Posts Tagged ‘ Wales ’

Digging Deep for Positives: Wales and the Autumn Internationals.

Well, it really was worse case scenario in the end. Going into the Autumn test series, captain Sam was bullish about four wins, the fans would have taken two, and yet everyone (apart from teams playing in any colour other than red in Cardiff) had to settle for none. On top of four weeks of disappointments, Wales now find themselves stuck in the world rankings behind Samoa and Argentina, the sort of nation that the IRB needs to bend over backwards to help develop. That’s right, we are now statistically worse than the ‘we need help’ nations…it’s not good is it?

A goat is as good as bayonet on a day like this.

A goat is as good as bayonet on a day like this.

And yet, should we now turn to the depths of despair? After all, England, Ireland and France are all bouncing around the international scene with excitement and positivity, what can Wales be hopeful about in such dark times? Well, there are some crumbs of comfort, but you really need to look deep into the darkened crevices under the dinner table to find them – and much of it comes from the injury list.

Okay, so the party line from Welsh management, players and fans alike will be ‘no excuses’. Quite right, so long as Wales can put out a starting XV then there will be a recognised Welsh international team to cheer on and shoot down. In no way do we want to reverse that mentality, accepting defeat is unacceptable. But if we look ahead, say three seasons, maybe seven ahead, there is some scope for optimism.

After all, how many international teams would realistically be able to cope with the scale of injuries faced by Wales during these Autumn months? It’s not as simple as saying that Wales had many first team regulars at their disposal, the injuries Wales faced were not so evenly spread out. No, what Wales had was injury upon injury in the same, crucial, positions. Let’s take the tight head prop position. Even before the first ball was kicked against Argentina, there were plenty of Welsh fans writing off Welsh chances with the loss of Adam Jones, and yet, Wales found an eager Englishman to take his place. After a few games, it suddenly appeared that Wales had a new tight prop, one who could scrimmage. Then the Englishman got injured. Off course, there were two other tight head props in development in Wales, but they were injured before we even got the Autumn series started. So, against the All Blacks trundles on Scott Andrews, the fifth choice Welsh tight head, on the bench was a 20 year old in his rooky season, Wales’ sixth choice…

In the second row, by the end of the four matches, Wales had lost choices one through to four, fielding a fifth choice lock in the form of Lou Reed, and Ryan Jones, who barely qualifies as a sixth choice being that he is not even a second row! In the front row, it was said to be the case that Matthew Rees had slipped in the pecking order to become third choice for Wales, luckily for him, the first and second choice players were out injured as well.

While the situation was healthier in the backline, selected injuries to the likes of Roberts, Biggar, Beck, North compounded the problems faced in the boiler house. Brittle bones and limp ligaments served to play their part in the scuppering of Wales, but they might yet prove to be essential in the rise of Wales once more.

All of a sudden, Wales can compete on the World stage with fifth choice tide head props, sixth choice second rows, third choice hookers. The likes of Jarvis and Andrews have shown that they can compete, the likes of Shingler have proven their worth in key positions on the international stage, the likes of Liam Williams have illustrated the fact that Wales can be dangerous from the wing without George North.

Psychologically this Welsh team might be shot for a season or two, maybe not, that’s down to the coaching team. The standard of the players regional fair might be a constant cause for concern, and that is something for the Unions to address urgently. But in terms of player development, Wales remain right in the thick of it. Perhaps the players who came into key positions might not have quite the ability to beat the best in the world today, but they have proven that in their infant international careers, they can certainly complete. As England have shown, the more game time these young players get, the better they will become. Give the likes of Jarvis, Andrews, Lee, Shingler, Reed and Williams more exposure at this level, and they will grow. And then, if by same stroke of good fortune, Wales can field their first choice XV, they might do so safe in the knowledge that an injury to the likes of Adam Jones will not be the end of ambition, but the beginning of an opportunity for someone we know can perform.

This Autumn has frankly been a bag of disappointment, piled high with a weighty pile of misplaced expectation. The future does not necessarily need be the same. Wales DOES have the strength in depth once craved for, the challenge now is get that strength in depth playing to consistent enough of a quality week in week out, to make the very best of the tools at our disposal.

Believe.

Is anyone feeling sorry for Rob Howley?

Any rugby fan who has come across the classic, much imitated, Living with Lions series charting the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 1997, would have needed a heart of stone to not feel sympathy for Rob Howley when a very messy dislocated shoulder forced him out of the tour. Perhaps everyone in Wales and involved with Welsh rugby needs to go back and watch that sequence again, because little else in the form of sympathy will greet him this morning.

