Slam and Dunk

Deep in the Northern Hemisphere winter is a time when the egg-chasing sports enthusiasts get their moment in the limelight; when the Six Nations Rugby Championship takes centre stage; where some of the people of Wales connect with a strange kind of religious fervour.

This year it all kicked off with the biennial ‘Men in Skirts‘ weekend, as Scotland arrive in Cardiff. A brief moment when men can be true to their inner selves, and at least one shopping-laden woman can turn a blind eye…

1. a) Scary scrum

Scotland were in the rarified position of being tipped by many as favourites to win in Cardiff, only to be blown away 34-7 by the native dragon of Wales

1. b) City Road dragon [2]

Next up, it was the turn for Wales to be on the road, with the fixture that inspires thoughts of a clash with old enemies rather than a celebration amongst rivals. What would the marauders across the Severn Bridge take to the hosts of England, tipped to be champions before the tournament started? Well, with dragon-hearts in mouths for most of the last 60 minutes, it wasn’t to be, as St George stumbles to a 12-6 win, and the guest fire-starters prove at the final whistle to be a little more inert in portraying their true heritage…

2. Inert firestarters

Staying on the road, next up is the always welcome trip to Ireland, where the lotion joyously flows, and the red army have frequently found travelling success. As added-on time arrives Wales are only 3 points behind and in possession with the potential of a match-winning try; and then that wayward pass…… Ireland clinically strike for a 37-27 victory, as Welsh heads are bowed…

3. Fallen head [4]

With two oh-so close matches away, Wales return home determined not to let an unpredictable season slip on the banana skin that Italy may lay down at the Millennium Stadium (no Principality Building Society product placement accepted here!). A frenetic first half is followed by a procession to a 38-14 home win…

Banana skin

Which only leaves the simple matter of a victory in the final home match with France to secure a creditable second place in the Championship. If only… Wales don’t do ‘simple’! After most of the match watched through parted fingers, mouth agape, from behind the sofa, the final whistle brings that rarest of outcomes… Rabbits 14 Headlights 13…

5. Desperately holding on

Until we speak again, you may ask “but what about the other matches?” to which the carefully tutored Juno and Bella would answer “so what!” Another Six Nations comes to an end, with congratulations to Ireland for the Grand Slam of 5 wins in 5 games, and even greater congratulations to England for their Number 5… the Dunk of finishing 5th out of 6!

4. Pride restored

Judgement Day 30-4-2016

Once a year the national stadium plays host to all four of the Welsh regional rugby teams for a showcase two matches staged as Judgement Day. The season is drawing to a close and a suitable occasion arises for West v East as the Cardiff Blues take on the Ospreys of Swansea, and the Newport Gwent Dragons take on the might of the Scarlets of Llanelli.

A Grand Stage:

The Millennium Stadium (or Principality Stadium for those who like to wear their marketing endorsements on their sleeves) offers one of the world’s great stages for the event…

Inside Millenium Stadium [1]

Inside of Millenium Stadium [2]

Inside Millenium Stadium [3]

A Fiery Welcome erupts as the teams take to the field:

Blues v Ospreys fireworks

Dragons v Scarlets [1]

Fortunately for the infrequent spectator, two open and expansive games are played, with a majority of the national Welsh squad players on show across the four teams, ensuring entertaining high scoring matches:

Blues v Ospreys

But, not for the first time, judgement declares West as victors over the cousins in the East, as the final scores are Cardiff Blues 27 Ospreys 40, and Newport Gwent Dragons 20 Scarlets 34. 68,282 fans enjoy a feast of high quality rugby:

Blues 27 Ospreys 41

Dragons 20 Scarlets 34

For Juno and Bella this is a game they identified more as men behaving like packs of dogs, with just too much of the arse-sniffing going on (that’s a joke about rugby scrums for those not so familiar with the intricacies of the game). Until we speak again may all of your scrums be tight!

Rugby: The Man’s Game

Juno and Bella were never aficionados of the Welsh national obsession for Rugby Union. But they both proclaimed to be partial to a bit of rabbit. So Judgement Day 30-4-2016 in the home of Welsh Rugby may just have caused them more than a hint of confusion. Whilst Wales is obsessed with a man’s game, a little bit of the English male obsession for dressing up as women may be creeping in to the local rugby psyche!

What is this woman trying to take a nibble of?

Bunny [1]

On the other hand (forgiving the pun)…

Bunny [2]

Until we speak again, feel free to rethink your views about the finer details of the national sport!

 

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…

1907_cats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

haka_585_486970a

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

Wales flags

WALES 17 FIJI 13

 

Fiji flags

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

images

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.

1907_cats

 

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!

 

ntfy0BG

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].