Wales v Springboks – quiet pride in an extraordinary journey
It turns out that we are slightly inferior to the world champions.
So, when we are all burned to a crisp next week and Powys is redesignated as a desert, we shall, at least, have avoided the worst-case scenario.
Greta Thunberg, as it happens, was quite optimistic about Wales’ prospects going into this tour.
‘For Christ’s sake, mun,’ she urged, ‘Calm down until the coaching team have had time to settle in!’
But we don’t really do Scandinavian restraint here when it comes to rugby, do we? In the febrile atmosphere that took hold after the loss to Italy, it seemed like we were entering the end of days.
Against a backdrop of regional failure, we couldn’t make sense of selections for the national team, and as they capitulated against the Italians in Cardiff, many of us feared that this time our woes were existential.
But everything is at the moment, isn’t it?
Even aside from the cataclysmic weather, we have an endless pandemic, governments falling, Russia threatening us with nuclear obliteration, unaffordable butter, and dachshunds everywhere.
As a matter of simple self-preservation it obviously wouldn’t be wise to invest your hope in the national rugby team.
Far better to bask in the feel-good vibes of the football team, whose success has seemed to be in carefree contrast to the ongoing psychodrama of the WRU- that befeathered relic from a long-gone idea of our nation.
Interest in the series in South Africa has been muted. I’ve had a job finding people to talk to about it and, even during the games, people’s emotions haven’t been on display.
Yesterday, with a historic series win possible, you might have expected it to feel special but driving through the Rhondda before the game, I saw only one guy wearing a jersey, and he was sat on a wall with a face like half a tin of condemned veal.
It hasn’t helped that the games have been on Sky. Whether you despise the BBC for being pinko-globalists hell-bent on the destruction of our way of life, or for being Tory-enabling shills whose function is to keep the working man ignorant, it’s undeniable that sporting events on the Beeb cohere us better than those on paywall channels.
So, the extraordinary journey of Wales in South Africa over the last three weeks hasn’t been the water-cooler event that it deserved to be.
Absolutely nobody gave our side a snowball’s chance in hell of winning it.
The talk after the Six Nations was of record losses and humiliation: of a side that was simply unable to compete at the top level.
By kick-off for the last game, it seemed entirely plausible that Wales could win the series.
I watched the final game in Ynyshir Working Men’s Club and nobody had any gripes about the outcome. The loss was taken with the humour afforded by a respectable performance. We never really looked like winning it but neither did Wales seem in danger of losing touch.
As Dean next to me observed, the South Africans will be on their mettle when they are next in Cardiff. The idea that Wales are no longer competitive has been put to bed, at least for the time being.
So, what went right?
Firstly, it seems that Wales have some tactical nouse now. Outmuscled upfront, the side backed themselves in the air and kicked well to create those opportunities.
Second, this is now Dan Biggar’s side.
During the Six Nations, it seemed rather that Biggar was running around in Alun Wyn Jones’ outsized boots. Now, the side is dancing to his tune.
In one respect ‒ discipline, this is a debatable plus, but in terms of commitment and belief, he has inspired Wales to overachieve. Finally, and most crucially, we have rediscovered our attacking edge.
Even with possession limited by the Springbok pack, Wales looked capable of scoring tries until the dying minutes of this series.
The sky didn’t fall, after all.
Wales should be proud of this team and fully behind it for the campaigns ahead.
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But for an extraordinarily inept referee – arguably the worst weve seen in the professional era – Wales would have comfortably won the first test (and subsequently the series).
Unless we’re extraordinarily lucky with injuries any extended sequence of game will result in a drop of in the final games.
When you’ve got a population of 50million or more you’ll have far more players of a high standard ready to step in.
Playing a second row for 65 mins in the back row is a prime example.
No one can question their attitude and dedication, hwyl and calon.