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Dave Snowden; Life, work, rugby (March 2013)

(March 01, 2013)

... the Dragon in the room

Y Bae, Caerdydd - Cardiff BayCardiff Bay, L-R: Craft in the Bay; Wales Millennium Centre; Pierhead; Y Senedd

My last column began with a reference to the loss of atmosphere at the Ospreys v Blues match. I was cold and surrounded by loyal fans alone. Since then, the Arms Park has seen a few more freezing cold evenings, with a similar coterie of loyalists. Now, I have some kudos within this small group of season ticket holders; given that I drive a round trip of 166.2 miles for most home matches. Sometimes I take the train, but with a 19:30 start, that means missing the last ten minutes; given the timing of the last train east. Having constant companions helps and I think we will all have renewed our memberships and kept the same seats by the end of March. Also, from time to time, another friend borrows one ticket and we receive the wisdom of a former Ebbw Vale number eight to add to our various discussions and commentaries. Rugby crowds are generally knowledgeable and prepared to judge a match on its merits. Although, I should say that I may make an exception for Dragons supporters, who seem to make up for their region's bottom-hugging status with raucous support and partisanship beyond reason!


Cardiff Arms Park - season ticket viewCardiff Arms Park - season ticket view

Evening matches in winter are foolish. The more so when there is no television coverage; as has been the case for the last two Blues matches. Forward planning would also help those of us who travel. If I am in Cardiff for a match, it's often good to stay overnight and take in an opera. I belong to that generation that regards rugby and opera as two conjoined essentials to healthy living. Now, with the fixture list being ambiguous until a month or so in advance, this proves difficult. I took a gamble that the 8th-10th February option for the home game against Leinster would fall on the weekend and booked for the rarely-performed Lulu at the Millennium Centre on the 8th. Sods law prevailed, and I had to move it to the 23rd, which meant I could at least combine it with witnessing the Blues lose at home to Connaught; for the first time in the modern era. A resigned atmosphere prevails in our section of the North Stand at the moment (dead centre, towards the back, if anyone wants to join in, view shown in picture). I think we have all accepted that this is a year for rebuilding and regrettably most of us know what that means, having lived through several in recent years.

Of course that leads us on to the elephant (or maybe the dragon) in the room. Namely funding, and the survival of Rugby as our national support. I worry about the success of Cardiff and Swansea Cities in the English football league. Not because I begrudge them their success, but due to the potential for increasing the homogenisation of Welsh with English culture, not to mention a downgrading of intelligence needed to watch and play a sport. Also, soccer these days is about who can collect the best international set of players - not about identity and continuity with the local community. Rugby has at least maintained that. The point about intelligence is well illustrated with this story about the redemption match in the Six Nations this year; otherwise known as the away game against the French. I had decided to stay at home. Although the second half of the Irish match had restored my spirits, I was pessimistic. I also needed to organise a meeting, and so arranged it in a local hotel ending up back at my house for the match, with a Scarlets supporter and two Dutchmen who had never seen a rugby match before. We had to explain things, while surviving a level of tension that involved much pacing around the room. By the end both were, at least in part, converts. I can't remember the exact phrase, but both of them said it was a much more rewarding game to watch than soccer, given its complexity and its need for learning and appreciation. It's also true that luck plays less of a role in rugby. Although that was not the case in England v France, where the key try arose from an unspotted offside - leaving us with the old enemy in pole position to win the championship, even if we defeat them.


Cardiff Bay from Penarth - Y Bae o BenarthCardiff Bay, from Penarth PenarthPenarth

Back to the funding issue and what seems to be the inevitable downgrading of the Dragons to a development region. Personally, if we take a 'modify what is' approach, I can’t see any alternative to that, and it might provide for North Wales to grow. It's also the case that the development of new young players (witness the under 20s success) is one of the highlights at present. But where is the Valleys initiative that seemed to bring some hope? What of London Welsh, formerly a bulwark of Welsh rugby, who have proved me right on the wasted potential of Gavin Henson - as Perpignon are doing with James Hook. The strength of rugby used to be, in part, the ability of spectators to travel. We went across by ferry, and then on the bridge to play Bath, or drove to Leicester. Matches had home and away supporters ... and that made the whole thing more enjoyable. Maybe the questioning of the European Cup by the English and the French will change things. A Brythonic league of five Welsh sides (the present four plus the valleys), with the addition of London Welsh and Cornwall would provide a feeder league for a different tournament and one in which a series of Anglo-Welsh clashes would naturally follow. It would also provide a wider pool for internationals.


Cefn Mably Hotel
The Cefn Mably Hotel, Penarth

However, that is just speculation (or a pipe dream). Whatever, one gets the impression at the moment, that deep conversations are taking place at WRU level that will affect all our futures, and in which we will have no say - other than by deciding not to drive over a hundred miles alternate weekends. For the moment, my rearranged trip to Lulu at least coincided with the French game, so I booked two nights at the Cefn Mably Hotel, Penarth, for a ludicrously low price for such outstanding accommodation. I also liked the way the cleaner picked my Blues scarf up from the floor and adorned the television with it, which really made me feel at home. I watched the second Welsh victory in the Cefn Mably Hotel bar - nothing like watching a match with like minded supporters. I remember during one Grand Slam year, watching the away match against Ireland in a bar in Sydney, in which the crowd was mixed. But they united against a solitary Englishman for the subsequent match between his lost-cause and the Scots. I had to listen to the failure of the French on the radio parked near the Millennium Centre, but Lulu was good. I also got in a full walk around Cardiff Bay that morning, something I had not managed to do before.


Room at the Cefn Mably Hotel, PenarthRoom at the Cefn Mably Hotel, Penarth


Next weekend, I have managed to arrange a key meeting with Edinburgh University on the Monday; so my round trip to watch the match is at least partially funded. And I procured a ticket before the over-optimistic Scots decided to make it a sell out. Edinburgh is my favourite international destination. And I can only hope we replicate that wonderful first half of a few years ago, where we put 40 points past them, and the Welsh forwards completed more passes in one match than the English backs did in the whole tournament.

Dave Snowden, 1 March 2013
Founder & Chief Scientific Officer
Cognitive Edge Pte Ltd

If you liked this, you'll also enjoy:

     Life, work, rugby, by Dave Snowden (1 December 2012)

     Life, work, rugby, by Dave Snowden (1 September 2012)
Life, work, rugby, by Dave Snowden (1 December 2011)
     Life, work, rugby, by Dave Snowden (1 September 2011)
     Life, work, rugby, by Dave Snowden (1 June 2011)
     A sense of belonging: Wales and rugby, by Dave Snowden (25 August 2010)
     Dave Snowden's blog at Cognitive Edge


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