South Africa v Wales: There is more than a result at stake today for our national side
Having to hunt around the TV schedules to find where to watch the game has added a new layer of desperation to an already uncomfortable experience. This time, it appears that Sky Sports have acquired the rights to monetise our misery which, for me, precludes even the dignity of a private viewing at home.
No, I shall watch Wales play South Africa today in the pub, alongside fellow wretched souls, compelled as we are by tribal loyalty and the distant memories of better times, to subject ourselves to the masochism of hope in the face of reason.
It’s fair to say that the match in Pretoria is not at the forefront of the national conversation.
Perhaps life outside the goldfish bowl might benefit a team that boasts more talent than their Six Nations performances suggest.
Wayne Pivac has spoken of sleepless nights since the loss to Italy and we must hope that he has spent them coming up with a coherent idea of who plays where and why.
One of his favourite phrases is ‘taking learnings’ from games. One of the learnings he needs to have taken is that test matches are not often won by the sort of grand gamble that saw him play Josh Adams in the centre against Ireland. Even at the time that smacked of the type of desperation that takes hold when preparation has been inadequate.
We are at one of those junctures in the team’s fortunes where most of us would accept a losing performance as long as it suggested clarity of purpose.
I doubt many of us expect a series victory in South Africa, but we do need to see a path forwards that makes some kind of sense.
Because, let’s be frank, particularly for those of us who carry the trauma of the early 90s like a war wound, these have been a grim few months for the faithful.
Even before the loss to Italy, the Principality Stadium seemed to be hosting the fall of a civilisation, with the WRU obliged to water down the beer amidst tales of drunken degradation and ‘fans’ paying £100 only to ignore the game.
An identity crisis continues to grip the regional scene, which increasingly resembles a branding exercise on The Apprentice. It would be a welcome development if those running rugby in Cardiff and Newport would acknowledge that the names of their clubs are not the number one priority of those who might be persuaded to go and see them play. ‘Pleeeeease Dad, can we go and see the Goldie Lookin Dragons play Capital Elite RFC at Rodney Parade?’
It has been fashionable, of late, to consign rugby to Welsh cultural history. That bloke who has strung a washing line off the side of the Rhigos exhorted the Welsh Affairs Committee to, ‘get away from sheep, wet weather and… rugby’ in favour of promoting, you’ve guessed it, ‘adventure tourism’.
Perhaps he could demonstrate his commitment to risk-based leisure activities by expounding this view at half-time in a rugby club of his choice this afternoon?
Over all of this hangs the loss to the game, and the nation, of Phil Bennett who personified the sheer joy that rugby in Wales has brought to us and the world.
He was, of course, also a fine soccer player and it has been saddening to see some commentators trying to fabricate division between fans of the two games when success at either is a source of pride for the overwhelming majority of us.
It is a fact, though, that the children of Wales will be finding inspiration in our football team this autumn that isn’t currently on offer from their rugby counterparts.
So, there is more than a result at stake today for our national side. With expectations low, we need them to demonstrate that rugby deserves its place in our imagination. A respectable performance at altitude against the world champions would halt a narrative that serves only those who either dislike the game or profit from sensationalising its difficulties.
I’ll find a perch and hope that the boys shut them up. Yma o hyd.
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