Men in Skirts

It’s Six Nations Rugby Internationals time again, and unlike my predecessor, the English Juno, I have no confusion over my loyalties…

Rugby cat

It’s Wales v Scotland for another of those atmospheric weekends in Cardiff

Wales v Scotland [1]

But it is a strange old game with some very odd sights to behold, none less than the quintessential Scottish characteristic of Men in Skirts!

Men in skirts

Local accommodations and hostelries can’t help themselves in an effort to engage with the event:

Hotel entranceRugby pub

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile people congregate at the stadium waiting for the arrival of the gladiators to the arena…

Stadium

And never has the back end of a bus been so celebrated…

Back end of team busMeanwhile it is the action on the pitch that counts most, and at the end of another hard fought game a brave Scotland succumb to the passion of the Welsh with a final score of…

Final score

Some of the national flowers show their excitement at the result…

Winning daffodils

And it is the home colours that flutter over St Mary’s Street in the heart of Cardiff…

Wales v Scotland [2] Until we speak again may all of your balls be egg-shaped!

The hard yards

There seems to be no hiding placeYoda eyes down [1] in international rugby, but Juno was clear that the strange rituals of putting heads between a team-mates thighs in order to push a group of guys a mere foot or two backwards was something definitely worth switching off to. As for the idea of kicking the ball 50 yards into the sky and 10 yards forward, just so you can run full speed into an opponent always seemed to her to be a strange premise for a sport. But, whatever the quirks, Wales v Ireland is going to be a game of intrigue and celtic passions. A true sporting battle is on, with high stakes… for Ireland a victory means the chance of a Grand Slam is still on. Victory for Wales leaves them still with a slim chance of winning the Championship. And all of this happening at the beginning of a World Cup year!

So where will the battle be fought? In the first instance, Ireland have an unassailable advantage:

Brains-BlackRugby ball

 

 

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The young pretender from the Cardiff brewery presents well, but what is going to compete with one of the world’s most renowned liquid refreshments? Step outside of South Wales and who has even heard of Brains Black?

Then there is the matter of the scrums, and the arena of myth and legend suggests that the Irish might again be too strong:

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So when it comes to the real hard yards, where the big guns aim to charge through the defensive lines of the opposition, both sides are well equipped with their examples of the hard stuff, but arguably Welsh anthracite reality may triumph in this phase of the game over Irish mythology:

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‘Emblematic’ is an often overused phrase in so many walks of life, and none more than sport. So, in such an emblematic game, where emblematic heroes will have emblematic moments, with the potential to provide us all with a truly emblematic result of emblematic proportions… it is important that we look at the emblems each country are able to call on in order to underscore their emblematic expectations.. It seems obvious to me that in a game of rock, paper, scissors the leek will most likely crush the four-leaf clover:

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So, my intrigued reader, you are left no clearer about how this match is going to play itself out. With an array of plants and vegetables, rocks and stones, and liquid dark stuff to line the sensibilities before, during and after the event… fill the arena, bring on the gladiators, take possession of cultural and religious metaphors of your own choice. Then, at the final whistle just add a joyous and decorous home support…

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This has been Juno’s View of rugby, but until we speak again to find out what she thought of the current Cricket World Cup you will need to go somewhere lower on the excitement scale than baking cupcakes or creative crochet patterns.

[With thanks to http://www.2beerguild.co.uk, http://www.interest.com, http://www.sassycats.com, http://www.irishindeed.com, http://www.data-wales.co.uk, http://www.themissfitchronicles.com and http://www.universityobserver.ie for posting the images used to illustrate this post].

Defining disaster

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Its the predilection for sniffing each others arses that reminded Juno that rugby was more a sport of dogs than the superior refinement of the cat. Yet setting aside the strange sexual proclivities of the public school playing fields of England, dressed up as men playing sport, it occasionally provides moments of ‘event’ proportions… and the Wales v England fixture is up there amongst the world’s great rivalries.

IMAG1515The stage is Cardiff, lauded by the locals and many fans around the world as a historic rugby fortress.

It is an hour before the kick-off, and no place for any weary shepherd and virgin combinations, as room in the inn has become impossible to find…

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But the Millennium Stadium is poised ready to greet warriors of both tribes as they converge on the battlefield…

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The tension gets ramped up even further as the full-strength gladiators of Wales enter the arena preparing to slay the under-strength superior numbers of England…

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10 minutes into the match, and everything is going to the home fans favoured script as Wales take a comfortable 10-0 lead. All Welsh minds are reflecting on the demolition of their opponents in this very stadium a mere two years ago. However, England’s patchwork quilt of a team manage to fashion a try of their own to stem the red tide. A few other points from respective boots and half-time arrives with an unexpected but still seemingly comfortable 16-8 lead for the hosts.

