The grassroots verdict on this year’s Six Nations
It’s bad enough every year, isn’t it? You drag yourself through the January gloom, fearing the Christmas credit card statement, with just one glimmer of light on the horizon: the Six Nations. But then it’s upon you, and like Dry January, Veganuary and your gym membership, it can all seem a bit much.
So, frankly, you could do without daily reports that 45 squad members are injured, or the entire rugby-playing population of Cardiff has been marooned by pestilence in Africa ‒ it beats high winds on the Severn Bridge as an excuse, I suppose.
I’ve come to Wattstown RFC to see them play Treherbert in League 3 East B. Walking across the bridge from the clubhouse to the ground, the drizzle intensifies, we must take extra precautions against the ‘Rhondda variant’, so I put on my hat and press on through the park.
There’s a fair few here for the game and before the teams emerge on to the pitch the sun breaks through over the mountain, as if to reward us. Wattstown go top of the table if they win this, and they seem intense. While Treherbert amble on cheerfully, the home side form a huddle and demand the best of each other.
‘Standards, boys, standards!’
It’s a tense affair, and Treherbert take an early lead against the run of play. Their coach is running the line, terrier-like, shouting advice to players: ‘Cut back in, like I showed you…’, whilst keeping up a running commentary for the spectators. The Wattstown captain is unconcerned.
‘All we need here is some accuracy boys, don’t try to win the game in 10 minutes.’
Right enough, patient play from Wattstown sees them overhaul the lead, prompting the Treherbert supporters to become more vocal.
‘Come on Tre, let’s get something about us!’
‘Throw the ball in straight, that hooker’s got eyes like Ben Turpin!’
Half-time arrives with the game in the balance and Jay-Z blaring incongruously from the Tannoy. Once again, he’s failed to make it in person, though, having got on the wrong bus at Porth.
The second half brings a pair of yellow cards for Treherbert, and the assembled settle into a familiar routine.
‘Referee, you’re a disgrace to the green jersey!’
‘He’ll be alright, it’s only his head!’
As the sun dips and the players tire, controversy warms us: the luxury of caring about something that isn’t life or death for a change.
Wattstown 21, Treherbert 17.
In the clubhouse after the game, I ask around for views on this year’s competition.
Dennis says we could do with the tournament being delayed. There’s general agreement that the regional scene is a shambles and the national team will suffer for it.
John thinks Ireland will build on their strong showing in the autumn.
‘You don’t beat New Zealand by accident.’
Neil reckons Wales will be third ‘if we’re lucky’ but fancies France to edge Ireland overall.
Reuben, 13, thinks long and hard about how Wales might prosper against the odds.
‘Maybe some magic from the wings, Zammit or Josh,’ he offers, echoing generations before him who looked to Shane, Ieuan, Gerald, Dewi or Ken to rescue us from the margins with something otherworldly.
Everyone thinks Dan Biggar is the right choice for skipper.
‘I had him down as a prima donna but he’s improved,’ says Ian. ‘At least he’s sure of his place.’
There’s an air of resignation about it all that goes beyond the usual stoicism with which we protect ourselves from painfully misplaced expectations of the team. If they come third, it would be alright, no shame in it.
Anyway, the boys from Treherbert have the Scotland game to look forward to. The club has had an exchange going on with Stobswell RFC in Dundee for 50 years and they’ll be down for a game on the Friday night before the international.
The beers are flowing now, and two lads, for reasons unknown, have turned up dressed as Pinocchio and Geppetto. We’ll worry about Wales next week.
Here in Wattstown, rugby is back and humming along like a tune we all know. We’ve missed it.
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Proper rugby. Club Rugby. The regions haven’t worked.
Scrap the regions, build club rugby up, from the bottom up, making the rugby club the heart of the community once again, each club running multiple youth teams. Let the Stars go off and play in England. Only then can we start to get the youngsters interested in the game again….sadly at the mo, they are not interested….the numbers prove that!
More youngsters than ever in history are playing the game partly because of the huge growth of girls and women involved. In the past decade we have seen 34 female hubs set up right across Wales to satisfy that demand. Without the regions running age-grade teams involving hundreds of under 16 players and supporting schools and college teams in their region there would be no national game and every grassroots club would cease to exist because of lack of funds. I suggest you check out clubs like Aberavon, Swansea, Ebbw Vale and Cardiff to see just how much they all… Read more »