It is November, and once the fireworks of the 5th have subsided the whole of the Welsh nation expect nothing less than fireworks from their heroes. European champions for the last two years, still feeling robbed in the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup, but woeful against the southern hemisphere giants. It is time to step up if they are to be taken seriously as a world power in rugby union again.
First up is South Africa, and if history is not your bag look away now (particularly if you are a student of Welsh history)… as the Springboks have won 24 of the previous 26, to one solitary Wales victory in 1999. It’s four hours to kick-off and the commercial machine is well cranked up in any available space…
However, the commercial machine pales into insignificance compared to the liquid machine, as the City Arms helps fans of both sides to prepare for the occasion in the shadow of the legends:
The Welsh camp have been very quiet in the lead up to the match with their special tactics remaining a close kept secret, until now that is! A couple of hours to kick-off and Caroline Street is the scene for the Welsh backs to stoke up with the fuel of choice… chips and curry sauce are essential for any self-respecting fire-breather.
Then it is the expectation of any dragon that a watering hole close to the stadium should be visited as part of the final preparations:
But the real source of fear for the mighty Springboks will obviously be at the scrum; and the Welsh scrum is fighting fit and raring to go:
The anthems have been respected, the stadium atmosphere is second to none, and the time for Welsh history to be made has arrived… will this be the scene of another heroic failure, or can Wales start their platform for an assault on the next World Cup? This is more than just a game, for these two nations this is about a religion, and where better than the Millenium Stadium to provide a cathedral…
Wales take the lead with a penalty kick, equaled almost immediately by South Africa for 3-3. Wales retake the lead with another penalty before South Africa show why they are the second best team in the world by scoring two converted tries with their only two opportunities, 6-17. The ‘power’ of South Africa is exerting a toll, as three Welsh players are off injured within the first thirty minutes. The ‘finesse’ of Wales is ominously absent as three opportunities for scoring a try are all repelled by the South African defence. A couple of penalties to Wales keep them in the game, and a South African player is sin-binned for ten minutes. A breath-taking final ten minutes of open attacking play by both teams as half-time arrives… Wales 12 South Africa 17.
Superlatives are liberally distributed by various pundits over the half-time break. Wales have had more possession but not taken their chances. Get strapped in, here comes the second half.
Wales continue with the domination of possession but we wait for any further chances for points. Fifty-three minutes and a penalty to Wales… 15-17; then confusion reigns as both teams lose a player to the sin-bin. A tense final twenty minutes as everyone waits to see if history or tradition will prevail. South Africa miss a penalty on sixty-one minutes; is it a portent of what could be? Three minutes later and the South Africans show why they are the second best in the world… a lucky bounce of the ball and commentators seeing reasons why an opportunist try shouldn’t have been allowed. Wales 15 South Africa 24, and it begins to look like a familiar pattern of Wales losing just at the point they were about to win against a southern hemisphere team.
Seventy-two minutes and another try scoring opportunity for Wales repelled by the Springboks. Where is the famed singing of the Welsh crowd, the extra man has been tamed by the South Africans? The ferocity of the final minutes of the first half is ominously absent as the second is drawing towards a close. The great hopes and the dominance of possession for the home team still ends up with the all-too-familiar result, with the away team scoring three tries without reply… Wales 15 South Africa 24.
The celebrations will remain on hold with local passions muted, and my appointed beer taster says it is a night of the plastic glass, something to be side-stepped if at all possible. I have been Juno, and I will aim to get over my disappointment at my adopted nation before I speak with you again.