Match Day

Unusually for a saturday, I’ve been a bit busy today and I’m also going out later, so I’ll refrain from one of my discursive weekend posts and keep it brief (but not necessarily to any particular point).

Today, of course, is the date of Wales’ first home match in this year’s RBS Six Nations Rugby competition. They lost to England 30-17 last week (at Twickenham) largely because of a bit of indiscipline by Alan Wyn Jones who got himself sent off the field for ten minutes after tripping an England player. England forged ahead during the time Wales were down to 14 men and although Wales fought back later on I thought England deserved to win. It wasn’t, however, a very good game to watch.

The scene was thus set for a home game for Wales in Cardiff  today against Scotland (who lost at home to France last week). It’s really impossible to describe how special it is to be in this city when Wales are playing rugby. The Millennium Stadium can hold about 75,000 which is large compared to Cardiff’s population of around 330,000. The Scottish fans, easily identified by the kilts and the smell of alcohol, were out on the townin large numbers last night. No doubt many of them woke with substantial hangovers this morning, but it has been a beautiful sunny day and the sight of the Scots – blue and tartan – mixing with the Welsh – red and green with a liberal sprinkling of dragons- was marvellous to see as I walked around this morning running a few errands.

The atmosphere in town was just sensational, unique to Cardiff, and enough to make you just want to walk around and soak it up. Actually, enough to make you wish you had a ticket for the match too, which unfortunately I didn’t. Still, it was live on TV.

When I got home the crowds were already walking down past my house towards the stadium, which is only a mile or so away,  for the 2pm kickoff. Among them was the sizeable frame of legendary Welsh rugby hero JPR Williams. He’s quite  old now – a quick look on wikipedia reveals that he was born in 1949 – but he hasn’t changed much at all since his heyday in the 1970s.  Taller than I had imagined.

Anyway, I did a little gardening in the sunshine just before the match started and, standing outside, I could hear the sound of Land of my Fathers being sung before the kickoff all the way from the Stadium. It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Tremendous.

The match itself was strangely disjointed to begin with but ended in extremely exciting fashion. Wales playing surprisingly poorly in the first half and Scotland surprisingly well. Wales appeared nervous and a bit disorganised and the two Scottish tries both involved defensive errors by the Welsh. The half-time score of  Wales 9 Scotland 18 was not what I would have expected before the start of the game, but was a fair reflection of the balance of play at that point.

The second half initially followed a similar pattern, Scotland edging 21-9 ahead at one point,  but Wales gradually crept back into it. However, it was a yellow card for a Scottish infringement that led to Wales gaining enough momentum to claw their way back to 21-24 with a try created by Shane Willians and scored by Leigh Halfpenny. Then, with less than a minute to play,  Scotland lost another player for a cynical piece of foul play that prevented another Welsh try. Wales decided to take the penalty kick to tie the game at 24-24 with just 40 seconds left. The Scots restarted with only 13 men on the field and only seconds left to play, hoping to run down the clock and finish with a draw. However the Welsh were scenting an unlikely victory and the Scots were very tired. The Welsh managed to keep the ball alive – the next dead ball would have been the end of the game – and, unbelievably, Shane Williams popped in to score a try. The match ended Wales 31 Scotland 24.

It wasn’t the best rugby I’ve ever seen in terms of quality, but it’s definitely the most dramatic final ten minutes! I’m not sure the referee was right to allow the restart after the kick to level it at 24-24 as it seemed to me the time was up then. I’m sure the rugby fans in Cardiff  tonight won’t be quibbling, though. The city will be buzzing tonight!

Today was also the day for two important footall matches. In the FA Cup, Cardiff City travelled to Premiership leaders Chelsea and, predictably, got thrashed 4-1. The other match that interested me was Swansea City versus Newcastle United in the Championship. That finished 1-1, a result I was happy with since Swansea are playing well and Newcastle had lost in feeble fashion 3-0 away at Derby County earlier in the week. They go back top, if only by one point.

All in all, a most satisfactory day, and it’s not over yet. Tonight I’m off to the Opera (for the first time in what seems like ages). So guess what tomorrow’s post will be about….

16 Responses to “Match Day”

  1. telescoper Says:

    Interesting question for any rugby aficianados that happen to have arrived here:

    The score is 24-24 with Wales having just scored a penalty, and time almost gone. Why did Scotland not kick the re-start straight into touch?

    Prevailing opinion seems to be that would have ended the game and deprived Wales the chance to score their winning try.

    However, I wonder whether that’s right. Anyone care to offer an opinion?

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    The radio commentators (I was in my car) certainly believed that Scotland merely had to punt it into touch to tie the game – and with only 13 men on the field were foolish not to, as events showed. I@ve not seen the countdown synchronised with the action so I can’t say, but the commentators should know. Amusing in my view.

    JPR was GP to relatives of mine in the Cardiff area, although I’ve not been in contact with them since I was young. I hope they appreciated it.

    Anton

  3. Andrew Liddle Says:

    Argh, more rubgy agony for us Scots (though I thought we were lucky that the last penalty within time wasn’t a penalty try anyway).

    The official laws on the IRB site don’t seem to precisely cover the issue of booting the restart directly to touch. However one of the options for the team defending a kick-off which goes out on the full is to demand a retake. This would appear to be analogous to the case where a scrum has to be reset, which does not end the game provided the original scrum was awarded within time. That suggests to me that play would have continued with a retaken kick.

    It was always going to be tricky for Scotland to defend that last play with 13 against 15. I would have preferred to see that kick-off chipped to the the 10 metre line to give the Scots some chance of competing for it, though that type of kick-off seems to be much less fashionable nowadays than it used to be.

