Archive for the ‘ Wales ’ Category

Remembering the Crowd…

 With the World Cup now on its way to being no more than a memory, it seemed as good an opportunity to remind the world of how good the fans of Welsh Rugby are. The cup may not have provided what Wales wanted, but we showed the world once more just how committed the country is to the sport.

Wales’ World Cup: Stars Born, Kicks Missed.

Well, in many respects, Wales’ defeat to Australia in the third place play off of the 2011 rugby world cup smacked of a game too far. The legs were not pumping as hard as they had been, the gain line breaks failed to travel as far as they could a couple of weeks ago, and all the time everyone in red pondered the absence of Priestland, Jones (Adam) and Warburton and what could have been with them on the field. The strength in depth to cover such absences is developing, but it is clearly not there yet. So fourth for Wales in the world cup (and a much lower world ranking to boot) and a sense of disappointment from a tournament which in the warm up period offered so little, yet grew to offer so much. The defeat to France and the infamous red card will be one to stand the test of time in Welsh irritations, probably outstripping the Andy Haden lineout dive in 1978 as the most controversial and bitter of reasons for defeat (though I wager Haden’s dive will ultimately hold more sway over Welsh rugby’s bitter taste buds). But despite consecutive defeats at the end of the tournament, and a string of sore bones and bruises (most of which will be focused on George North’s head), there is much cause for optimism as this squad moves forward, as will be considered below.

Welsh Player of the Tournament: There are so many players in the Welsh squad who could raise their hands for this accolade, Warburton, North, Priestland, Lydiate, Adam Jones could all make their case, but Toby Faletau for me has led the way, and should do so for a long time in a Welsh jersey. The man has been a monster in defence, hammering every single person down who was foolhardy enough to get within his grasp. In attack he proved a nuisance, crashing forward and making waves of space for those around him. At the end of the tournament he was asked to move out of position, and still proved his worth: he certainly won’t force Warburton out of his No7 jersey, but he proved his versatility in covering for the captain. Not since Scott Quinnell have Wales had such a presence from No8, and Faletau is already looking better than Quinnell did in his prime.

Star Find: Again, plenty to choose from, but Priestland probably stands out, more so by his absence than his presence on the field. All of the talk in the tournament focused on the Welsh backs, Roberts in particular, but so much of what went right for Wales in attack came from the mind of Priestland. He offered a sense of vision that has long been lacking in the No10 jersey for Wales, and both Hook and Stephen Jones’ efforts in the role highlighted just how important Priestland had been. Another one who will have hopefully a couple of World Cups in his future, Priestland has inherited the outside half crown and made it his own.

Wales LVP: Possibly a harsh branding, and a harsh recipient, but James Hook has gone from being the pundits first choice 10 for Wales, to the nations pariah…his journey to France could perhaps not be more timely. What happened to Hook one wonders? Once so calm with his kicks, once so dangerous running forward, he now looks a shadow, a wraith like presence scaring the Welsh attack into ignominy with his mere presence. As others have pointed out, Wales lost three games by a collective margin of 5 points – looking back over Hook’s missed efforts how can fans help but point a finger of judgement in his direction. Probably most telling of Hook’s contributions was against Australia in the build up to Shane Williams’ try. Hook broke, panicked, and flung a ball at Shane’s feet – chance then created the try, not Hook. A startled man, a broken man, perhaps a sabbatical in France is just what he needs, because far from being a grand slam hero, Hook is now damaged goods, and we must hope that this incredibly talented man can find a path to rugby redemption – he certainly needs it.     

The Good: When Welsh attack sparked it was the best in the tournament. From 1-15 there were occasions when Wales played something approaching rugby perfection. With one or two key personal lost, it could not be sustained, but when the Welsh first choice 15 took the field – what a joy it was to see them play. The Irish game will stand the test of time as an example of how rugby should be played – and boy did Wales play that day.

