We knew something like this was coming: Ben Wildsmith reflects on Wales drubbing in Dublin
Ireland 29- 7 Wales
‘It’s a braw bricht nicht the nicht,’ we all agreed as we left the Four Elms in Cardiff to return to our highland crofts after watching the day’s rugby. Sion from Carmarthen had remembered a Scottish uncle and proclaimed a newfound attachment to this part of his heritage. Freddie, who’s a steward at the Principality, recalled the kindness of Scottish supporters she’d encountered doing her job.
‘Flower of Scotland gives me tingles,’ she confided.
The Elms was selling two-pint, plastic glasses of beer and I thought it wise to invest before the game so I wouldn’t miss any action returning to the bar. Staring balefully into my half-finished bucket 10 minutes in, I found the answer to an eternal question: it’s half-empty, definitively.
We knew something like this was coming. Last year’s joy masked the gnawing suspicion that, for once, the national team had been lucky. Red cards happened at the right time, knock-ons went unnoticed, and the team had enough dog in it to ride games out to glory. Now though, with the world returning to normality, the true picture has emerged. It turns out that having poorly supported regional sides that routinely fail to challenge for titles is not irrelevant to a nation’s international fortunes after all. Neither is it a given that a gifted player can switch position simply because the team is lacking a specialist.
“He’s done it in training and in small doses at the end of a game. We think this is a golden opportunity to answer that question,” said Wayne Pivac about his decision to gamble on Josh Adams in the centre against a side coming off a victory against the All Blacks. Well, they have their answer, and we can only hope that it didn’t come at the price of Adams’ confidence, nor that of Owen Watkin whose defensive abilities were disregarded.
It’s true that the first half saw some questionable refereeing as Irish high tackles went unpunished. The Elms was up in arms about it whilst hope lingered, but as the second half revealed the gulf in class between the sides, talk turned to what was going wrong.
‘They aren’t as on it as they used to be,’ said Freddie. ‘After the game, they all used to be back out training on the pitch, really disciplined. All you saw in the Autumn was the lawnmowers!’
As the marauding Irish slipped through tackle after tackle, people were invoking Shaun Edwards, still confused as to why he was allowed to take his gifts to Paris. Whatever the trials this team are facing, it’s hard to believe they would have dared return to the dressing room having missed 21 tackles were he still on the scene.
By midway through the second half the queue for the gents reached to the bar.
‘Normally, that would be after the game,’ sighed Jake, ‘but everyone’s just thought f*** it.’
Freddie and Joseph were cheerfully betting pounds on Sexton’s kicks and the intensity escaped from the room to mirror the Welsh performance.
Taine Basham’s interception try barely registered a cheer coming, as it did, long after there was anything left to invest in. It’s not that people don’t care, this was a passionate, knowledgeable crowd, but you can’t expect people to risk heartbreak on a team that can’t repay the stakes.
When the action switched to Murrayfield it was rejuvenating. Eyes were back on the screens and the amateur referees called their opinions of each phase of play. Here were two matched sides delivering for their supporters and becoming Scottish for the evening came all the easier as they turned the screw on England and held their nerve for victory; it was a sight to see. They are here next week, though, and temporary Scotsmen across Wales must steel ourselves for that and pray the team are doing the same.
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