Who I’m Supporting at Russia 2018

Later on today the Russia 2018 World Cup begins, and as Wales failed to qualify, I have to pick a foreign country to root for. Luckily, I’ve had lots of practice as Wales’ 2016 campaign is the only one I’ve really had skin in the game for, and it broke me.

So, the question is, out of the 32 nations in the running for the trophy, who do I pick?

First of all, I’ll address the England question. My Dad is English, so some may be wondering why as the metaphorical Land of my Fathers failed to qualify I’m not rooting for the literal one. Well, it’s not that complicated. While I may have got behind England in 1996 to the extent I wept as Southgate ballsed up his penalty, I’ve experienced a lot since then.

And a lot of that is that some English people are massive bellends. I know not all of my neighbours across the bridge are, but there are a lot that are. I went to a Welsh university, but Welsh students were a minority and dealing with a certain breed of Englishman soured me on the country, as does watching the predictable tournament circus unfold.

  • England qualify.
  • One player is singled out as the Great White Hope. If the player is carrying a knock this adds drama. (This year it’s Harry Kane, filling a role previously filled by Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and Paul Gasgcoine)
  • Another player in the squad is singled out as a “gamble” or “risky” inclusion. He is also criticised for some perceived flaw- laziness, being a bit flash, not being English enough. (Raheem Stirling for 2018, but in ’90 it was John Barnes. Another player who got a lot of flak was Owen Hargreaves, which is odd as in the 2006 QF he was the only player to convert his penalty, while missers Lampard, Gerrard and Carragher are held in higher regard).
  • Some pundits advise caution, and fans talk about not getting carried away.
  • England get through the group stage. Probably second in their group or having squeaked into first in solid, but hardly amazing performances.
  • The fans begin to get carried away.
  • They win their first knock out game against a smaller nation.
  • The Quarter Finals are the end of the road with the fans utterly stunned as they are either (a) outclassed or (b) screw up a shoot out.
  • The press single out one player or referee decision to blame the exit on. They invoke memories of 1966 and we are treated to someone with a St George’s cross on their face crying.
  • The manager is fired and the players are slagged off for continuing their lives and being seen smiling because they should be walking through the streets flogging themselves and lamenting for at least six years.

Seeing this play out as an outsider is rather depressing, because it’s predictable and massively unfair. A team is eleven men, it seems unfair to pin it all on one poor bastard. It’s even more unfair when it’s clearly because the tabloids have decided to enter the “tear them down” part of the cycle.

hargreaves

Also, I don’t think I could stand an England win because I would never hear the end of it. It’s been 52 years since the last time they won and I hear about Hurst, Moore, Banks et al. frequently. Hell, the final goal is probably the most played historic footage in Britain.

And before any English fans take issue, can you say hand on heart that you’d genuinely support Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland if they qualified and you didn’t? Honestly?

This isn’t “anyone but England” by the way. If the final was England vs Russia, or Switzerland, or Saudi Arabia, I would have to concede that I’d want England to win. But I’d probably regret it within weeks.

So, who’s it going to be. Well, I’ve narrowed it down to four.

Iceland

Underdogs. Minnows. Viking warriors.

One of the best things about Euro 2016 was the success of the Icelandic team. Coming from a pretty small country they arrived with little expectation and probably would have been a footnote if not for two things. Firstly, their fans, who were massively passionate and intimidating thanks to their primal “Thunder Clap” chant. Seriously, even on TV that was awesome, in the stadium it must have been immense.

iceland2016

Secondly, they more than held their own. They passed through their group undefeated, having managed a solid draw against the Portuguese, the eventual winners. In the knock out stages they dumped out England in a giant killing that warmed the heart and while they may have been thrashed by the French, they still did themselves proud and impressed.

Germany

I’m going for the Germans because when I was asked who I thought might win it, they were my pick. I also like the fact that they could match Brazil’s five wins and they boast a decent squad. Also, I’ve never fully understood the anti-German feeling a lot of British fans have. World War II was a long time ago, people, let it go.

Mexico

I don’t know what it is about Mexico, but I’ve long had a soft spot for them. They’ve never won it before, or even come close.