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Half-time team talks that transform a performance are legendary, but few and far between. But this must surely have been an occasion when the words said in the England dressing room should be bottled and sold for a fortune. My mind drifts back to a poster featuring one of the present day commentators, England’s own Brian Moore, which basically posed the threatening message ‘It’s not the winning or losing, it’s the TAKING APART!’ Well, Juno would have undoubtedly taunted me during the second half of this match, as the country of her birth, England, set out as a team possessed. With only a few minutes on the clock their persistent pressure and a moment of magic brings about a converted try. 16-15 to Wales, followed shortly after by further disarray in the battered home defence leading to an 18-16 lead for England. With little of any threat from the home team, the visitors add another penalty for a final score of Wales 16 England 21. The home nation are stunned, and the underdogs instantly show what this score means to them…

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It’s the start of the Rugby World Cup year, when these two teams will meet in England in the group stages of the competition. When a full strength Wales lose at home to an understrength England in such a shock one-sided end to a game, don’t believe me or any of my fellow countrymen when we say this has no bearing on the forthcoming World Cup. Half cat half doorLike all good cats we like to shrug off such an experience as a disappointment, when in reality it is better described as a calamitous disaster.

Until we speak again, watch this space… while memories of Juno’s favourite rugby pose neatly sums up the performance of the Welsh team.

[With thanks to shutterstock.com, erfeidine.blogspot.com and tweetsport.co.uk for original posts of the images borrowed to illustrate this tragic tale].

Crunch time

Rugby ball

Don’t listen to any talk of expecting a home win, the locals were fearing the worst as the Autumn Internationals against the best of the southern hemisphere were about to draw to a close for another year. A display of inflatable rugby balls should not be taken as a sign of inflated expectations. The venue was still the same old Heartbreak Hotel

Millenium Stadium 2

… where the script remained stubbornly unedited. Wales just love to be in the lead against the three most successful teams in the world, only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the last minutes of each match. Today was crunch time, as this would be the last of the big three arriving in Cardiff before next year’s Rugby Union World Cup, with leads already surrendered against Australia and New Zealand earlier in the month.

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It was also crunch time as matches against the South African Springboks are always prefaced with terms such as physicality, brutality, and heavy crunching tackles.

 

Two hours to kick-off and the stats were far less significant than the all-important preparation before the match… where clearly there was no room in the inn…

The match gets under way, and in the stadium everything was going to script, as the game remained evenly balanced as the first half progressed…

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But, for some spectators there was a clear preference for a sunny disposition, even if the result went the way of other visits by South African teams at the final whistle…

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But, just once in a while the pain of history can be soothed by that rare experience of a win! When the final whistle came… well, it was always expected according to my ‘in-house prophet’!

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It also clearly seemed to mean something to the perennial bottlers, as the final whistle provides a cue for public man-on-man kissing and cuddling. At least it makes a change from all that sniffing of arses vibe going on during the match!

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Strange how this sport gives you some winners silverware when you achieve only the second win against your opponents in a lengthy history of this fixture. There must be a world surplus of silver I guess…

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Wales flags

 

 

WALES 12 SOUTH AFRICA 6

South Africa flags

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, until we speak again I have been Baffled Juno, subjected to a month of observing something resembling egg-chasing. I am sure us cats would never demean ourselves by indulging in such strange pastimes…

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As for the locals, my guess is they will be oblivious to the result when they have finally dragged themselves home from the pubs and clubs of a raucous and victorious Cardiff!

[With thanks to wesclark.com for the image of cats playing rugby].

The sheep-shaggers derby

“This is it, this is the big one” my resident sporting masochist kept repeating in the build up to the weekend. I stifle a yawn and feign interest, as this is the person who fills my bowl and knows not to disturb my finely calibrated sleeping routines. To me the idea of mutual arse-sniffing is a distinctly dog-thing, not to be engaged in by 30 self-respecting grown men, under the subtle cover of playing something called Rugby Union. But, on this occasion it seems we are talking the world’s number one all-conquering New Zealand All-Blacks coming to town. I gaze into a mirror and try to remind the unobservant one that the all blacks are always in town… me!

In a failed attempt to avoid all forms of stereo-type I imagine the trophy for this occasion… a startled Welsh ewe being mounted by a triumphalist kiwi. While my in-house hopeless romantic is dreaming of another planet somewhere in a parallel universe, where a Welsh 15 are putting the all-blacks to the sword. However, it is an occasion to behold, as it is not often that a consistently world-beating team swagger into town. As I stroll about the town centre, a mere three hours before kick-off, it is obvious that the forthcoming encounter requires serious preparation, as kiwi’s gather in familiar territory even when on the opposite side of the world.

