between this game and the one in Cardiff in 1991 was that the bruises were shared equally. The Samoan tackling style - one round the legs, and one round the neck - earned the disapproval of the crowd and the censure of the referee, but the visitors were still given a generous standing ovation at the end.

A capacity crowd of almost 16,000 had been shoehorned into the Vetch Field, forcing the kick-off to be delayed by 15 minutes. This was the third occasion during the World Cup that a kick-off has been delayed, vivid testimony to the competition's success.

It is only a shame that the BBC have seen fit to give only scant coverage to the tournament; yesterday's game and last Sunday's dramatic match between Tonga and New Zealand were eminently worthy of more than just snatched highlights for a national audience.

The intensely patriotic crowd played a serious part in the proceedings, singing with real passion, lifting their side through a tense period in the second half.

Wales were never likely to shirk the physical challenge and, even though some of their forwards were reduced to walking pace long before the end, they were still capable of inflicting damage.

So the Welsh, having settled one score, now move on to Old Trafford for a semi-final with England on Saturday. While Old Trafford is a long way from the Vetch Field, it would not be wise to rule out another uprising.