Belgium

My go to international team on FIFA, and boasting some world class players like Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard. Plus, they need something other than waffles to brag about.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO

 

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6 Nations 2016 Part 4: Too Little, Too Late

Today, with three matches remaining, the Six Nations Championship was pretty much resolved. The Scots upset the French, handing the title to England.

It followed a tense game between Wales and England at Twickenham. In truth, England deserved the win having dominated for the majority of the game, but they still contrived to throw away a nineteen point lead and finish kicking for touch in relief.

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Triple crown confirmed yesterday. Championship today. Next week the Grand Slam?

Wales had been shaky, and it was only an individual moment of skill from Dan Biggar that got them back into it. Biggar charged down a kick and chased the loose ball to touch down beneath the posts and then converted.

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Biggar scores

From then Wales began to edge it, and added two further tries from George North and Taulupe Faletau. Owen Farrell added two penalties to keep England ahead, and Wales piled forward at the end until England turned it over and put the ball over to finish it.

There were a few dodgy referee decisions and bad luck, but the Welsh can’t complain as they simply didn’t turn up for over half the game. A strong finish made it a contest, but it was England’s day and their performances throughout have been solid and they deserve the championship, even if it means enduring smug gloating for at least a year.

So, well done England, deserving champions.

Wales however need to address their problems and get to a stage where we maintain decent form for the full 80. There was also the worrying sight of captain Sam Warburton being stretchered off, but thankfully he seems to be okay.

Ireland thumped the Italians after a weak start to the tournament, but the surprise result was Scotland getting their first win over the French since 2006. It meant nobody can catch England and barring an upset Wales will be in second place.

It’s a bit of a disappointment that the last round’s matches are all but meaningless, with only the middle places left to be decided. The only questions left to be answered are whether England can complete the Grand Slam (likely) and whether Scotland can make it three wins in a row (less likely).

But it has been a good championship, with a few upsets and some cracking matches.

Round 5 Predictions (current score- 8/12)
Wales vs Italy
Ireland vs Scotland
France vs England

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


RWC 2015: Early Exits

I’ve never understood sports fans who leave early, I mean, you’ve paid your money and gone to the ground and sometimes there’s still a chance. The most famous example is Manchester United’s late 2-1 victory in the 1999 Champions League Final.

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So watching English fans troop out of Twickenham with minutes to go was annoying. I’m more of a “sit forlornly until the final whistle” type.

But I actually witnessed an even worse example of fan behaviour in the pub I watched the end of the match in. One of a few English fans there had spent the time waving a little St George’s flag until she decided to remove it and replace it with a Union Flag. That’s dedication.

I’d missed the first half having gone out with MWF and friends for one of our friend’s birthday (at Bar 44 a really nice tapas restaurant in Cowbridge), so when I got to watch the game it was to see Owen Farrell kick a conversion and narrow the gap to 20-10.

With a little over twenty minutes to go a Welsh viewer reminded his frustrated English friend that Wales had trailed by the same margin. It was a nice way to offer hope but I prayed to all the gods that lightning would strike twice. Like all of Wales I was rooting for the Aussies to win, guaranteeing us a Quarter Final place in the process.

Some five minutes later and it was a one score game as Farrell, impressive as ever, kicked a deserved penalty. England were rallying and Australia were making some small errors, but holding up. England were poised to make a comeback.

This stalled just after the 70th minute mark, when the referee stopped to consult the TMO. I originally thought this was to investigate what looked like a high tackle from Sam Burgess (it was high) but transpired to be looking into Farrell’s own tackle. Farrell was clearly leading with his shoulder and flattened an Australian, followed a second later by Burgess going in high.

Farrell was sent to the bin, with Burgess lucky not to join him.

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Farrell is sent from the field

Australia got the penalty over to restore a ten point advantage. A man down they quickly conceded another penalty and Bernard Foley kicked this as well. Four minutes remained and it looked like it was all over, but the Australians twisted the knife with a superb last minute try. They broke wide and Matt Giteau dived over.

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Giteau dives as England crash

And that was it, England were out of the World Cup. The English fans were left to mutter and grumble as the locals celebrated, singing and cheering as Wales went through.

