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Wales give hope for the future in Ireland defeat

25 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Wales v Ireland at the Four Elms, image by Ben Wildsmith

Ben Wildsmith

The rain’s been something this winter, hasn’t it? Up my valley it’s been sheeting horizontally since 2018, pouring in through the roofs of abandoned chapels as God howls in rebuke.

Dogs refuse to walk, birds cannot fly, and the potholes contain marine life.

So, I thought I’d go to Cardiff to watch the game. Everyone knows that the Cardiff Bay elite vote themselves the best weather, so I might as well get my share.

Right enough, as I take up a perch in the garden of the Four Elms, warming sunshine pokes through the clouds.

I’ve got my Cardiffian pal Tony with me. He’s a man of few words, but awesome authority. Looking sagely around the lovely, bustling space, he narrows his eyes and looks at me seriously.

‘It’s getting busy.’

‘Yes Tone, it is.’


The power of this Irish side was clear from the off. Betting correctly that they knew more about the dark arts of Six Nations rugby than debutant referee Andrea Piardi, Ireland took advantage of his naivety to gain supremacy at the breakdown and scrummage.

Whilst often offside, and scrummaging illegally, there was no doubting that they outmuscled Wales in tight play, as they have everyone else they’ve encountered this term.

Camped in the 22, Wales tackled ferociously throughout the first half. Nick Tompkins made up for his poor game against England with characteristic hard work.

‘Not bad,’ Tony opines.

We’re both on the Diet Coke, thanks to a variety of doctor-ordered strictures on the natural order of fun. Fetching our beakers of dismal from the bar at half-time, I look enviously at the two-pint buckets of ale everyone else is trying to carry back from the bar and take in the atmosphere.

It’s a blessing, and a wonder, that places like the Four Elms still exist. It’s a proper boozer, beloved of all ages, and despite Wales’ current woes on the pitch, you can rely on a lively time come matchday. Long may it prosper.


I approach the second half of every match with a lurch in my stomach. I couldn’t attest to supporting statistics, but it seems like the first 10 minutes after the break do for us with depressing regularity. Not so this time.

Cameron Winnett, bandaged up from a head wound, looks like the goods. He’s always in the right place defensively and, on the counter attack, has the poise to beat defenders with ease.

Aaron Wainwright, meanwhile, chose today to come of age. Perennially the Oh bugger, Talupe’s injured again second choice, he seized this tall order of a challenge with manic ferocity.

A shock of blonde hair is a useful asset for a back row forward in a Lions year. Not only was he there at every ruck, harassing the Irish like a drunken wasp, but you couldn’t mistake him for anyone else either.

Like Scotland’s John Jeffrey in the olden days, his platinum bonce bounced up and down the TV screen calling, ‘Select me, select me!’

In the end, it was Wainwright whose drive for the line was held up, effectively ending the Welsh effort for the day. The scoreline didn’t, however, reflect the team’s dog and frequent skill.

Ireland’s Jack Crowley (centre) is tackled by Wales’ Aaron Wainwright (left) and Josh Adams Brian Lawless/PA Wire.


There was a period on 20 minutes that we might just have challenged for the win, but that would have been a historic upset in the context of both sides’ development.

Come the next World Cup, most of this Irish side will be shuffling around Temple Bar with tartan shopping trolleys and packets of Werther’s Original.

Our boys, on the other hand, will have lost their pimples and gained four years of test experience to complement their skills and evident competitive spirit.

‘What do you reckon, Tone?’

‘It was a good game.’

‘Any other observations?’


Flags & Bones by Ben Wildsmith is available to order from Cambria Books

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1 month ago

“Come the next World Cup…our boys,
…will have lost their pimples and gained four years of test experience to complement their skills and evident competitive spirit”. There seems to be a lot of counting our chickens with this young squad. Looking a promising squad now does not mean in 4 years all these players will develop into world beaters.

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