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March 31, 2014 | by  | in Opinion Sports |
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Sports Talk: Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers)

This week, guest columnist Sean Bates tells us the story of the decline of a staunchly proud rugby nation.

Only five national rugby union teams have ever beaten the All Blacks: South Africa, Australia, England, France… and Wales. When Wales beat the All Blacks 13–8 in 1953, they had won three out of their four encounters with New Zealand, and were widely regarded as one of the greatest rugby nations in the world. In the same period, touring All Black sides lost to club sides Swansea (1935), Cardiff (1953), Newport (1963) and Llanelli (1972). The land of King Arthur and Merlin was triumphant.

Fast-forward to 2014, and Welsh rugby is a shadow of its former self. They have lost the last 25 encounters with the All Blacks; after winning six of their first eight tests against Australia, they have lost 18 of the last 20; and they have only beaten the Springboks once.

The story of the Welsh rugby decline is a sad parallel of the country itself. Through the late 20th century, as the factories closed and the coal mines shut forever, the miners and workers who had been the driving force in Welsh rugby drifted away, or were lured by the money offered by rival code rugby league. When Wales lost to Samoa in Cardiff for the first time in 1991, it was widely recognised that something had been lost, that their spirit was broken.

Professionalism has not been kind either: in an attempt to compete on the European stage, the famous clubs, such as Llanelli, Newport, Neath and Cardiff, became the Scarlets, Dragons, Ospreys and Blues. However, locked in the weak Celtic League, even these larger regions cannot compete, and their top national players are frequently plucked away by rich English and French clubs – seven of the top Welsh players ply their trade overseas. Average attendance at games stands at around 3000. Now, the desperate regions are fighting to break away from the Welsh Rugby Union and join the English Premiership.

However, recently there has been something of a renaissance: in 2005, they won the Six Nations for the first time in 11 years, a feat they repeated in 2008, 2012 and 2013. They also bagged a Grand Slam in the first three of these triumphs. In 2011, they completed their most successful World Cup campaign since the inaugural tournament in 1987, finishing fourth.

So when they line up against the All Blacks again in November, they will be aiming to end one more drought. And England and Australia would be wise to watch out in their pool games at the next World Cup – there’s a dragon stirring in those mist-shrouded hills….

 

Top 5 pricks in sport

5. David Warner: The angry little Aussie batsman takes the cake as the biggest prick to don the baggy green. Warner’s Twitter tirades and drunken antics solidify his place on the ever-growing list of arseholes in Australian cricket.

4. Steve Williams: Williams seems to think he’s some sort of special exception to the unspoken law in golf that caddies do the caddying, not the talking. The Kiwi has taken numerous childish digs at Tiger Woods since being laid off by his former master in 2011. Perhaps Williams should take a step back and remember who it was that made him famous in the first place.

3. LeBron James: Arrogant, egotistic and self-absorbed. I know the Miami Heat superstar is one hell of a talent, but is it really necessary to get ‘Chosen 1’ tattooed across your back and give yourself the nickname ‘King James’?

2. John Terry: Whether it’s sleeping with teammates’ partners, being racist to on-field opponents, making dodgy deals with undercover journos, or bottling nightclub bouncers, the Chelsea captain has ticked most of the boxes in the ‘how to be a prick’ guide.

1. Lance Armstrong: Arguably the biggest cheat in sporting history. The American cyclist continually defended his seven-straight Tour de France titles as honest victories before finally confessing he was jacked up on performance-enhancing drugs the whole time. What a prick.

Ollie Ritchie’s Top 3 on the Box

Sea Eagles vs Tigers – NRL
Here’s one for the punters. Sea Eagles, a threat as always, take on the in-form West Tigers. Expect the Tigers to lift to another level at home against Manly. The Sea Eagles will be hoping to have Kieran Foran fully fit, but with Daly Cherry-Evans running the show, the Sea Eagles will be a real handful for the Tigers. Sunday, SS2, 5 pm. Pick – Sea Eagles 1–12.

Hurricanes vs Bulls – Super 15
Arguably the Hurricanes biggest match so far this season. They host the Bulls, who are fresh off some big wins and will be looking to start off the New Zealand leg of their tour with a big win in the capital. Despite some poor results so far for the ‘Canes, they have looked the goods at times. Expect a big one from their pivot, Beauden Barrett, who has been in career-best form so far this season. Saturday, SS1, 7.35 pm. Pick – Bulls 13+.

Manchester United vs Bayern Munich – Champions League
Although Manchester United have failed to fire domestically this year, they still have a chance in Europe. The famous club managed to slip through to the quarterfinal stage thanks to a dramatic Robin van Persie hat-trick against Olympiacos, but have an incredibly tough assignment against current European champions Bayern Munich. First leg, Wednesday, ESPN, 7.45 am. Pick – Bayern by 2.

 

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