Walker's wrecking ball ends Arms Park era

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The Independent Online
Yesterday they auctioned bits of Cardiff Arms Park. Fixtures and fittings and chunks of the hallowed turf. Grass is grass, but lovely to walk over history in your garden. See that bit by there, it's where Gareth went over against England. Tread in the footsteps of Gerald, Phil, Bleddyn, Cliff or JPR.

Things being what they are, a joke going around in Cardiff last week was that the Swalec Cup final had been nudged inside the schedule of reconstruction to ensure that the curtain came down on a Welsh victory.

With one in three unemployed in some of the old mining valleys there is a damn sight more to trouble Welsh people than the effect of a wrecking ball on history, and on Saturday -as Cardiff overcame Swansea 33-26 - there was no great sense of sadness.

In any case, Cardiff Arms Park had long since changed from what it was when the valley choirs came to take up traditional station on terraces obliterated by progress. Great games, great players, drama, triumph and despair. Now they are turning the old place around, literally.

On Friday night I attended the annual Welsh Sports Hall of Fame dinner. The first inductee, seven years ago, was the Wigan rugby league great Billy Boston, who went north after being informed privately that his colour would be held against him in Cardiff rugby circles. Boston was back in town but he did not stay for the Welsh Cup final.

Ironic then that the last spectacular moment at Arms Park was achieved by a black player, the Welsh wing and one time international hurdler, Nigel Walker who, surprisingly you may think, put in an appearance at the aforementioned occasion. Nothing more serious than orange juice passed Walker's lips and he left early.

Destiny awaited him in the form of a try that will be spoken about many times in the future. When the interval came, Swansea held a 14-9 lead and had played well enough to suggest that their name would be the last on the roll of honour.

Less than two minutes into the second half Walker put his name to a strip of real estate along the touchline from half-way to the try- line. It happened so quickly, with such bewildering suddenness, that Swansea were left looking as though the wrecking ball had broken loose and swung into them.

Doubtless, embellishment of the tale will have Walker avoiding twice the number of opponents who attempted to interfere with his progress. Maybe Walker was not entirely sure of the route but the instinct was clearly strong in him. Whatever the details, Swansea could not lay much more than fingers on him. In keeping with the circumstances, Swansea's defence was reduced to rubble. "Nigel should get down here early tomorrow and put in a bid for the ground he covered," somebody said.

The effect on Swansea was immediate. Perhaps playing towards the end where demolition is already in progress had something to do with their loss of momentum but, going behind 33-14, their cause looked hopeless. They got back within a converted try of levelling the score (had Swansea achieved this they would have won on a superior try count) but, in truth, Walker's try bled too much from them.

Any number of people will tell you that Welsh club rugby gives rise to misconceptions, that it does not convey accurately the state of the game down there. Not being educated in this matter I do not know whether Saturday's match said anything about the future. Will turning the pitch through an angle of 180 degrees coincide with a turnaround in the national team's fortunes?

Frankly, a great deal of fuss has been made about what is, after all, only a pile of concrete. Good tradition is fine but belief in progress is a stimulant to achieve it. History, somebody said, is not what happened but what the people think happened.

Cardiff: Tries Hall, J Thomas, Walker; Conversions L Jarvis 3; Penalties L Jarvis 4. Swansea: Tries Taylor 2, S Moore, penalty try; Conversions A Williams 3.

Cardiff: J Thomas; S Hill, M Hall, L Davies (J Davies, 24-29), N Walker; L Jarvis, R Howley; A Lewis, J Humphreys (P Young, 18-23), L Mustoe, K Stewart, D Jones, H Taylor (capt), G Jones, O Williams.

Swansea: M Back; A Harris, M Taylor, S Gibbs, Simon Davies; A Williams, A Booth; I Buckett, G Jenkins (capt), S Evans (K Colclough, 79), S Moore, P Arnold, A Reynolds (D Niblo, 18-24), R Appleyard, Stuart Davies.

Referee: D R Davies (Llanbradach).