Archive for Rugby

The Morning After

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , on February 24, 2019 by telescoper

So it’s not even 8am and I’m already sitting in Cardiff Airport waiting for my flight back to Ireland.

On the way to the bus stop in the City Centre I had to pick my way through the mess created by yesterday’s rugby crowd: empty beer bottles, plastic glasses and fast food containers lay all around, the pavements were sticky with spilt booze and massed formations of seagulls wheeled and shrieked looking for leftovers to scavenge.

No doubt there will be an organised cleanup but it hadn’t started when I walked through town around 7am.

I didn’t see any of yesterday’s match, but when Wales pulled the score back from 10-3 to 10-9 I got restless listening to the radio and went outside for a walk.

The thing about having a huge stadium right in the city centre is that the sounds coming from it permeate all of Cardiff. Sometimes they are recognisably human: cheers, jeers, applause, singing and stadium public address announcements. Often though, they are indistinct primordial murmurings, as if Gandalf were giving battle to a Balrog in the bowels of the Earth somewhere under Westgate Street.

But there was no mistaking the din a couple of minutes before the end when Wales scored the try that killed off the game and sent the home supporters into ecstasy. No doubt there’ll be more than a few hangovers in Cardiff this morning!

Wales play Ireland at the Principality Stadium on 16th March, with a possible Grand Slam in the offing. If that comes about the celebrations will no doubt make last night seem like a vicarage tea party!

Anyway, hopefully I will be back in Maynooth in a few hours to get next week’s lectures ready.

In Cardiff on Match Day

Posted in Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , , , on February 23, 2019 by telescoper

I’m in Cardiff today and have just been for a walk into town and back. It’s a lovely sunny springlike day with a temperature of around 13 degrees. There’s an abundance of daffodils in Bute Park.

Today is of course the occasion for the Wales versus England match in this year’s Six Nations Rugby tournament. This excerpt from a piece by Tom Fordyce on the BBC website is spot on:

Although the match doesn’t start for several hours, all the main roads are already closed so you can stroll around the City without worrying about cars. There’s a lot of people crammed into town, but a very good atmosphere around the place. I haven’t got a ticket for the match and don’t feel like watching in a packed pub either so I’ll just follow it on the radio.

After two impressive performances so far this year, England are probably favourites but you never know! They have also won the last five Six Nations matches between these two teams. But with their home crowd behind them Wales might well bring England’s run to an end.

I’ll make only one prediction: it will be a very physical game.

P. S. On my way home I passed two clearly inebriated England fans trying to find a way into the empty cricket ground at Sophia Gardens. It took quite some time to explain to them that it was not the rugby ground, despite the fact that the Principality Stadium was in clear view about half a mile away…

UPDATE: I was certainly right about it being a physical game! But a strong second-half comeback against a tiring England gave Wales victory by 21 to 13. Diolch, Cymru!

On Barry John

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , on January 30, 2019 by telescoper

I was browsing a few rugby sites yesterday evening, ahead of this year’s Six Nations competition (which starts on Saturday) when I stumbled across this little clip featuring legendary Welsh standoff Barry John.

The opening part of this clip really caught my attention because it was filmed near the bus stop just outside The Halfway, a pub on Cathedral Road just a few yards from my house in Cardiff; in the background you can see Llandaff Fields.

I’ve often wondered what became of Barry John. He’s 74 now and no longer the slim young prodigy who was quite simply the best rugby player I ever saw. Since he played in a great Welsh side that included Gareth Edwards, J.P.R. Williams, Gerald Davies et al, that really says something. As a sort of rugby equivalent of George Best, he was incredibly famous during his career. Budding rugby players – even those not born in Wales – all wanted to play like Barry John. But suddenly, at the age of just 27, after playing just 25 internationals, he turned his back on all the publicity and adulation and retired from rugby. He found the pressure of being such a star in the amateur era too difficult to cope with.