England had been outplayed and victim to the unreasonable expectations of their players. I’ll discipline cost them, and while Stuart Lancaster and Chris Robshaw will lose their roles, but the criticism could go broader and Farrell, despite his strengths as a kicker, needs better control.

Wales face a serious challenge  against a strong Aussie team next week, while England face Uruguay in a game with nothing on the line other than pride. And at least England know they’ve made history, being the first host nation to leave at the group stages, although it’s not the kind of thing you want to be remembered for.

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Victims of hype

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


RWC 2015: TMO or TM-No?

Yesterday the 2015 Rugby World Cup kicked off, but I hate to admit that of the first four matches I’ve only seen about 5 minutes of play.
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Having to be at work at 4AM, I decided to miss the opening match as (co-)hosts England faced Fiji. I made this choice because I needed sleep and knew it would come harder if I’d watched the match, as joy or frustration would have kept me up.
With MWF and I not getting that much time together due to work and uni I spent this afternoon cwtched up with her watching TV and chilling, which was nice.
As a result of this I missed Ireland thrash Canada and the glamour tie that was Tonga vs Georgia. Returning from a trip to the shop I arrived to catch the dying moments of South Africa vs Japan.
With about two minutes left on the clock I realised I had missed one hell of a match. It stood at 32-29.
This was a turn up as I, like many, had anticipated a fairly easy win for the South Africans. Seeing this wasn’t the case I was amazed that with the clock running down it was a one-score match and the Japanese were on the attack.
I instantly began rooting for the Japanese for two reasons:
1. I love an underdog.
2. I’ve never been overly fond of South Africa, possibly because of Lethal Weapon 2.
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My sudden allegiance strengthened as South Africa saw a man sent to the sin bin, Japan’s decision to keep chasing a try rather than secure a draw and kicked for touch. It was a gutsy move, and one I can’t help but admire.
To pursue victory possibly at the cost of a decent draw can be a bit of a gamble. One I’ve seen Wales lose thanks to some lousy refereeing (it still hurts).
I’d probably go for the draw, and it’s probably this deficiency in the drive to win that stopped me becoming a world class athlete. Yeah, probably that.
Anyway, the Japanese powered for the line and a mess of bodies went over the line in a pile. A few Japanese hands shot up but the ref went to TMO.
The TMO is largely a good thing, but there are times it’s pointless. This was pointless. There were so many bodies involved no angle would give a decent view. What was more annoying was that in the days before TMO this would probably have been given.
My issue was that while there was no proof of it being grounded there was no proof that it wasn’t.
Much as I think TMO helps I can’t help feel it’s becoming overused and that it deprives the game of controversy and drama. And that it stops refs from making their own calls. Maybe it should be limited and each team have a set number of challenges.
Me? I’d have given it.
Anyway, Japan got a scrum and continued to push for the line. By this stage I was shouting at the TV and willing the Japanese to break through. Their fans were a portrait of anguish, with mere seconds separating them from a historic victory.
Finally, after a wonderfully worked move they worked it the width of the field from right to left before Karne Hesketh powered over the line.
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34-32.
The scenes that followed were the stuff of sporting dreams with the Japanese players and fans going absolutely mental, and it was easy to see why. This was a massive giant killing and the greatest day in their rugby history.
The conversion was miles off, but expecting the man to be cool under pressure was a bit much and besides the win was already secured.
It was a fantastic finish to a game and I regret missing the rest of it. It was the kind of game a tournament needs, an exciting upset with scenes of jubilation.
A real world cup moment that fans will remember for years to come.
Tomorrow I plan to watch my first full match as Wales take on Uruguay, and a few more in the week.
But I imagine that few will match the drama and feel good factor of Japan snatching victory today.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


