My routine ramblings about life, the universe and anything else have been rudely interrupted by the sporting world this morning.. Wales has confounded the critics not once, but twice this week. Most recently, yesterday Wales made it through to the Rugby World Cup semifinals. No doubt my Welsh readers will be currently nursing nausea and a pounding headache after Saturday night celebrations, but for the rest of you, this is big news.
Rugby is a religion in Wales. We are known internationally for various Joneses (Tom, Catherine Zeta), a Thomas (Dylan), a Burton (Richard), and an Ifans (Rhys), but within Wales itself, we have different Gods, both old and young, who epitomize the grit, the spirit and the dogged determination that characterizes our nation. Gods with superhuman powers encased in very mortal bodies.
You only have to look at the opposing team line-ups at the start of the game to see what I mean. The Australians and South Africans stand tall and athletic, with cleanly hewn jaws and well fitting jerseys stretched over bulging biceps. The All Blacks, the Fijians and the Samoans are immense slabs of men for whom the word implacable was invented – rather like oil tankers, once they start traveling in any given direction, it takes 47 men or an iceberg to stop them. If rugby players were dog breeds, these teams would have Kennel Club registration.
And then you have the Welsh. There must be a squad rule that says their uniform should not fit, they must be relatively short but incredibly wide, their ears are well chewed, and they must be missing at least one tooth. They are the junkyard dog of the rugby world – plenty of pit bull, and God knows what else.
Their performance is equally unpredictable if the World Cup defeat against South Africa, then win-or-go-home victory over the Samoans is anything to go by. Following Welsh rugby is the sporting equivalent of manic depression.
Not that I am an expert, by any means. I have played rugby a number of times in my life, and every game bar one was cut short by injuries. Interestingly, the only one that went to full time was a bizarre co-ed three legged rugby match, where players were forced to play with one ankle strapped to the ankle of a fellow team member of the opposite sex. It was winter, the ground was frozen, and so there was considerable incentive to stay warm and upright, especially when the size of the opponent tackling you was doubled. Such is the obsession with the game that the male players were completely disinterested in both the charms and the plight of the females that they were attached to, viewing them instead as an encumbrance to be transported at speed in pursuit of the ball. The chivalrous held on to their partner as they raced up the field; the truly possessed let them fall to the floor and be dragged. One player chose the simple expedient of carrying his ‘partner’ – he played the whole game with a girl under one arm, and the ball under the other.
But back to our current achievements. Our other victory is less widely known, but no less miraculous. A Welshman has been voted ‘Hottest Rugby World Cup Player’. The New Zealand Woman’s Weekly voted for the 10 ‘hottest’ men, and Mike Phillips was voted in at number 1. The irony to this is that he is from Bancyfelin, a small town not 20 miles from my former home, and I am in San Francisco.. However, for those of you who would like to know more about talent in rugby, here’s one to watch..