Anyway, was Barry John really that good? Absolutely yes, he was. Slight of build but with superb balance, he had an extraordinary, almost magical, ability to find his way through a crowd of potential tacklers as if they weren’t there at all. In the memorable words of that great commentator Bill McLaren “he flits like a little phantom”. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Just look at him – and some other giants of the time – in these highlights of the classic Scotland-Wales tie in the Five Nations of 1971. Watch about 30 seconds in, where he wrong-foots half the Scottish three-quarter line before ghosting through three more before releasing the ball to his forwards. Will there ever be another Barry John? I doubt it..

I doubt if Barry John will ever get to read this, but I’m sure there are many of us who remember the excitement of watching him play and feel enriched by what he gave us.

Judgement Day

Posted in Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , , on April 28, 2018 by telescoper

I’m up early again on a Saturday, travelling back to Cardiff this weekend for the above event later today. It’s actually a School social event for members of the School of Physics & Astronomy that involves two rugby matches at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, featuring all four Welsh teams in the Guinness Pro 14 tournament: the Blues (from Cardiff); Ospreys (from Neath/Swansea); Scarlets (from Llanelli); and Dragons (from Newport). Tickets for the whole event cost just £10 each…

Should be a good day out! I may post a few pictures from the Stadium, so watch this space.

The scene about 20 minutes before Scarlets v Dragons..

It did fill up: the overall attendance was over 65,000.

The Scarlets versus Dragons match was rather one-sided, ending 33-8 to the team from Llanelli. The thing that struck me most about the game was the dire state of the scrummaging. I think only one scrum completely properly in the whole match! The Dragons also conceded a penalty try after repeated infringements at scrums under their own posts.

After a break we had the Ospreys versus Cardiff Blues. Here is the scene shortly after kick off with the Blues (right) immediately under pressure from the Ospreys (left, in white).

After the first 10 minutes I thought the Ospreys were going to run away with the game but it turned out to be an excellent close-fought contest, of much higher quality than the first. Cardiff were actually ahead for much of the game, despite their atrocious performance at the line out. The match ended 26-23 to the Ospreys, with the winning points coming from a drop goal 2 minutes from the end…

A night Out with Nigel Owens

Posted in LGBT, Rugby with tags , , , on February 21, 2017 by telescoper

I’ve had a busy morning teaching and a busy afternoon meeting some interesting people from IBM and elsewhere in connection with Data Innovation Institute business, so just time to mention that I’m looking forward tonight to an event at Cardiff Metropolitan University (whose campus is not far from my house) featuring renowned rugby referee Nigel Owens who, in case you hadn’t realized, is gay. The event is part of the celebrations in Cardiff of LGBT History Month.

I’ll update later with reflections on the evening, but in the meantime here’s some examples of him in action on the rugby field!

Update: it was a thoroughly absorbing evening. Nigel Owens spoke extremely engagingly (and without notes) about his upbringing in a small village  in rural Wales, his mental health struggles as he tried to come to terms with his sexuality, a (nearly successful) suicide attempt when he was in his twenties, and how his decision to come out publicly revitalised his career as an international referee. 

When he takes to the field on Saturday to officiate at the Six Nations match between Ireland and France, it will be his 75th international match as a referee, which is the most for any referee ever.

 

Not the Six Nations

Posted in Biographical, Rugby with tags , , , , on February 18, 2017 by telescoper

After a misty morning it has turned into a lovely Spring-like afternoon here in Cardiff. I’ve been in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University this morning, helping out with a UCAS visit day by interviewing some prospective students and then having lunch and chatting with parents and others.

As well as the weather and the admissions season, another indication of the passage of the seasons is the Six Nations rugby. Our Saturday UCAS visit days have to be arranged with the RBS Six Nations fixture list in mind because Cardiff gets incredibly busy when Wales are playing at home. The capacity of the Millennium Principality Stadium is well over 80,000 which, for a City with a population of just over 300,000 represents a huge perturbation. 