© Huw Evans Picture Agency

Rob Howley has gone from outstanding playing talent and record breaking Welsh rugby captain, to national pariah, doomed to be chased around the streets of Bridgend by mobs carrying pitchforks and wearing the tattered rags of Celtic Warrior jerseys, such has his stock fallen. His brief reign in charge of Wales has gone from defensible efforts in challenging climates overseas, to humiliating reductions in front of an increasingly hostile and disengaged home crowd.

Looking back though, it was always slightly puzzling as to why Howley ended up as the man in charge. Howley’s previously responsibilities fell on managing the Welsh attack, which since the reign of Gatland had begun, often seemed one of the weaker elements. Welsh victories had been ground out through fitness and forwards, not to mention a healthy dose of massive long range penalties. In attack Wales had been profligate for the talents at their disposal. The least effective cog in the coaching machine had taken over the entire managerial mechanism.

So as the knives are sharpened, and Howley’s back and shoulders becomes notable for the many laser projected red dots that are fixed on him, what next for the former Welsh hero? Quitting would be the honourable thing to do at this stage. Other than Nigel Davies and Scott Johnson, who arguably had few resources, certainly in terms of time with the squads at their disposal, there is now no worse Welsh international coaching record than Rob Howley’s. Take away the Welsh victory over the fictional nation of the Barbarians, and Howley has the worse Wales coaching record in history. Others have been fired for far less from the Wales post, is there any justification for his continuance into the Six Nations?

If Howley is coach going into the prestigious tournament, he would likely be taking on a team that will in all probability have suffered seven defeats in a row, and could well sit outside the top ten of the world rugby table. Is there anything in Howley’s coaching pedigree to say that he won’t lead Wales into double figures of consecutive defeats? Not yet at least, and we should all hope for his sake as well as that of Wales, that the WRU and Gatland have the good sense to hand over the reins to someone who is not covered in the persistent stink of failure, it is pervasive and does not wash off with ease.

In the memories of Welsh rugby fans, Howley probably retains just enough of a position in our hearts based on his on-field efforts to not be completely vilified. But that situation will only remain, and his legacy be assured, if he does the right thing and step to one side. Yes, players a plenty are to blame for the defeats as well, but ultimate responsibility for persistent failure stops with the man in charge. It is the mentality that Gatland used to apply to his players, and it needs to be applied to his coaches as well. As soon as possible preferably.

A brief note on BiLingo

We were going to let this one slide, given that BiLingo appears to be a coughed up left over of gogwatch, and we’ve largely done that one to death already. However BiLingo have managed to garner much more attention than their parent site gogwatch ever did, so perhaps some attention is warranted. Plenty of other Welsh political bloggers have covered the details of this story already, but to summarise, BiLingo appeared as a front for alleged concerns from parents in Ceredigion. Accusations were made which essentially suggested that child abuse was rife in the region, as punishment for not speaking the Welsh language. This was quickly jumped upon and promoted by the Telegraph and Mail. As the story developed though, the allegations suddenly vanished from the website – perhaps the owner of BiLingo got more than ‘he’ bargained for with the coverage, and suddenly considered the legal implications of what many presume to be the unfounded allegations of a single individual. Regardless of the legitimacy of the comments, they were made, heard, and now a temporary hoohah has broken out regarding the Welsh language.

Now, it’s somewhat difficult to be specifically critical of the BiLingo website, simply by virtue of the fact that it’s owner seems to be redesigning it on an hourly basis, as the legal ramifications of their accusations appears to dawn on them. But the current (as of Friday afternoon) webpage argues that for BiLingo, ‘the main issue seems to be the lack of choice’. This certainly has echoes with the old gogwatch pages, after all, they never wanted to get rid of Welsh did they…no, of course not, what they advocated was choice. Maybe a cursory glance at the BiLingo twitter feed will enlighten us further.

Excellent to see so much coverage of our website today. Join us on our glorious march out of the dark ages – we say ONE world ONE language.

This is the very first tweet from the BiLingo feed. One language they call for…one language. So BiLingo, your concept of choice actually boils down to offering no choice at all, how very gogwatch of you.

We’re standing on the shoulders of giants @gogwatch

This would seem to indicate that whether BiLingo claims to be connected to gogwatch or not, they certainly see themselves as being in similar company. 

Bilingo – a campaign for language human rights and justice for the silenced

and yet, lines like this, that espouse the merits of human rights, are simply direct echoes of that which gogwatch relied upon as a central theme to their complaints. Not gogwatch, but something that sounds exactly like it. 

Welsh is a wonderful language, but why should we use it to punish children? Their only young once #cymru

While BiLingo makes the odd brief concession to the Welsh language, they still see it’s presence in an educational setting as a punishment in it’s own right.