The Bad: The strength in depth is coming, but it’s not here yet. Hook for Priestland, Paul James for Adam Jones, no more openside flankers when Sam’s not around…it’s only one or two players but when they are not available to Wales we looked like the team that was caught in the Six Nations headlamps not so many months ago. The Welsh coaches need to grab a shovel and start digging to find the next tighthead prop and openside flanker and fast. Without support in those areas Wales go from being great and average – and it happens with alarming ease

The Ugly: Warburton, poor Sam Warburton. The debates are still raging as to whether it should have been a red card or not, yet even those who conclude it should have been, still pity the man for his punishment. Warburton stood as the leader, the man who would carry Wales to the world cup final. It did not happen. A referee made a decision and took it all away from him. Put aside the debate, if the card was right or wrong, his loss from the tournament was an ugly underserved moment.

Finally, The Future: Wales must not get too excited too soon. They leave this tournament having played the best rugby, and at times, having looked like the best team, but not always. A Six Nations is coming, and Wales can win it. With the first XV available this Wales squad could take any nation, but we must find backups to the starting line up who are up to the task. 10, 7, and 3, positions on the field that are essential. Wales have three excellent players to start in those berths, but currently have no stars to step up. Without support in those positions, any ambitions of Grand Slam success will remains as ambitions alone. We have shown how average we are without stars in those positions, and the future of Welsh rugby will stand and fall not on the ability of Priestland, Warburton and Adam Jones, but on those who replace them when the need arises. Keep searching Wales, we have the power, now we need to back it up from the bench.

Video Blog: Welsh Fans in Cardiff

You’ll find here a short video of the thousands of Welsh fans  cheering on the only try of the game in the Millenium Stadium. Whatever your views were on the game and the red card that, in the opinion of these pages, was at best unfair, at worst an injustice, the crowd that poured in to Cardiff to shout on their team, together, as one voice, however many miles they were away from the action, deserved so much more: http://youtu.be/6fBA6arGZlA

This was a wonderful occasion, and to be part of it will be something remembered for all time, if only the gods of fate and justice had smiled on us once more, how this crowd would have sung and cheered, and how they would have deserved it They will be there in four years time, ready to lead the charge from the stands once more, maybe then, with four years of experience behind the 15 on the field, the crowd watching them will be rewarded.

RWC 2011: A Brief Word on Red Cards and Spears…

There will be a cold light of day moment to go through Wales’ defeat against France today, but just q quick entry is required now, as I am in bewilderment at the volume of needling little oiks out there who think that the red carding of Sam Warburton was justified. Plenty have been citing IRB regulations, and fair to do so, so let’s cast an eye over them quickly:

 •The player is lifted and then forced or “speared” into the ground. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle.

 •The lifted player is dropped to the ground from a height with no regard to the player’s safety. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle.

 •For all other types of dangerous lifting tackles, it may be considered a penalty or yellow card is sufficient.

Most of the Irish referring fan society have been pointing to the second point here, yet in reality, and as is the consensus in most of the rational rugby watching world, point three, and only point three was applicable. Warburton certainly did not force or spear the Frenchman into the ground, on that there is general acceptance. Dropped with no regard for safety though, this one is getting more support. Yet no Frenchman was dropped. Warburton was in control of his tackled man from start to finish. It was a tip tackle. The player raised during the momentum of the tackle, tipped over that key point of horizontal, and was guided to the ground. What Warburton did matches the description of neither points 1 or 2. This was a yellow card offence, at most, more likely a penalty.

Rolland made a rash call, and his retirement will not be missed, given that he has now not only ruined the Rugby World Cup for Welsh fans and players alike, but any purest who enjoys rugby played at its best. France do not offer this, have not offered this, and will not offer this. The worst team won, and Rolland’s shocking interpretation of the laws (not for the first time it should be added) are the primary, if indeed not the sole, reason for this development.

Finally – for all those licking at the heels of Rolland, if you want to see a game where Warburton’s tackle is worthy of a red card, then say goodbye to rugby. There was no malice, and no lack of control, no one went in to hurt anyone, and no one came out hurt. It happens in rugby, and will continue to happen – support that red card as a precedent upon which the future of the game will be run, and you can wave goodbye to realistic contests, if Rolland had his way, you would have a red card at least once a game, for the most innocuous of offences. Ruin the game if you must, because supporting this action will only result in that for the sport formerly known as Rugby Union.