No Quota Asked or Given

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the FA imposing a quota system wherby every Premier League team has to have a certain number of English players in their squad.
The idea is clearly because of the continued failure of the English national side to recapture the glory of ’66. But the thing is 1966 was a perfect storm that led to English triumph, those elements have to line up again- a determined squad who worked well together, a savvy manager, home advantage and a questionable linesman decision.
As you can probably already tell, I’m against the quota, for a very simple reason- its bloody stupid.
The modern game may be beset by problems but there is still one thing about football which is good and right. And the quota flies in the face of that.
Football is a meritocracy.
Ability and talent are what gets you to the top of the game (luck helps of course), not your background.
Forcing teams to take on homegrown players won’t strengthen the national side, it’ll just weaken the league. Which nobody benefits from.
Here’s the thing, harsh as it seems, if an English player isn’t good enough to be first choice he’s not good enough and can warm the bench. The cream will rise to the top. David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and others rose to the top of their sport, without having to have the deck stacked in their favour.
Fans lose out too, can you imagine the Premier League without the foreign players? A world where Manchester United could have had to bench Cantona because Dion Dublin would meet their quota? No offence to Dublin, but he was no Cantona.
If the FA wants to build the national side they need to start lower, develop how talent is nurtured. Build up their players so that they earn their starting places, rather than handing those places to those who aren’t good enough but happen to be local lads.
Surely having players who have worked and fought to raise their game and get to the top is more likely to bring England success than a bunch of alright players who know their passport is enough to get them games at the highest level. They won’t be awful players, they’ll be skilled but they won’t be world beaters, because they won’t have that edge that comes from fighting to succeed.
The FA need to take steps, but I can’t help feeling that the quota would be one in the wrong direction.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


6 Nations 2014: Friday night lights

For the last couple of years there’s been a single Friday night match in the Six Nations Championship and it always seems to be the Wales v France match. I have no idea why this is and it kind of bugs me that it’s always us who play on a Friday, as I quite like Saturday afternoon internationals. Whatever, the one bonus of the Friday night game is that as I was passing through the centre of Cardiff on Friday I got to soak up a bit of the pre-game atmosphere, which was already in evidence about four hours before kick off.

I saw a lot of light hearted banter going on and a lot of French fans knocking around, many in costume. There was an Asterix and Obelix duo and lots of those French cock hats, which seem to have been invented purely to vanquish the stereotype of French sophistication and sexiness.

Even Audrey Tautou would struggle to pull this look off.

Even Audrey Tautou would struggle to pull this look off.

The game turned out to be a belter, after the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Irish, we needed to get back on top right away and did so emphatically, with Leigh Halfpenny getting an early penalty before George North capitalized on the shaky French defence to snatch a try in the opening 5 minutes. Wales then proceeded to turn the screw and thanks to dominating the scrum and Halfpenny’s kicking by half time led 20-6.

The second half was less full of incident until the 63rd minute when Sam Warburton, who had a great game, snatched the ball and muscled over the line. Halfpenny converted and that was the last score of the game.

Sam Warburton touches down

Sam Warburton touches down

It was a sensational game to watch as a Welsh fan as all the failings from the Irish game seemed to have been addressed and the team seemed a stronger, more cohesive unit. There had been a few changes made, some due to injury and they seemed to work, George North came into the centre and played well and Rhys Webb played well at 9, taking over from Mike “I could start a fight in an empty house” Phillips, who came off the bench towards the end and still managed to get into a spat.

The only change I would have considered was Rhys Priestland at number 10. Priestland is irritatingly inconsistent, playing shockingly last week after having impressed in the Italy game. Here his kicking was erratic and he still seems afraid to take a hit, Dan Biggar or James Hook might have been a better fit.

But no matter, a win is a win and Wales remain in the running for the championship. It now being a four-way face off with France, Ireland and England.

The rest of the weekend’s games were a frustrating affair.

I was rooting for Italy in the wooden spoon decider, and in a scrappy match they had the upper hand for the most part, regardless of what the Scottish commentator said. They led towards the end before Duncan Weir took a cool drop goal edging them to a 21-20 victory. Weir’s kick was impressive and well taken, but the victory merely papers over the cracks of the Scottish side and the BBC commentator’s claims that they had “turned their season around” seemed something of an exaggeration, especially with France and Wales still to come, it looks more like this win was a blip.

Weir hits the drop goal to snatch the match for Scotland

Weir hits the drop goal to snatch the match for Scotland

I felt for the Italians, who were far from stellar, but having victory snatched at the death is a hard blow to take and with tough matches against England and Ireland yet to come, a whitewash looks to be on the cards.

Ireland’s visit to Twickenham presented an awful dilemma for me, Ireland needed to lose a game for Wales’ hopes to remain alive and this game seemed the most likely for them to slip up, meaning I was in the awkward position of wanting England to win.

