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Touchy Subject

Touchy Subject

I do enjoy watching a good game of rugby, though, like many a fair-weather fan, this doesn’t extend much beyond the Six Nations and World Cups.  Living in Wales as an Englishman makes even this a sometimes awkward experience though, particularly as I work for Sport Wales.  When England prevailed against the Welsh last Saturday, I knew that I would suffer the following Monday.  The good-spirited will say ‘well done’, albeit with possibly a quick mention of North’s foot not being in touch and Marler behaving badly.  And the less, erm, sportsmanlike might glower with just a hint of rage bubbling under the surface.  I jest of course.  Sport never brings out the pettiness in otherwise level-headed adults… (Just ask my wife what I’m like when Southampton lose.)


My experience of actually playing rugby is very limited and sadly FAR from enjoyable.  At Swanmore School, I was always last to be picked for any sporting endeavour.  For rugby, I’d be the sixteenth on the list.  I can’t speak for other schools (I never played for my school for a start), but when we played, all the less able/willing/encouraged (delete as applicable) were stuck out on the wings.  Some of the most famous international players are wingers of course, but at school, most of the action took place in and around the scrum. A melee of mini-men would face off against each other, the ball would go in, shoot out and then would be passed one of the few boys with unbuttered fingers, who’d proceed to run the length of the pitch and score.  Rinse and repeat.

So my time was spent on the touchline, mainly standing still or ambling slowly towards where the action was happening, before ambling back when a try was scored. Consequently, I got cold.  VERY cold.  I recall an occasion, one November, when it was so icy that I pretty soon had no feeling in my hands at all, or in fact in my limbs.  I am confident that, had a ball made its way to me, my hands would have shattered, like the T-1000 in Terminator II.  Once back in the changing rooms, my unfeeling digits struggled to do up the buttons on my shirt, meaning that getting dressed took approximately 7 hours.

I’ve digressed substantially, given that I was intending to write about about a very different type of rugby.  One without the potentially pain-inducing physical contact associated with rugby union – Touch Rugby.  To the uninitiated, it looks a bit like British Bulldog or possibly a platonic version of kiss chase.  Two teams face off against each other and try and get the ball to the other end.  Tackles are replaced by a light touch, which strikes me as a more civilised idea than the frankly scary looking encounters seen on a rugby pitch. I often wince at the impacts seen on the field. Touch Rugby is a very different kettle of fish however.  It ends up being a fun runaround which is all about timing – passing and running at the right times to find spaces in the opposition line.

I am lucky enough to have facilities at work to use at lunchtimes to play with colleagues, but given that all you need is an egg-shaped ball, players (at least six really) and open space, it is a good one to take to the park, especially now the good weather is beginning to put up a fight against the six month reign of rain we seem to have endured recently.



Why I Fell In Love…

Why I Fell In Love…

As an Englishman, I am not perhaps the most obvious candidate to be a Welsh rugby cheerleader, but here I am, sitting down to write about a sport I barely knew growing up, living in a country where rugby is so emblematic.

For those born in Wales, the sport is in your blood and pumps as vibrant red as the shirts on the team’s backs (and forwards).  It’s simple for you though.  You don’t need learn to love rugby, any more than you need to learn to love your own family.  But it was different for me.  When I arrived in Pontypridd in 1997, I’d rarely watched a game of rugby and barely knew the rules.  And if I’d had a choice in the matter, it may have stayed that way.  But that’s not how it works here, is it?  From my first visit to the Grogg Shop in Ponty with its porcelain caricatures of Welsh legends, to witnessing a whole pub singing Calon Lan before, during and after a game, I realised I’d stepped into a world there rugby was the state religion and I was set for a baptism of fire and song.

And it’s this passion above all that got me hooked.  Hooked on the drama.  Hooked on the downs as well as the ups.  At first I went along to watch the games to fit in, to be part of the crowd in a new country, but it wasn’t very long before I was cheering as loud as the rest.  Not that I saw it coming though, no, it was a complete surprise and, it took a defeat to prove it.


It was the Quarter Final of the 1999 World Cup.  I was at university up in Trefforest and had been really getting into the competition and fitting some games in around study (ok, so it was more like the exact opposite), and then Wales played Australia.  It wasn’t the performance that was the problem, I still didn’t understand enough to judge it that well.  Even the dodgy decisions that littered that game weren’t what had got me upset.  It was really that I’d been swept up in the maelstrom of a tumultuous sea of red in the pub that day and, when a defeat hits, particularly in a knockout competition, the resulting fall is painful.  So when the final whistle blew – and the result was confirmed – I realised.  I was walking back to my house and I felt truly dejected, deflated and downcast.  I thought I could shake it off straight away but I’d caught the bug.  And that means feeling the lows as well as the highs.

And hopefully for Wales, their game against their nemesis England tomorrow will be another high.  But I do know one thing.  The Welsh support on Saturday, in Twickenham as well as throughout Wales and beyond, will be as fervently passionate and committed as the team will be on the pitch.  And afterwards, hoarse voices will still be singing, whether Wales win or lose.

And that is why I fell in love.  Not with the game, though I like it a lot, but with the passion that rugby inspires.

(This is an updated version of an article written in 2015)

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