RWC 2011: A Nation Rises (To Watch Television).

 I suppose there are lots of things that we might say ‘only in Wales’ about, but for want of accidentally insulting people, I’ll avoid listing some of the more stereotypical examples for the moment. Yet, only in Wales, surely only in Wales, would a statistically significant proportion of the nation get up early on a Saturday morning, drag themselves down to Cardiff on a day when no international rugby is on in the country, to then watch television. Really, without wanting to undersell the significance of tomorrows gathering, it really can be boiled down to an occasion where over 60,000 people will convene in one place to watch television…at 9am! You could picture it happening in other nations, were it not for the start time, really, 9am, on a Saturday, people in Wales who have jobs to go to at 9am on a Saturday, don’t wake up at 9am on a Saturday!

Truly, Saturday morning will be a remarkable day, and I suppose win or lose, the occasion will be a great one. Whatever result may be provided to greet or punish those hardy souls who make it down into the capital, they will at least be comforted that they go there in the knowledge that it will be shared by thousands. Not thousands down the motorway, or thousands overseas, but thousands sitting to the left, right, in-front and behind – the Millennium Stadium will be a very special place to be tomorrow morning.

I suppose the question that all will be pondering is will Wales win? Will those 60,000 have a second chance to pile into the stadium for the final the following week? Well, as with Ireland before, this blog can only conclude that there is nothing to fear for Wales from this French team. That being said, the assembled ranks of the French media are naturally saying the exact opposite, that France, with the form and weight of recent history on their side, will breeze past the Welsh…memories of south pacific horror stories are short lives in Paris.

Looking over the England v France game again, and with the whatever loyalties viewers might have had put to one side, it is very difficult to see how France secured victory over England. Yes, English defence was shambolic in the first half, yet England created, yes, that word ‘created’ is being used in reference to England, chance after chance. France were either stretched or broken through the middle repeatedly, and it is only for want of confidence and a finishing touch that cost England. Now, without wanting to be too churlish, England are not the fittest team in New Zealand, and they do not have the best attacking ability, by a long shot, yet they opened up the French line with what must be alarming ease for the French coaching team to consider.

Put simply, Wales will offer the French much, much more to deal with in attack. Hook might offer less direction as a 10 than Priestland, but he more than makes up for that with his individual ability to walk through the very best of defences. Wales can score tries against this French defensive lineup, and France will need to show a defensive grit not seen so far in this tournament. They will also need to find an extra reserve of energy, their flagging against England was almost their ruin, and Wales will be running at them harder and for longer. In short, and as with Ireland, France have to lead Wales by 8 points with 20 minutes to go, or Wales will win this game, any less and, if we base things on form and current ability, Wales should have far too much in the tank for a French team that can score tries, but is all too generous when it comes to giving them back to the opposition.

Whatever happens, tomorrow in Cardiff will be an amazing place to be, and one can only hope that the Welsh form displayed so far, carries us on to make this not a morning of support in Cardiff, but a day of celebration – if Wales do win, let’s hope the Brains brewery has stocked the city well, a win tomorrow for Wales could well see the city run dry.

Best of luck boys.

Hillforts and Fallen Horses

 Snapshots of fallen horses on Welsh hillforts.

RWC 2011: More Style as Bennett Danced to the Tune of Victory.

After the Halfpenny hat shuffle (http://eye-on-wales.com/2011/09/18/rwc-2011-a-try-of-fortune-and-style/), Wales added a touch more style to this years’ World Cup, as Huw Bennett brought a unique little shuffle to the celebrations, following victory over Ireland. Fist pumping and leaping is the usual path for post match celebration, but Bennett has clearly been in front of the mirror practising a brand new victory dance. Involving a bounce, and a lift knee lift, Bennett has created a dance move that, although unlikely to be seen in the South Wales valley clubs anytime soon, will hopefully be seen at least one or two more times as Wales continue their push for World Cup victory.

Who knows, a win or two more and maybe we will all be doing the Bennett shuffle…

RWC 2011: Wales Dispel the Irish Myth.

