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In February’s glad embrace we see the light

04 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Wales’ James Botham (hidden) scores their first try of the game against Scotland. Photo Joe Giddens/PA Wire.

Ben Wildsmith

I object to being drizzled on. Come at me with slanting rain, or organ-frying sun and I’ll respect your spirit, but persistent, lowering moistness is an insult to happiness, and I blame the WRU.

First off, we’ve had been the longest January on record. Nobody knows what the date is nowadays, anyway.

Occasionally we have to fill in a form on our phones and Apple or Samsung know what day it is, along with our names, addresses, E-mail, eye-colour, sexual preferences, and favoured strength of tea.

It went on forever, Januarying over our feeble attempts at mirth under its relentless Januaryness. January, January, January…

But there’s the Six Nations, isn’t there? In February’s glad embrace we see the light for a while and dare to hope.

Certain disappointment

I went on the bus to Ponty to see the game. I’d hope those entrusted with executive positions in the Senedd are familiar with journeys like that, bouncing over potholes in the half-light towards certain disappointment.

Pontypridd is fabulous, though. I’ve come here specifically because it always cheers me up. There’s Janet’s Northern Chinese, Prince’s, and that Indian shop where it’s impossible to keep to your budget because he makes it such a pleasure to spend money. Ponty rules.

I’m in the Skinny Dog and I need a seat. There’s only one available and I’m minded to take it in front of the big roll-down screen.

‘Is this free?’ I ask.

‘No! He’s coming back,’ comes the response from Ponty’s most senior, brown-eyed sweetheart.

‘Shift your arse!’ she orders her friend, who shuffles over. ‘Have that one, extra though because she’s sat on it!’

I look over at the space in front of the roll-down screen. There’s one woman sat staring at the pre-match interviews with her arms folded.

‘Can I join you?’ I ask Brown Eyes.

Boys against men

The first half is wrenching, I can feel my gut lurching in empathy for the boys as each effort is swallowed up by the Scots and turned into humiliation. Everything is properly conceived but ballsed up, as kids do.

‘Boys against men,’ Brown Eyes’ friend observes. The warmth from her former chair evaporates.

Ben’s rugby-watching companions in Pontypridd. Photo Ben Wildsmith

We aren’t permitted the indulgence of despair though, are we? Warren Gatland looked like a wraith as his charges unravelled, but since he gave up on coaching the All Blacks you can tell that he’s internalised his fate like we have.

I’d pay to see the half-time talks and bet they are increasingly recalling Ray Gravell.

Fetching a pint in the break, Birra Moretti mind, none of your muck, the game might as well not be happening. 20-0 down, we know when to dissociate and talk turned to brighter topics, a party came in and the band started setting up.

Wretched hope

Back came the wretched hope though, with Tomos Williams deciding today belonged to him and orchestrating a thrown-together second half team towards greatness.

It’s all there, the aggression, the tricksiness, the dog. Just not today, though, not quite enough. The pub is bouncing again, like it was when it heard the anthem. The band puts down its speakers and watches the last ten minutes because we might, just might…

Nobody can complain about a one-point loss, not even against Scotland. We know right well that rugby in Wales is a bin fire, it’s a pretty pass when we’re simultaneously broke and sending teams to Africa instead of Gloucester.

Where it matters, though, in the hearts of us all, supporters and players, there remains a surging passion that endures.

The band sets up, Gatland debriefs, we come again for sure.

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Paul Hoskins
Paul Hoskins
5 months ago

As entertaining as ever!

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