It was a tight match and a low scoring first half was a tense affair. The second half was where the majority of the points came.

Ireland struck early after the break with a strong try from Rob Kearney which was converted by Sexton placing them 7-3 up. Sexton got a penalty minutes later and Ireland had a 7 point margin.

An Owen Farrell penalty closed the gap to four. Farrell’s kicking was on point during the game but he continues to be temperamental and I wouldn’t be surprised if he visits the bin before the end of this tournament.

England took the victory with just under 25 minutes to go as Danny Care received the ball to race for the line after Mike Brown cut through the Irish defence with embarrassing ease, he offloaded to Care and the try never looked in doubt.

Care breaks for the line to give England the lead

Care breaks for the line to give England the lead

 

A Farrell conversion put England three points in the lead and they managed to hold off the ineffective Irish attacks to emerge with a victory.

I should have been pleased, but it’s hard to want England to win, even when it benefits Wales because I have to endure “Swing Low” echoing from the TV and the hyperbolic and smug press coverage the following day, still it opens up the tournament and I’ve spent the morning trying to work out what needs to happen for Wales to win their third championship in a row.

We have to win our remaining games against the English and the Scots and hope that results elsewhere go our way (ideally Scotland and Italy pulling off upsets in the next round against France and Ireland respectively, or the Irish-French match ending in a draw). Wales are in control of their own destiny to a point, and a victory at Twickenham will keep hope alive and eliminate England from the running. But we also need to win with big margins if we hope to catch the Irish who have built up an impressive points difference already.

Predictions for round 4- wins for Ireland, France and Wales. (current score 6/9)

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Rage against the dying of the light

So today the Ashes cricket series ended.

For the uninitiated, the Ashes is a tournament contested between the two of the bitter rivals of international cricket England and Australia. For much of my early life the Aussies routinely thumped England and retained the tournament’s tiny trophy.

The trophy is small, but the occasion is massive, as captains Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke pose at the start of the series.

The trophy is small, but the occasion is massive, as captains Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke pose at the start of the series.

However, in recent years the power has swung back in England’s favour, which I like. There’s no Welsh test team and so England, which actually represents the England and Wales Cricket Board, are technically my home team. This is pretty much the only sport where I’ll cheer on England.

This year England have been the dominant force and of the first four test matches (it’s a best of five contest) had won three, drawing the other, meaning they had retained the Ashes and the last test was a formality. However, England have never won a 4-0 home series before and so they were keen to do so.

Australia, playing for pride, put on a brave showing, and I for one thought they’d done enough to secure a draw. England had one last innings to go, and 227 runs to score from 44 overs. This was an achievable 5.2 runs an over (an over is six bowls at the wickets), but Australia had the momentum and were in the powerful position.

England could either play conservatively and hope for a draw, giving Australia a chance to pick away at them and maybe get the wickets they needed to win the day. Or England could come out, throwing the bat in the chase and give Australia a chance to capitalize on any mistakes and the reckless style.

England did neither, and slowly but surely closed the gap. They only lost a couple of wickets, but were helped by Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen putting in solid performances (59 and 62 respectively). This strong performance and good batting from Ian Bell and Chris Woakes meant that with four overs to go (24 balls) England had racked up 206 runs, meaning that they were 21 runs away from winning.

Now, with the games being on Sky Sports, my dad and I listened to the conclusion on the radio, via Test Match Special on the BBC website. TMS is a delight, with funny, charming commentators who seem genuinely enthusiastic about the sport and are given great freedom to go off topic. Most sports move at a frantic pace, but test cricket, unfolding over 5 days is rather more sedate and rather than providing the adrenalin and thrills of other sports, I always find listening to TMS to be oddly soothing and reassuring. That’s not to say it’s not dramatic, as today’s was.

There was a palpable buzz as Woakes and Bell edged to victory before Bell was run out. England still had 5 wickets left and a win looked all but secured. Then Bell was run out, and maybe Australia could blaze through the remaining English batsmen. However, the Aussies were talking to the umpire about the light.