 Going into Saturday’s quarter finals, all the talk had come to focus on Ireland. Ireland were the side that would conquer the world, this being the time in which their legendary generation of players, at their final career hurdle, would rise to the occasion and achieve their predetermined destiny of World Cup greatness. We were told Irish experience would win the day, we were told the Irish front row would be too strong, the Irish second row would steal all the ball, that the Irish backrow, the best backrow in the world they said, would crush Welsh ambition, while the ability of BoD, RoG, Darcy and such would be too much for the youngsters of Wales, this is what we were told would bring the Irish glory at least.

As things transpired, the exact opposite happened. Wales were the ones to look ripe with experience, the Welsh front row consumed their opponents, the second row competed, while the backrow, whether the best in the world or not, certainly showed that the much vaunted Irish equivalents have, at the very least, work to do to be able to boast such a title. Then there were the backs. For Wales, the pre match talk had obsessed about North, yet this would be one of his quietest games of the cup so far. Instead, the game turned out to be one of redemption for Mike Phillips. The scrum half has been pressurised from all sides, inside and outside of the squad, for some time, yet managed to produce his finest performance in a red jersey since he spearheaded a second half recovery in Twickenham in 2008. His efforts, completed with a magnificent dive for Wales’ second score, were symbolic of the changed attitude which has brought Wales to this point in the tournament.

Wales looked good, very good, and had the boot of Priestland been less hampered by wind and post, the scoreline would have better reflected just how dominate Wales had been over their much vaunted opposition. Looking ahead, France come next, and while they always remain a potent threat, England knocked so many lumps out of the resurgent men in blue, that Wales, with their fitness continuing to be a 16th man on the field, should once again find themselves free of fear. A position in the final is possible, Wales can go further than they have ever been before, but contemplation on this must be left for another time. For now the nation must celebrate, celebrate a victory hard earned, and totally deserved. World Cup semi final appearances are very rare things for Welsh teams, and our mere presence there is reason enough to wake up tomorrow with a smile.

Well done boys, you continue to do us proud.

The University of Shame: But Blame Where It Is Due

 The University of Wales seems to be rumbling from one disaster to another these days. As Ciaran Jenkins continues what now is amounting to a one man war against the institution, he will this evening reveal on BBC Wales’ Week in Week Out, what has largely been revealed through plenty of other mediums, that, in short, the running of the University of Wales is rotten. First we had the bizarre Malaysian fake degree fiasco, then the desperate and repeated attempts to merge with anyone and everyone as the institution prostituted itself to all who would have her (takers were low given the savagely infected state of the product), and now we have the revelation that affiliates of the Institution have been selling off degrees to any old foreign national with a desire for a permit, and the cash to spare – put simply, it is raining shit on the University of Wales.

However, while there will be plenty of hand wringing inside the institution, and no shortage of finger pointing from those outside as the hurried ranks of vice chancellors and pit bull AMs line-up to add their tinder to the bonfire and hoist the broken frame of the syphilitic University onto its funary pyre, it is worth taking a moment to ask where the blame should be placed. In the coming days, as they have done over the past few years, it is the staff, the teaching staff that is, and the students who will bear the brunt of the indignity and shame brought upon the body. Who wants to stand up and say that they work for the University of Wales today? Who wants to wave their degree award from the University of Wales proudly in the air, when across the road a man with grasp of neither the English or Welsh language, pushing a homemade falafel stand down the high street, waves his degree right back at them?

The students are not the perpetrators of this succession of institutional humiliations, the teaching staff, continuing their endeavours to educate in the face of annual cutbacks to staff and research budgets, are not responsible for other affiliates passing on empty degrees to the highest bidder. The finger of blame should dig deep into the heart of the University of Wales, until it jabs at the spleen of those in the tiers of management who have seen this course of action grow and fester and rot at the guts of the establishment, it is those suited individuals who cared about the cream, cut off of the top of the cup of fiscal deviancy, that has transformed what was once, a long time ago, a beacon of educational aspiration in Wales, into an intestinally crippled, diarrhoea ridden goblin, lurking under a bridge and clawing at the coat tales of any institution not yet stained by its rot.