@mark4ceredigion will you join our campaign? We want representation at Westminster to stop the pro welsh madness

But then, BiLingo still fall back on the fact that what underpins Welsh language in education, is madness – again, how inclusive of them… 
It’s just a snap shot of the usual vitriol that comes out of this community, a campaign to eradicate the Welsh language dressed up as an attempt to create ‘fairness’. Yet, as with gogwatch before it, the only sense of ‘equality’ that will be enjoyed by such campaigns will be only for English speakers, and the paranoid anti Welsh minority. May they enjoy their moment in the limelight, it won’t last long – and for their sake, they had better hope that they have something substantial to back up their claims, we can imagine there are many in the teaching community in Ceredigion who are lining up all sorts of law suits against this little site.

Why Wales Gets Angry.

Earlier this week, Cardiff was home to shocking scenes of random violence, which claimed the life of a well loved member of the community, injured a dozen more and terrified people across the city. The motivations for the cowardly attacks by an individual driving a van into members of the public who had no hope of protecting themselves from his actions, are as yet unclear. Certainly though the impacts of his callous attacks will be felt for a long time, and we can only imagine what  will be going through the minds of the children affected by this event the next time a speeding white van comes near them.

The story was appalling, and yet, as the day of the incident wore on, another story developed on the pages of social networking sites. For an attack on a capital city which had affected so many, there was a lingering sense of confusion, and then anger, as to why this merited so little coverage on the news. Early on the same day, Conservative pleb basher Andrew Mitchell had resigned from Government, and it was this that seemed to preoccupy the minds of the national news networks.

No doubt the crumbling of the Westminster Government was newsworthy, but surely on a day when a capital city in Britain had witnessed such widespread attacks on the general public, it could not in any way be considered as the ‘top story’? The following day, the print media community continued to wash over the events of the previous day in Cardiff, preferring to salivate over a prominent politician’s demise. Meanwhile blood stocks in Wales continued to be in critically short supply following the high treatment demand resulting from the van driver’s attacks.

There is a pervading sense that, in general terms, the media simply don’t care about Wales. Certainly there had been plenty of coverage over the tragic story surrounding April Jones, but then, without wanting to be too cynical, the national media will often prioritise a missing child. The sense remains though, that had this been a story breaking in an English city, London perhaps, that there would no doubt as to the leading story, ‘terror in London rampage’ would have represented the tone of the headlines. Yet, if it happens in Wales, it’s probably just not that important. One wonders how many people would have needed to die for this to be considered the most important news story of the day?

Put in context, BBC News have given more coverage and commentary time today to whether or not an English footballer worse a t-shirt, than it did to the events in Cardiff. It is this disparity in coverage that incenses so many in Wales, we often feel like second class citizens in this ‘United’ kingdom, because that is the way we are treated. Sadly, the priorities of all the national news carriers illustrated that even when areas in Wales are subject to attacks that would dominate were they to happen across the border, their locality in this instance means that they are just not that significant.

And that is, one of the reasons at least, why Wales gets angry.

Autumn Dew.

Early morning cobwebs caught in the Autumn dew. The end of the Welsh summer is on its way.

Bonkers attack on Free Prescriptions.

There are plenty of things that you can take the Welsh Government to task over…plenty of things. In general, the most obvious thing you could go after them on is their inactivity. The slow haul towards a legislative Wales has been as painful to endure as it has been uninspiring, even more so given the legal arse up led by Carwyn’s administration over the one piece of post 2011 legislation to get given the Senedd green light. But to attack the free prescription programme, once again, is somewhere between bonkers verging on loopy.

It seems to be the bi-monthly bug bear of the opposition…well, we say opposition, what we really mean is that it is the bi-monthly bug bear of the Welsh Conservatives who seems utterly incapable of just letting this one go, and regularly dust off the cobwebs from their increasingly worn out complaints before wheeling it out once more. Today, led by the ever audible Darren Millar, were the really shocking revelation that since free prescription medication was introduced in Wales, that more people are taking prescription medicines. Jaws must really have dropped when that bombshell was dropped on the Welsh political community. When things are free, people take more of them…take a moment, you must all be in a state of mental paralysis reading this.

It was reported that several Welsh Tory spokespeople were vomiting with horror at the news that the general public were actually getting their hands on medicines, after all, that’s the last thing we want isn’t it? But of course, the whole point of free prescriptions was in response to the fact that large proportions of Welsh society were not taking up prescription medicines, you know, those things that doctors were telling patients ‘you need this to stay alive’, because they were too expensive. Millar was very happy to point out that millionaires can pick up pain medication for free, but duly ignores the fact that Wales is not littered with millionaires, and that it is in fact littered with people living below the poverty line, the very people who stand to benefit from this programme.

