South Africa v Wales: Welsh rugby won something back yesterday that it was in danger of losing
I had my hope levels set as close to zero as possible for this one. Having spent the Six Nations travelling around Wales reporting on regional variations of despair, today’s perch was close to home at the Colliers Arms in Porth.
A respectable crowd had gathered for the game, with a few jerseys on show, but the mood was subdued as we braced ourselves for the worst.
With actual Zulu warriors heralding the arrival of the Springboks, and a lone voice committing GBH to Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, older viewers were wondering if Stanley Baker would be making an appearance.
Glancing at Twitter, the South African fans were in bullish humour.
‘The Welsh look like lambs to the slaughter,’ tweeted Nqaba Magwa.
‘That aged well,’ I replied two minutes later, as Louis Rees-Zammit put us into the lead.
‘Guests first,’ quipped Nqaba with a cheeky smiley.
And we were off on one of those test match afternoons that knocks years off your life-expectancy but reminds you that however badly it has let you down, wasted your money and abused your trusting nature, the WRU has a lockbox on Westgate Street that contains the deeds to your soul.
With the ‘Boks seeming rusty and lacking in cohesion, Wales were alert to their fumbles and when Rees-Zammit pounced on one to put us further ahead there were glances of disbelief around the Colliers’ lounge.
18-3 up at half-time, some of us were beginning to feel we might have been a tad over-critical of the current set-up of late.
A seasoned campaigner at the next table, Gando, confided,
‘To be honest, I thought they’d be lining up the body bags for us out there.’
I sympathised with him. At least he hadn’t said it in print, as recently as that morning.
Flawless Captain Marvel
Somewhere, in a parallel universe, Wales going in 15 points up at half-time means that we can relish the prospect of the second half.
In this corner of the cosmos, however, there is an immutable law that dictates the first 10 minutes after the break must be spent in rapt trauma as our lead is frittered away.
Every last one of us knew what was coming and it was met not with outrage, but muted murmurings that confirmed the inevitability of a South African revival.
Gando didn’t comment. He just turned to me with the hollow look of a man whose lot is to endure this for life. I nodded.
But this Welsh side seems to be taking on the characteristics of its captain.
Dan Biggar is not the sort of flawless Captain Marvel in whose wake a team becomes more efficient by default.
His on-field demeanour puts you in mind of the sort of bloke whose antics cause you to be dragged into a fight outside a nightclub when you’d gone out for a quiet curry.
He speaks to referees as if they were traffic wardens and is prone to occasional errors that tend to be sensational in scope.
Crucially, though, he is possessed of a fighting spirit usually associated with the kind of dog it’s illegal to own nowadays.
So, when Wales were trailing the world champions, at altitude, with their best scrummager carried off senseless and being refereed by a man who had won the job in the Georgian national lottery, Biggar’s team looked positively energised.
They went down to 14, 13, and finally 12 men without losing an ounce of competitive intensity.
Now we were hooked. In the last 10 minutes, the Colliers finally found its voice and the familiar music of gasps, groans and ferchristssakesmuns rang out into the lower Rhondda.
It was cruel at the end, particularly that Biggar should have been penalised personally for South Africa’s winning kick, but Welsh rugby won something back yesterday that it was in danger of losing.
Yes, South Africa were poor, no, we’re still not reliably physical enough up front, but this Wales side can play a full role in the drama of the world game.
Nobody should be breaking into the WRU’s lockbox just yet.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.