Find who is responsible – punish them, cleanse with fire if need be those who have torn down the foundations of this institution, and build it a new from inside out, but see that the blame is placed where it is deserved. Many good honest hard working staff and students will be punished because of this, and the blame is not theirs to carry.

RWC 2011: Wales need feel no fear in knock out stages.

 For many, the rugby world cup in New Zealand has been one of redemption for Wales. Increasingly impressive results over Samoa and Fiji have put to bed any lingering concerns regarding the mental fragility of this squad, and broken a hoodoo to have held back Welsh rugby teams at the highest level for nearly two decades. In their comprehensive route of Fiji, Wales managed to produce, not a perfect performances, but something verging on a complete performances. Attack and defence, ruck and maul, scrum and lineout, Wales controlled it all, and did so for 80 minutes. Unlike certain teams though, Wales this time were not waiting for their opponents to tire as the game went on to put away the points, the job was down in the first forty, yet with the result in the bag, the points kept coming, as the so called ‘tier 1’, mentality came into the Welsh game.

Next up is Ireland, and if you take the pundits views, it would seem Wales need not bother turning up, Irish experience is going to win the day. ITV’s dreadful world cup coverage has been covered in detail elsewhere (http://oneeyeonwales.blogspot.com/2011/09/hating-itv-at-rwc2011.html), but according to that particular commentary team, Ireland will ease to victory, while England will prove too much for both the French and Irish, and ease into the final. What these assessments is based on is hard to determine.

It should not be ignored that this will be Wales’ toughest fixture, knockout rugby brings more pressure, Ireland come in with their much vaunted experience and a squad with a track record in such stages of tournaments and of course, on paper, Ireland hold the better recent run of results over stronger opponents and a higher world ranking. But there is very little for Wales to fear. Ireland come into the quarter finals with a pack that is remembering how to play tight, one channel rugby, with backs that are slowly reminding themselves how to finish, and a truly world class back row, against Italy much of this came together to finish off the Azzuri with some style. But Wales are not Italy.

This column has been amongst the first, and repeatedly so, to mock the constant talk of team fitness coming out of the Wales camp. Fitness this, Polish training camp that, they went on, a first match warm up defeat to England did little to espouse the value of such merits. Yet as this tournament has progressed, that fitness has shone through game by game. Wales are finishing teams off, and by 80 minutes, look like they could go for another 40 minutes. Others in this tournament have been blowing, and hard, by the final whistle. There is much for Wales to cite as a strength going into the knock out stages, a strong pack, backed up by a lineout dominating Charteris, who behind him has three of the most exciting backrow players to enter the world stage since, well, since the respective Irish trio. Yet, as devastating as the Welsh forwards, led by Warburton, they need only find parity for the Welsh backline to open up Ireland, with a strength and speed not seen in many other teams. Roberts, North, Halfpenny and Williams (Shane that is), have now been joined by Scott Williams, the latest of a prodigious backline of Welsh attacking talent. If the names listed here do not give Ireland cause for concern, then they have not been doing their homework. As stressed at the start of this tournament, Wales will see the true potential of this backline in the 2015 world cup, but their ability at the moment, to break open defences, be it from first phase, broken play, or on the back foot, should be frightening. But put all of this to one side, it is the fitness that should really concern Ireland. Wales will be hitting them for 80 minutes like no team has done so in New Zealand so far. That goes for Australia as well, who suffered without the presence of David Pocock. Wales have no injury concerns, and a wealth of talent at their disposal that simply won’t tire.

While it would seem that everyone has settled on Ireland to simply turn up, use some of that much relied upon experience, and ease away, judging teams on form and ability, there is at the very least no reason for Wales to fear the Irish challenge, and plenty of reason to think that it will be a red and white semi final, rather than a green and white one.

(That is to suggest England will come through their quarter final. However, France are always due one stellar performance, they give one, and only one in every world cup – it hasn’t happened yet, and as things stand, they only have one chance to do it now, so who knows…)