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

(June 06, 2013)

Dave Snowden; Life, work, rugby

Spot the Welshman, after Wales v England
This image, following Wales v England, went viral. The tagline: "Spot the Welshman"
l-r: John Inverdale, Clive Woodward, Jeremy Guscott, Jonathan Davies

I ended my last column with the depression of the Autumn Internationals and the first half against Ireland starting to fade. Just after I finished writing I sat outside the Millennium Centre listing to England-France on the radio - praying for a French Victory so that our chance of retaining the championship would be enhanced. Like everyone else, I assumed they would stuff the Italians and the hill would be too great a climb. Now, as we all now know, I need not have worried. The English faltered against the Italians, we beat the Scots and then there was that glorious day at the Millennium Stadium with the most comprehensive destruction of an English team by any side in their history. The English supporter sitting in front of me in the Stadium took off his shirt twenty minutes in and said he was just going to enjoy the match!

Scottish trip, MurrayfieldMurrayfield, Edinburgh, 2013

But, I am getting ahead of myself. First we had the Scottish Trip, always the best of the away matches (in part because we nearly always win), if just for the atmosphere. There is a long history here of exciting open matches, friendly conversations over a pint or two and many life-long cross-border friendships. The walk out and back to Murrayfield from the city-centre is one of anticipation, interspersed with free whisky samples as the long crocodile of supports fills the pavements on either side of the road. Then at the end of the match, you either trudge back despondent with coat pulled tight around your red jersey, until the bar is reached, or elated with a victory, singing Hymns and Arias, which seems to have replaced Bread of Heaven in the pantheon over the last few years.

Scottish trip, MurrayfieldBefore the dour Scotland v Wales match
Six Nations Championship, 2013


That procession down the road creates its own traffic problems. I remember with horror the need to get to the airport with my (then) young son and his friend. The traffic was so bad that we had to walk the seven miles at high speed which was, to put it mildly, a nightmare. We made the flight in time to follow Clive Woodward through the security making pointed remarks about how his Lions selection was going to have to shift from a reprise of his English World Cup squad. Well, we thought that, but events proved otherwise. I remember being in the Jade Stadium for the first match of the tour seeing Stephen Jones relegated to a supporting role for the out of form Johnno and Henson and Shane Williams relegated to the ranks of 'I had to bring them but plan to ignore them'. That was probably one of the most disastrous tours in the Lion’s history. Mind you, I knew Henson’s number was up when, after a bunch of classic Woodward management exercises, he commented within hearing of the press, "I thought we were here to play rugby". Honesty is rarely the best policy with those whose intelligence is of a level to allow them to take management-bonding exercises seriously.   Wales win against Scotland
Wales celebrate after beating Scotland


Scottish tripThe Scottish Trip Scottish trip, EdinburghEdinburgh, 2013

I stayed in The Grassmarket Hotel this year, a design hotel well-placed in the centre of Edinburgh and I plan to book it again in 2015. Situated next to a good pub with basic food of the sort you need after a match and a breakfast room full of sobering Welsh supporters working out the best way to make it back home having variously missed lifts, buses and trains. I also had a meeting or two to help justify the expense of the trip and had to walk to Edinburgh University in thick snow. Fortunately it held off for the day of the match, of which little is memorable other than the referee and the team finding relatives in the corner of terraces beneath me at the end the match. We won, despite to appalling number of penalties and lack of any flow to the game. Warburton was fully rehabilitated and five hours after the match warmth returned to my extremities. God, it was cold.

Before Wales v England 2013Full house - before Wales v  England

So from there we moved onto Cardiff and the final match with an achievable goal. Of course as ever, the English press were full of the impending Grand Slam. I almost give up my Guardian subscription each year with the bias they show here, but they are not alone. Funnily enough, on the way to Cardiff I was pretty convinced we were going to win, but I wasn’t sure we would achieve the margin to regain the Championship. Entering the stadium all doubt left. I have never, in all the years of watching rugby, witnessed a crowd so singularly determined that the English would loose. After the decision to retake that first scrum and the all round humiliation of the English pack and their over excitable fly half, it was just a pleasure to watch. We always used to win against the English through creative backs making up for our lack of domination forward, but this was a complete reversal … and we had the best backs. All the newspapers the next day rated each Welsh player higher than their English opposite number, something I have never seen before. Now we just have to repeat it in the World Cup. To see England eliminated at the pool stages would be a delight.

Hong Kong StadiumHong Kong Stadium, So Kon Po, Wanchai
one of the world's great stadiums

HK 7s, the parade
Parade beginning the 2013 Hong Kong Sevens

Mind you, another great pleasure was a few days later at the Hong Kong Sevens. I go most years, sometimes swapping to a seat in a box, which is full of England supporters. I am the only Welshman, but generally there is solidarity between the Welsh and Australasia in the face of the English. I tried to get some T shirts printed with the score on the back, or better the six dates (two against us, two against the Scots and two against the Irish) where England have failed to achieve a much prophesied Grand Slam.

HK 7s, about to score another tryWales about to score another try against Fiji
Hong Kong Sevens 2013 final

HK 7s, half-time scoreboardHalf-time scoreboard; Wales 19 - 0 Fiji
Hong Kong Sevens 2013 final

I didn't have time in the end, but my arrival in the box was anticipated. The most virulent English supporter (who, by the way, is a good friend and very knowledgeable about the game) came up to me as I entered and made a full and public statement about our superiority on the day in return for an undertaking I would not bring up the subject for the next three days. Given that Wales proceeded to the final of the sevens I didn’t need to. Then the red card jinx hit again. There was not a referee in the Twitterverse, or anyone with any knowledge of Rugby in our box, who did not think that Fiji should have played most of the game one man down. As it was, we led until the final minutes, in an outstanding effort.


Wales v England 2013Wales v England, 16 March 2013

Wales win v England 2013

Wales celebrate v England 2013

Celebrations begin after Wales thrashed England 30 - 3, to become
Six Nations Champions, 2013

The Lions team reflect that dominance. But with regret the problems of regional rugby persist. Llanelli were ill-equipped for the play-offs and the Ospreys failed at the test in Leinster. For the Blues and the Dragons the season was a washout. The one bright spark is the artificial pitch that is to be installed at the Arms Park and I have more hope next year than I probably should. But competing with the budgets of the Irish Clubs, let alone the French, is problematic to say the least and one can only hope the internecine warfare between the clubs and country will come to an end. Welsh Rugby has been more threatened by those in charge than the ability of the players over the years and it's time it stopped.

I'm writing this from Hong Kong, but arrived after the Lions' demolition of the Barbarians. I hope to see one of the Lions matches in Australian over the next two weeks, but will miss the test. Hopefully Wales+ will conquer, as they did in New Zealand all those years ago. I also think it's time to stop talking about the 70s as the great period of Welsh Rugby. We are in another one now … and in more competitive times. Enjoy!

Dave Snowden, 6 June 2013
Founder & Chief Scientific Officer
Cognitive Edge Pte Ltd

If you liked this, you'll also enjoy these by Dave Snowden:

     Life, work, rugby; March 2013

     Life, work, rugby; December 2012

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

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