Test cricket is played over five days, but is frequently stopped by rain or bad light. As evening was drawing in, it had got slightly gloomier but the lights were on and it was clear the home fans felt the game should continue. Unfortunately, the umpires followed the ICC (International Cricket Council) rules and the game was called off, leaving the result a draw.

This was a rather disappointing finish to the game. One could understand why the visitors wanted the game called off. A draw was preferable to a loss which seemed the likely outcome, but it all felt rather disappointing. 

24 balls is nothing and as this picture of the post win celebration shows, the light wasn’t that bad:

You could play in that!

You could play in that!

It deprived the game of a dramatic conclusion, and showed that the Australians had lost a bit of confidence and didn’t feel they could take 5 wickets in time or just pin England down and stop them getting the runs. It made sense, but it didn’t seem that sporting. The crowd were vocal in their disapproval and while the stats will show a 3-0 win for England and Australia can claim two draws, I doubt they’ll be that confident going into the next series.

The umpires were kind of caught out by the ICC rules, which is foolish, because at the end of the day the officials should be able to make a judgement call, light meters be damned.

Annoyance here in the UK is probably in stark contrast to the relief of those Down Under, who probably feel that the conditions were unforgivably murky and that safety dictated that the game be called off. Ah, well, that’s sports for you. For some it’s a grave injustice, for others a lifeline gratefully gripped.

Still, congratulations to England for the win, they did extremely well and always looked the stronger team.

England celebrate

England celebrate

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Your winner, and still the Six Nations Champions- WALES!

If you’re English you might not want to read on.

I love the Six Nations. Love it.

After an agonizing defeat against Ireland, my spirits were low.

Wales after their defeat against Ireland

Wales after their defeat against Ireland

Wales had lost eight matches on the bounce. A year after a Grand Slam we looked lost, confused and generally a shambles. It made no sense, we had the same players but something was missing, the entire team seemed to have lost it’s mojo and they weren’t clicking on the field.

I was nervously expecting a return to the rubbish displays of my youth, with Wales slumping to a low table finish and maybe even the dreaded wooden spoon.

And then, on a rain swept Parisian field suddenly the jinx fell away and we laid the smack down on the French, emerging with a 10 point victory.

Italy were next to fall and then Scotland were defeated.

Three victories in a row and suddenly we were lined up for the big game, a championship decider in Cardiff.

On the other side of the Severn Bridge, England had been dominant from the off, dispatching Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy. They were on the hunt for the Grand Slam, but they had to beat us first.

And a funny thing had happened over the course of the tournament. I’d started to believe in Wales again.

Coming back from 8 victories on the bounce showed grit. We’d looked strong against France, and the psychological advantage was all ours.

The Grand Slam can make teams nervous, and several teams have fallen at the last hurdle. Also, it was in Cardiff, and I can only imagine that walking out into a stadium full of singing, cheering Welsh fans who want nothing more than to see you lose must be intimidating as hell.

I’ve spoken to English friends about this, and they always say that they don’t see Wales as their major rivals in the tournament, they’re more focused on beating the Scots or the French. That’s where the beef is, as far as they’re concerned.

Yeah, well, for us, this is the show.

Maybe it’s because we’re a “conquered people”, or it could be a class thing- in England rugby is a little bit posher than football, whereas in Wales, it’s something every boy plays in school. But, whatever the reason, as the song goes “as long as we beat the English, we don’t care”.

Scotland have a similar attitude, and most years their performance in the Calcutta Cup is their most ferocious of the tournament. The Irish as well, quite like sticking it to the English. And the French don’t have a lot of love for them either.

English folk will tell you that this is because of bitterness over past defeats off the field, and I suppose if everyone dislikes you you’re gonna try and make it about them rather than taking a look at yourself in the mirror.

Anyway, the England game is always a big deal, and now, now the pressure was on them.

I mean, technically, they were in the safer position- a win would be a Grand Slam, a rare rugby draw would be enough for them to be Champions and they could even lose and still win the championship, due to points difference. All they had to do was not lose by more than 7 points and they were golden.

But psychologically, the edge was ours.

That’s not to say I was overly confident. I felt the lads would come out strong, but England had been good throughout and might be able to stand their ground. But I thought we might be able to capitalize on them feeling the strain and snatch a victory.