Not only is there a lot of traffic and a very crowded city centre, but it’s also very difficult to find hotel accommodation at a reasonable price on match weekends.  Given that we start in the morning, quite a few prospective students and their families do stay overnight beforehand so this is quite an important consideration. There are no fixtures in the RBS Six Nations this weekend. Today two of my interviewees had travelled quite a long way to get to Cardiff – one from Richmond in North Yorkshire and another from Falmouth in Cornwall – and both families stayed over last night.

Anyway, while I’m not talking about the Six Nations I can’t resist mentioning last week’s match here in Cardiff between Wales and England. I didn’t have a ticket. I’ve ever really figured out how to get tickets for these matches. They always seem to be completely sold out as soon as they go on sale.

Before the match, I thought it was going to be a close game but Wales always have tremendous home advantage at Cardiff and I thought they might just sneak it. It was a rather dour struggle to be honest, but with less than ten minutes to go Wales were leading 16-14 and my suspicions seemed about to be confirmed. However, as is often the case with close matches, it was an error that produced the decisive moment.

About five metres out, Wales turned possession over and then rucked successfully, the ball eventually going to Jonathan Davies behind his own try line. With half of his team trying to disentangle themselves from the completed ruck, it was essential for him to clear his lines by kicking into touch. Unfortunately, he kicked straight down the field where his kick was collected by George Ford. England’s counter-attack was swift and lethal: Ford to Farrell and then to Elliott Daly on the wing, who went over for the try to the sound of groans all round Cardiff. After the conversion it was Wales 16 England 21, which is how the game ended a few minutes later.

The results of the other games so far mean that the only team capable of winning a grand slam is England, as each of the other teams has lost at least one game. There’s still a long way to go, however, and England still face challenging matches against Ireland and a much-improved Scotland.

Anyway, all this UCAS malarkey means that I’m way behind on Saturday crossword duties, so I’m going home. Toodle-pip.

Land Of My Fathers – the 1931 Version

Posted in History, Rugby with tags , , on February 27, 2016 by telescoper

I’m very grateful to Anton for sending me a link to this wonderful bit of history – the first time the singing of “Land Of My Fathers” before an international rugby match was captured on a newsreel. The venue for the Wales-Scotland match was Cardiff Arms Park, which still exists, but the international games are now played at the recently-renamed Principality Stadium which is directly adjacent to the old venue. The skyline around the Arms Park is still mostly recognizable. The opening panning shot is looking North towards Bute Park, but as it moves right you can see the old Palace and Hippodrome, on Westgate Street, which is now the site of a Wetherspoon’s pub; only the facade is intact as the interior was completely gutted and rebuilt.

It seems that some sort of mechanical fault meant that the roof of the Principality Stadium was left open for last night’s match between Wales and France (which Wales won 19-10). That would have meant that the singing of Land of my Fathers could have been heard throughout the city. I remember once spending a Saturday afternoon in my garden in Pontcanna, and could hear the noise from the stadium very clearly. There’s something very special about the singing of the Welsh National Anthem on such occasions – it always sends a shiver down my spine.

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau

Posted in Rugby with tags , , , on February 6, 2015 by telescoper

Today marks the start of this season’s RBS  Six Nations Rugby, which kicks off at 8.05pm at the Millennium Stadium  in Cardiff with Wales versus England. The town will be buzzing in the evening, overrun with rugby fans in various states of drunkenness but with that extra special atmosphere that makes this such a fantastic place to be on such occasions, even if you’re not in the ground. It promises to be a bit chaotic, but it’s always an extra special day in Cardiff when the old adversaries meet. I’m heading off this afternoon in order to get there in time, and spending the weekend in Cardiff.

The Six Nations is a difficult competition to predict, but I think Wales must be strong favourites to win this particular match as England have had to cope with a number of injuries to key players.  However, there is one battle whose outcome you can bet your bottom dollar on, and that’s the crowd singing. That one  is always won by the Welsh.