    Andrew

  4. Andrew Liddle Says:

    Actually, reading more closely, under `Time’ Rule 5.7(e) states

    `If time expires and the ball is not dead, or an awarded scrum or lineout has not been completed, the referee allows play to continue until the next time that the ball becomes dead. The ball becomes dead when the referee would have awarded a scrum, lineout, an option to the non-infringing team, drop out or after a conversion or successful penalty kick at goal. If a scrum has to be reset, the scrum has not been completed. If time expires and a mark, free kick or penalty kick is then awarded, the referee allows play to continue.’

    If a kick-off goes out on the full, the non-infringing team are offered an option (one of scrum at the centre, line-out on the half-way line, and retaken kick-off), so this is apparently sufficient to have the ball declared dead and hence end the game.

    It will be interesting to see what opinions are offered on this in tomorrow’s papers.

    Andrew

  5. Andrew

    My reading of it is as follows:

    When Wales scored their penalty to make it 24-24, the ball became dead. The referee then judged that there was sufficient time remaining for the game to be restarted.

    If Scotland had kicked the ball straight out then this would not have constituted a proper re-start as Rule 13.8 clearly states the ball must land in the field of play after a kick-off. In this situation Wales would have three options: to accept the kick, to have a scrum at the centre of the field, or to demand the kick be retaken.

    Since – in my opinion – the ball should not be considered alive until a proper restart has happened, the referee should require the kick to be re-taken. I’m in a small minority, but reading the laws leads me to think that had Scotland just booted it out they would have been asked to take it again.

    However, I don’t understand why they didn’t even try doing this. The referee has the final decision and he may have blown time had the restart gone out. The worst that could have happened was them being told to take it again. So it was surely worth a shot.

    Peter

  6. Anton,

    I was thrilled to see JPR walking along right outside my house. I remember watching him so often on TV in the 70s. It’s very hard to imagine him working as a doctor given the bone-crushing tackles he used to put in as full-back all those years ago, but in those days rugby union was an amateur sport. He’s carried on working in the medical profession all these years. It’s sobering to think of all the money and praise that’s lavished on modern players, who don’t have 10% of his skill or commitment.

    Peter

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Andrew,

    Scotland could have had their restart kicker just tap the ball with his foot, pick it up, then start passing it down the line until a winger ran it across the sideline. If the ‘line’ was at a large enough angle to the halfway line then Wales could never have reached the ball.

    I don’t know the laws concerning restarts, but if the restarter must not do a tap pick-up then e could still have tapped it with his boot and a second, adjacent, player could have picked it up and hurled it down the line. Unless the laws actually state that the ball must go in the air from a restart kick then that would have secured the tie for Scotland.

    Anton

  8. Andrew Liddle Says:

    Anton,

    A restart kick must travel forwards at least 10 yards (metres?) to be legal. It used to be standard practice to chip the ball towards the wing near the ten yards line, and the two sides would then compete for it almost like a lineout as the attacking side could easily cover those 10 yards while the ball was in flight. But modern strategy has decided that this is normally too risky (the attacking side is well out of defensive position should they fail to take the ball) and prefers to punt the ball deeper, such that the defending side almost always takes possession but are in a less favourable field position.

    Of course yesterday’s situation was far from `normal’, but in the heat of the moment the tired players were presumably in no state to adapt their kick-off strategy to such an unusual situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the only time ever that a side has had to kick off with the scores tied and the clock already in overtime.

    Andrew

    • Anton,

      Andrew is right: the ball must travel 10 metres forwards from the re-start kick so you can’t tap. If the ball doesn’t go ten metres then there is a set scrum on the centre spot.

      I had a private email from a current rugby referee this morning who said that
      if it had been kicked straight dead from a restart, it counts as a non starter and the clock does not change, therefore any subsequent restart (scrum or retaken kick ) given sufficient time to be performed and play will then continue until the ball goes dead.

      He further comments that had Scotland repeatedly kicked the ball into touch he (as a referee) would have warned them of unsporting play and may have awarded a penalty kick on the halfway line had they done so again.

      It seems therefore that Scotland would not have got away with it by kicking the ball straight out. Their only hope was to try to win the re-start and take the ball directly into touch from there.

      However, my point remains that it’s not obvious the referee would have made the right decision so one punt into touch was definitely worth trying.

      Peter

  9. Anton Garrett Says:

    Thanks gents!
    Anton

  10. Anton Garrett Says:

    One of the Welsh team borrowed a golf buggy as part of the celebrations and the police suffered a (not uncommon nowadays) sense-of-humour failure…

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/8515002.stm

    I hope that the Welsh Rugby Union doesn’t actually give a hoot. This took place AFTER the game, unlike Celtic hero Jimmy Johnstone’s legendary boat trip before a 1974 Scotland vs England game (which didn’t stop him inspiring a 2-0 victory). Or read the inaptly named Gary Sobers’ autobiography about scoring a century when not only hungover, but still drunk. That’s talent!

    Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      They should have offered him a police escort.

      Actually, the area where I live is quite popular with the Welsh rugby fraternity, not just for the purposes of getting drunk, either. Many rugby internationals have been spotted in the splendid local butcher’s shop just round the corner from me. Presumably that’s where the best beefcake is to be found…

      Glad I didn’t have to find something to write about today’s rugby. Awful game.

    • Actually, if he was drunk and he did drive it down the motorway then I can see why they were not amused.

      The article describes him as “Welsh flanker”, although a slightly abbreviated form of that expression springs to mind.

  11. Anton Garrett Says:

    Why don’t you tell him that?

    Boys will be boys…

    Anton

  12. Andrew Liddle Says:

    Well, the end of the France-Wales game answered that restart debate. Scotland did throw away a draw. Sigh.

    Andrew

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