RUGBY UNION: Wales must beware misplaced conceit of early 1980s

SEVERAL ACCOUNTS of the Wales v England match have referred to the statue of Aneurin Bevan in Cardiff, bedecked with a red jersey and a flag. As it happened, the founder of the NHS had no interest in rugby or any other sport apart from snooker, at which he was adept. Likewise David Lloyd George. George, a North Walian who had been born in Manchester, denounced what he called the "morbid footballism'' - he was referring to rugby - of the south. And the great journalist Hugh Cudlipp, who came from Cardiff, possessed no interest at all in sport of any kind.

Even so, these famous Welshmen were an unrepresentative minority. South Wales, the coastal strip from Newport to Carmarthen and its hinterland, is perhaps more obsessed by sport than any comparable slice of the United Kingdom: not only rugby, but football, boxing and cricket as well. Did you know that 20,000 turned out to see Bradman's Australia at St Helen's, Swansea, in 1948?

Rugby, however, has always been pre-eminent. For all kinds of historical, geographical and, formerly, religious reasons - for the chapels were against it - it has never been a truly national game. It was nevertheless the only game, perhaps the only activity apart from singing, at which Wales could take on the rest of the world and win. It therefore possessed a unique importance in the national consciousness.

Young men whose talents were to run and to pass and kick a funny-shaped ball found that the weight placed on their shoulders was oppressive. Players of the past 15 years or so became thoroughly fed up with hearing stories of Merve and Delme, Gareth and Barry, Gerald and JPR.

Their successes did not bring the pressure on themselves but their elders did, with their endless talk - partly boastful, partly full of regret - about the glories of the past. So if Wales do go on to win the Six Nations Championship, the Triple Crown or even the Grand Slam, I hope we shall have no repetition of the misplaced conceit of the early 1980s.

England supporters went in for something similar after winning the World Cup in 2003. Their euphoria lasted for something over a year, when retirements, injuries and a new head coach in the form of Andy Robinson combined to persuade them that they were mortal after all. And Saturday's match did nothing to dilute this realisation: quite the contrary, in fact.

Wales could and should have scored three tries rather than Shane Williams's one. One of those could have come from a similar overlap, of which there were several, of varying degrees of obviousness. The other try - or, at the least, penalty kick - should have come from the spell when the Welsh forwards were camped out yards from the England line. Danny Grewcock then caught Dwayne Peel on the head with his boot. I do not say that Grewcock was trying to injure Peel, but he was trying to impede Peel's progress towards the line, even though Peel did not, I think, have the ball in his hands at the time.

What Grewcock was not trying to do was to heel the ball back to Matt Dawson or Charlie Hodgson to enter a relieving kick. Or, if he was, he must be a monumentally incompetent exponent of rucking.

Gareth Thomas, the Wales captain, then entered the fray, running 15 yards or so to give Grewcock a big girl's push. This was idiotic. Wales were sure of a penalty at least. The result was that Stephen Walsh, the excellent New Zealand referee, gave both miscreants a yellow card.

If a kick had been awarded instead, it would have been taken by Stephen Jones, who took all the kicks at goal, except the last one by Gavin Henson, which belonged to the old "Boy's Own" paper; as did the rest of his performance. Jones would presumably have got it over from that distance. But the truth is that throughout the evening he did not kick well, whether for touch or at goal.

The question now arises: with Henson now a fixture, do Wales need Jones as well? There is certainly a case for giving a run to Ceri Sweeney, who played his part in the Welsh revival in Australia in 2003, who was among the substitutes, who can kick also but who, strangely, was not called on.

As it was, Saturday's match produced four Welsh candidates for the Lions XV in Henson, Shane Williams, Peel and Martyn Williams. By the end of this splendidly unpredictable competition, there may be more.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss