James Corrigan: Bitter doesn't even begin to describe the sheer scale of Welsh grievance
It bloody hurt. The tears of ur toddlers simply summed up our gloom
With all the abuse heading in his direction, I wouldn't be Alain Rolland for all the croissants in Ireland. However unfair, however unjust, the taunts concerning his French ancestry will carry on throughout my lifetime and, undoubtedly, that of my four-year-old son as well.
I can't explain what it was like to be Welsh on the morning of Saturday 15 October 2011. We don't need to revert to war, economics, death or life for any hyperbolic baloney. It was sport at its most elemental, which evoked a criss-cross of emotions that will forever pattern the nation's sporting heart.
Somewhere in a corner of the land of a white cloud which will never be any longer, or indeed any less white, Andy Haden knew that his sentence of recrimination was finally at an end. Haden, of course, was the All Black lock-forward who leapt out of that line-out at the Arms Park 33 years ago, causing another panicking referee to award a penaltyto deny Wales victory. That glory would merely have been famous – this would have been immortal.
How do Wales react now? Some genuises, probably in Britain's very own media, will do the usual trick of employing the damnable powers of hindsight to point out that when it truly mattered Wales fell short of the miracle which dangled like the most joyous apple at Eden Park.
Let them talk about James Hook's missed penalties, Stephen Jones's hit post, the drop goal which was begged to make Jonny Wilkinson's seem like a backheel in the local park. Let them talk about the International Rugby Board's directive to the refs to show zero tolerance in regard of tackles deemed dangerous.
What a laugh that is. The IRB, the most toothless governing body in any big-time sport, coming over all big man and sticking up for their official. The IRB happen to reel off more ignored directives than the banking system. Yes, let them say what they want. And let the patronising of "a little country" go into its inevitable overdrive. In Wales we won't listen. We will carry this injustice like a badge of honour. We happen to be good losers – we've been forced to be – and the two aspects about this loss which were good were the character and the grievance. However vehementlythe wannabe Vince Lombardis out there will insist it's only about the winning, that won't mean a hill of daffodils where I'm from. It hurt. It bloody hurt. The tears of our toddlers simply summed up our gloom.
I made contact with Sam Warburton's twin brother, Ben, as the desperation submerged. "Gutted, mate," was his response. There was nothing more to be said. No, nobody should escape the merciless reach of the rulebook just because of their reputation. Sam Warbuton's tackle was an instant,the sort of instant which only sport can produce, and the referee had to make a call. In one sense, I applaud Rolland for acting as he saw fit, for putting the regulations he is conditioned to regard as gospel before the qualities of the individual. But you can't escape the sporting truth: this was wrong on every count. In the head, in the heart, in the context. Everything.
So where do Wales go from here? To a third- and fourth-place play-off. And I wouldn't be surprised if we filled the Millennium Stadium again. But then, when that consoling hero-worship subsides, Warren Gatland has to sit down and decide on his future. The All Blacks will come knocking, be sure of it, and the Wales head coach will face a choice from the sickest imagination of Beelzebub. The call of the homeland versus the camaraderie of his creation. My guess, but I would say this, is the latter.
As the gnarled Kiwi tends to, he applied the centre of the hammer to the sweet spot of the nail with his after-match assessment. This cannot be just another inspired Welsh rising, not another size-defying Grand Slam, not another pointless claim to the myth of the Seventies. There were eight players in that starting XV who are 23 or younger. That isn't potential, that's a promise. Well, it will be if the Welsh Rugby Union listen to everything Gatland says when he lays out his demands. He has shown what he can do when he is allowed an extended period with the boys, and those boys have shown what they can do when they are allowed the required time to take on board the man's vision.
No doubt the Welsh regions will benefit from this glorious exposure of pure talent, but at the same time they must realise what it will require to bring the dream to fruition. It needs Gatland to call the shots of the entire domestic game. There is way, way too much at stake to let these past six weeks become one more false dawn.
We in Wales are experts at turning the negative into the positive and toasting the brave vanquished. This has to be more than that. A building block, a stepping stone. And excuse us while we use Rolland's head as leverage. Bitter? You bet. In fact, that doesn't even begin to approximate to the scale of our gripe. Maybe "dwyn" does. Robbed, as we say in Wales.
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