Welsh rugby is about more than televised humiliations in Cardiff
One current truism in rugby is that the elite game is increasingly remote from the grassroots version. The contrast was certainly stark at Tylorstown RFC in Rhondda Fach where I came to watch Wales’ latest capitulation to the All Blacks in the company of club stalwarts Brian Rackham and Dean Evans.
On the screen, the WRU’s lavish presentation of our national game couldn’t disguise the gulf in power and efficiency between the two sides.
In the packed clubhouse, a stoic attitude was on display, mixed with a little consternation at Wales’ shortcomings.
‘We’re too slow at the breakdown,’ Dean noted. ‘By the time we have the ball away they’ve set their defence.’
He wasn’t wrong. At the breakdown, the All Blacks seemed not to lose an inch all afternoon.
We have grown accustomed to being outmuscled in the scrummage, but today’s encounter saw Wales pushed back every time the ball was taken into contact, whether attacking or in defence.
‘I know we can’t run every ball, but our strength is behind, not up front,’ Brian opined.
In attack, Wales were running into a brick wall and with two fliers on the wings it seemed perverse that we chose to take so much possession into contact rather than turn the All Blacks with chips over their defensive line.
After a protracted period of Welsh possession that seemed to seesaw endlessly between the All Blacks’ 22 and 10 metre lines, Dean summed up the reality of the game.
‘We’ve just had 17 phases of play. The All Blacks would have scored twice with that possession.’
Although not as vulnerable as some had hoped, New Zealand did offer opportunities to Wales throughout the game and to be fair to the home side, Wales showed alertness when these arose, with Tomos Williams and newcomer Rio Dyer particularly lively.
The problem was that in the meat and potatoes struggle for overall momentum, Wales seemed to be playing uphill all afternoon.
Each Welsh score was countered immediately by a New Zealand side that only had to enter the Welsh 22 to be assured of points.
‘They play at high intensity all the time,’ as Dean had it.
The final 20 minutes saw New Zealand stretch away in a fashion all too familiar to the Welsh faithful.
‘Turn it off!’ came the cry from one despairing wag, and while the 23:55 scoreline was harsh on a Welsh side that had shown flashes of enterprise, it fairly reflected the visitors’ superiority.
But Welsh rugby is about more than televised humiliations in Cardiff. Here at Tylorstown RFC, they welcomed 2000 people to their bonfire on Friday night and the club, in partnership with local organisations, offers courses ranging from food preparation to First Aid and Welsh.
The club, as Dean explains, sees itself as the hub of a local community that has been overlooked for regeneration time and again.
‘We’ll be offering warm bank facilities when the weather turns.’
A year ago, the club took the initiative to start a mini rugby section and, in a valley short of facilities for youngsters, 200 children have flocked to be part of the game. Dean is particularly proud that 50 of these comprise a thriving girls’ section at the club.
The wreckage of international hopes that I seem to describe every time we play recently can be a depressing affair, and fears for the future of the grassroots game are echoed in every club I visit.
Here in Tylorstown, though, I found cause for optimism that transcended the woes of Wayne Pivac’s team. Children in Wales still want to play this game, and adults still want to teach them how.
As the plastic glasses were being swept up in the stadium 20 miles to the south, a singer was coming on in the back room of Tylorstown RFC, where rugby remains at the centre of a way of life.
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