It would appear that Darren Millar’s policy would be to price out two thirds of the population when it comes to medication, no doubt resulting in widespread death amongst those troublesome working class voter groups, in turn minimising the Labour vote in Wales…it’s possible at least. Certainly were the free prescription policy to be withdrawn, Mr Millar would be able to enjoy a whole host of new hospital based issues to whine about, as treatable conditions rapidly turn into untreatable terminal illnesses, and already stretched hospital wards become crippled by the sudden influx of deathbed patients, who might have been fine at home, but could no longer afford the medication.

Just a final point on price, the Western Mail reported this morning that while the cost of free prescriptions stands at over £500m, it is a sum that is decreasing rather than increasing. On top of that, given Mr Miller’s determined stance to cut out this unsustainable and unbearable weight on the tax payer, one wonders how he would looking back over his summer indulgences, where he spoke at length and with great enthusiasm about Jubilee celebrations and Olympic entertainments, the combined cost of which would cover free prescriptions for all in the UK (not just Wales) for over half a century…just a thought for anyone wondering how ‘waste’ might be defined.

Cardiff Declares War on Bicycles.

And not before time! Police in Cardiff have today launched a new crackdown on bicyclists flaunting the law and merrily weaving their way around the pavements of the city. While a £30 fixed penalty notice might not appear to be much of a threat, any deterrent for the increasing menace that the Cardiff cyclist can be can only be welcomed. A note of caution initially though, we don’t want to go painting all cyclists in Cardiff with too broad a brush. No doubt the majority of those on pedal powered twin wheels are all good sorts, very respectful and such, but equally there can be little doubt that a growing number of those who enjoy the un-motorised means of transportation have as much regard for the pedestrians in their way as a scorching sun has for the last ripples of a drained puddle – they are equally treated as an irrelevance, something to dismiss as were they not even there, and it is those cyclists that are the problem.

Increasingly in Welsh city and town centres, the travels of the pedestrian are marked by the need to dodge out of the way of those speeding past (and we do mean speeding) through clearly marked pedestrian areas. A trip through Cardiff City Centre can be measured by the number of times you are ‘ching chinged’ out of the way, if even that simple ‘courtesy’ is offered. More likely would be for you to suddenly jump to one side as some sun glass wearing blur of lycra shoots by. For too long, pedestrians have had to suffer the whims of cyclists regarding highways law, and it is good to see that the police in the capital are finally taking some action.

Plenty of debate has been stimulated by this, mostly regarding the lack of choice faced by cyclists when travelling. How can we be punishing those poor unfortunates? After all, too many cycle lanes are blocked by cars, while how many deaths do cyclists cause to pedestrians compared to motorists on cyclists? Well, for starters, it is simply against the law for cyclists to be on the pavement in the first place, so it is a very weak place to argue from. But if we put that to one side, what of those concerns?

First of all, cycle lanes, and indeed the dangers faced by cyclists on the roads, are both valid points of concern. While the cycling community needs to be much better regarding pedestrians, the motoring community in turn must raise its game regarding cyclists, who are no doubt vulnerable to the lack of attention given them by many British motor vehicle users. However, there is nothing that forces a cyclist to ride on a pavement. Unless said cyclists is physically welded by the groin to their bicycle, then there is no reason why the rider in question cannot dismount, push the bicycle to the next clear cycle lane or safe stretch of road, and continue. The decision to use pavements by cyclists is just that, a decision, a choice, and one not afforded to pedestrians. Pedestrians cannot amble down the middle of a dual carriage way at their choosing, they only have the pavements to make use of. If the roads are too scary for the cyclists of Cardiff City Centre, then get off the bike and push, you have the option.

As for injuries and deaths, fine, we do not see many pedestrians killed by cyclists, and the statistics are irrelevant almost when compared with cyclists killed by motor vehicles. What these death counts do not cover though, is the very real sense of fear instilled by cyclists whizzing through pedestrians. They might not get killed by the bike, but many are sure as hell scared witless by the cyclists who belt through those relying on foot. Put simply, pedestrians should not be made to feel intimidated while out walking in the only access routes available to them.

Cardiff in particular has a wealth of cycling provisions in place, offering the choice of using roads or a variety of cycle paths. There is no such diversity for the pedestrian. A cyclist weaving at speed through a pedestrian filled pavement, may not be as dangerous to pedestrians as were a car driver to mount the curb and commit a similar crime, but the risks are still there, the fear is still very real, and it remains a crime. While it may be a minority of cyclists who are responsible, it is a minority that is large enough now to warrant firm action, and we certainly hope that Cardiff police stand by this announcement rather than leave it as an empty threat.