Get a load of this example, from a few years ago which at least gives some idea what I’m talking about. This is the stirring  Welsh National Anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers). And if you feel like singing along, here are the lyrics (in Welsh, of course):

Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mâd,
Tros ryddid gollasant eu gwaed.

Chorus:
Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad,
Tra môr yn fur i’r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i’r heniaith barhau.

Hen Gymru fynyddig, paradwys y bardd;
Pob dyffryn, pob clogwyn, i’m golwg sydd hardd
Trwy deimlad gwladgarol, mor swynol yw si
Ei nentydd, afonydd, i fi.

Chorus

Os treisiodd y gelyn fy ngwlad dan ei droed,
Mae hen iaith y Cymry mor fyw ag erioed,
Ni luddiwyd yr awen gan erchyll law brad,
Na thelyn berseiniol fy ngwlad.

Chorus

 

UPDATE: the Big Match didn’t turn out quite as I expected. Wales were all over England early on, taking a 10-0 lead. But once they had steadied themselves England began to claw their way back into contention. With the half-time score at 16-8 the game still looked to be heading for a Welsh victory. However in the 2nd half England’s more disciplined approach paid dividends. The English pack, compact and powerful, began to make deep inroads into the Welsh defence and gradually established a stranglehold on the game. Thirteen unanswered points in the second half gave England a memorable victory on a dramatic night. Wales 16 England 21.

 

A Grand Day for a Grand Slam

Posted in Rugby with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2012 by telescoper

It’s a lovely morning in Cardiff. Later on, at 2.45pm, Wales will be playing their final match of the 2012 Six Nations Rugby against France here in Cardiff. Having won all four previous games they’re in line for a Grand Slam if they win. The atmosphere here is already electric with anticipation. Last night the city was filled with men in berets here to support France and today everything will be at a standstill for the match. I can’t describe what a wonderful feeling it is to be in Cardiff on match days, even if you don’t have a ticket!

People here seem to be taking it for granted that Wales will win this afternoon. I’d love a Welsh Grand Slam to happen, but I’m not sure it’s as much of cast-iron certainty the Welsh supporters seem to think it is. France are a dangerous side and their disappointing performances so far in the Six Nations don’t preclude the possibility that they’ll turn it on in the Millennium Stadium; they’re certainly not here just to make up the numbers. The Welsh team has its weaknesses and may yet meet their downfall…

Comparisons with the great Welsh teams of the 1970s are inevitable today. Although it may be tempting fate, I thought I’d post this video showing some of the great players of that era in action. Good though the current team is – and clearly the best of the six nations playing in the competition this year – I don’t think they’re in the same league as the side that included such wonderful players as Gerald Davies, Gareth Edwards, J.P.R. Williams, Barry John and, of course, Mervyn Davies who sadly died last week and in whose honour there will be a minute’s silence before this afternoon’s kick off. Here are some scintillating moments from that great team. We’ll never see their like again.

Even the commentators – especially the great Bill Maclaren – were so much better than the current generation!

But that was then and this is now. Good luck to Wales, and here’s to another Grand Slam this afternoon!

It’s that time again…

Posted in Music, Rugby with tags , , on February 12, 2012 by telescoper

Today was the day for the first home game of the RBS Six Nations for Wales, so Cardiff was absolutely buzzing with that special atmosphere that only rugby and an influx of 80,000 people into a city with a population of 325,00 can bring. I was out and about earlier on but had to watch the game on TV as I lack the wherewithal to get tickets for occasions of such immensity. Wales were red-hot favourites for this game, and won comfortably enough in the end against Scotland although the game was closer than the 27-13 scoreline might suggest; Scotland had a try incorrectly disallowed, which might have made all the difference. The Scots fans also played their part, some of them camping out in the park near my house in the freezing cold for two nights before today’s game, and offered a fine rendition of Flower of Scotland before the kick-off. But there’s something special about the Welsh National Anthem on days like this. I’m glad they’ve dispensed with the professional pop singers that they’ve sometimes used to lead the singing. Wales is a nation that doesn’t need to pay people  to sing for it…