Kiwi's

Not to be out-done in their own back-yard, the locals of Wales put on a display of national pride… otherwise known as the Max Boyces’ version of a boy-band called Boycezone!

Max Boyces

Everywhere you walk is accompanied by the deafening silence of plastic glasses, as the overlords of health and safety ensure everyone has fun… but with a strange after-taste in the mouth.

‘What about the match?’ You ask. ‘Who needs a match when you have an excuse to drink yourself stupid all day?’ I wonder. For the record, local expectations were high, and it all begins with the usual New Zealand tradition of the Haka

New Zealand captain Tana Umaga (2eR), su

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The match quickly develops throughout the first half into the unusual rugby combination of a low scoring ‘cracker’, before the home team twice take the lead in the second half, to set up the unlikely prospect of a ‘haha-wacker’!

But we are talking the world’s number one team here; and for all of the expectations as Wales lead with little more than 13 minutes left on the clock, inevitability strikes… with three tries and no further points conceded the scoreline takes on a familiar, but for this match rather unrepresentative, look:

Wales flags

 

Wales 16 New Zealand 34

NZ Flags

 

 

 

 

 

 

My resident optimist searches for a ray of hope in the repeated gloom, and offers a thought that maybe revenge will be sweet in the World Cup in 11 months time. Until we speak again I have been a bewildered Juno, and feel any such optimistic thoughts belong locked away in the bubble from whence they came. Don’t suffer too much disturbed sleep dreaming of the vision of that Welsh ewe!

[With thanks to BBC News Online for images of the Haka].

Shambolic drama

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WALES 17 FIJI 13

 

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Rugby is a religion in Wales, believe me. As a cat brought up initially in parts of London I thought it was just the passtime of posh boys who liked to get in touch with the animal instincts of sniffing each other’s rears…

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But here in Wales it is the life blood of men, women and children alike… a kind of national identity that bonds everyone together for 80 minutes every now and then, before they resume the mundanity of their usual lives.

As a sport it is little understood by most, and having just lost a couple of hours of my life that I will never get back, I can assure you that a casual glance at the video replay of this anticipated majestic autumn international will be illuminating… at least about everything the game is not meant to be about! Here is a game where both teams managed to completely avoid doing anything that they are best known for… fast flowing rugby full of the thrills and spills of high energy running and hard tackling. All you get from this shambles is the ‘spills’ with very little of the thrills, save for the surprising moments when tries were actually scored.

Fiji managed to spend just over half of the game down from 15 to 14 players as a result of unfathomable misdemeanours; while Wales managed to score precisely no points for the duration of the time they had a numerical advantage of personnel on the pitch. The game probably scored the highest number of clueless mistakes from both sides, but particularly the home side. All that can be said in the land of rugby dreamers is ‘job done, just!

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Until we speak again I will be Baffled Juno, avoiding local men providing cartoonish visions of what passes for work.

[With acknowledgement to fotolibra.com for the rugby scrum image].

The pain of deja vu

Wales flags

 

WALES 28 AUSTRALIA 33

Australia flags in St Mary Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a rugby match that had as much, if not more, to do with other days as it was about today. Whoever said that rugby is just about 80 minutes of 30 big cats running into each other clearly hasn’t been in Cardiff on an autumn international match day when Wales are hosting Australia. This type of afternoon in the Millennium Stadium is what psychology looks like in the raw.

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Today is just tomorrow’s yesterday‘; or you might want to think in terms of ‘times of future past‘. But, whatever linguistic scrummaging you want to get your headspace into, there is no getting away from the fact that Wales have developed a habit, one that nobody should really fall into. This is now 10 straight defeats to this particular opponent. But worse than that… this has become a fixed pattern of Wales leading with minutes to go on the clock, only to commit sporting harikari as they commit a simple error or two to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

So, that takes care of the psychological impact of the past, what about the future? Today comes with added spice, because these two teams find themselves in the same World Cup pool as England in October 2015, and only two teams can qualify out of the pool into the quarter-finals. While at the last World Cup Wales and Australia were both losing semi-finalists, and England returned home early in disgrace! (Welsh folk seem to like using that adjective); now the circumstances look more evenly balanced. So, 3 into 2 is going to leave one nation languishing in dejection. Cue the moment for ending a long run of a particularly poor habit!

 

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Until we speak again I guess I will be Solemn Juno surrounded by a nation in mourning for what could have been… yet again!

[Thanks go to Wes Clark and Afro J Simpson for posting the two fabulous images].