Following sports has taught me one thing- the gods of games are petty and cruel, and they plague mankind with suffering. The worst possible way things could go down for Wales, in my opinion, was for us to be in a championship winning lead until the dying minutes where England would snatch a fluky score and close the gap to 6 points, just short of the target we needed (and to really rub salt in the wound it would probably be scored by Chris Ashton, the biggest bellend in rugby).

Chris Ashton- Bellend

Chris Ashton- Bellend

I’d already watched the Swans lose to Arsenal in the footy, so I was relying on Wales to improve my day.

Luckily, the boys in red didn’t disappoint. By half time we were leading 9-3 thanks to Leigh Halfpenny’s kicking.

It was good, but it was only six points. Could we hold our own in the second and keep England at least 8 points behind.

You’re damn right we could.

Halfpenny kicked another in the second half, extending the lead to the magic 8. And minutes later, Alex Cuthbert scored a try for the lads.

It was a brilliant try, with Wales recovering a loose ball and working it out to Cuthebert, who gave Mike Brown the hand off and stormed over the line. 17-3.

Halfpenny missed the conversion, but it still felt like a comfortable lead, as Wales began to dominate, keeping possession and constantly attacking the English line. Dan Biggar kicked a drop goal to make it 20-3 lead.

And then Alex Cuthbert struck once more. It came from a fantastic stretch of play, where both Toby Faletau and Sam Warburton went on big runs, and then Wales passed brilliantly before Justin Tipuric drew the defenders in before flicking it to Cuthbert for his second try.

Cuthbert and co celebrate the second try

Cuthbert and co celebrate the second try

Biggar converted and it was 27-3.

A further Biggar penalty extended the lead to an impressive 27 points, a record for Wales against the English.

It all looked rather easy in the second half, with Wales outclassing England, who looked shaky and nervous. Wales kept pushing until the end and when the whistle finally went the Millennium Stadium erupted.

In a lot of ways this championship was even sweeter than last year’s Grand Slam. To come back from those defeats was immense, and it was good to see the team rebuilding and rediscovering it’s momentum. And then for it all to culminate in such a convincing, dominant performance was the icing on the cake.

As Adam Jones and Co. paraded around the ground I was filled with happiness. People are a little bit smug about sports and sports fans, but let me tell you this- following sports can be a wonderfully life affirming experience. You get heroes and joy, meaningless sorrows and injustices, and you get to share it all with other people.

Adam Jones, possibly my favourite Welsh rugby player of all time.

Adam Jones, possibly my favourite Welsh rugby player of all time.

I’m still buzzing from the result, and not just because I’d bet my Dad, more out of bravado than actual belief, that Wales would finish higher in the table than England.

I’d yelled and roared at the TV, even got a little emotional and all I can say is, roll on Six Nations 2014.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Euro 2012: England vs France, Ukraine vs Sweden, BBC vs ITV

The 8th game of the tournament, Ukraine v Sweden has just got its second half underway, and Ibrahimovic just scored for the Swedes giving them a one goal lead. Hopefully they can keep their lead because if they win it will be my first correct prediction of the tournament, I’m starting to think I’m a jinx.
Oh, dear.
Ukraine have equalised.
Anyway, in today’s early game I’d predicted that England would be beaten by the French, but they held them to a 1-1 draw.
On balance I’d say France were the better team, but only by a whisker. England played fairly well (Ukraine 2-1 up now, the jinx strikes again) and made the French work.
Being Welsh watching England in major tournaments is always an odd experience. In 1996 I cheered them on, but since then I haven’t.
I always feel a little bad that I end up wanting them to go out, it feels mean and I know a fair few English people, including my Dad. Bur the thing is England make it really easy to dislike them.
First up there’s the fact that if they do win a major tournament we’d never hear the end of it. Look how often the ghost of ’66 is raised, and that’s so long ago the players are starting to die of natural causes. I’m sure Brazil, Italy and all the other winners probably laud their world champions, but you also get the feeling their more concerned with the future and commited to adding to the legacy.
With England you get the fact they cling to it to try and justify their place as a major international football force.
Which they’re not, really. The England myth goes that they always get tripped at the last hurdle by penalties, or dodgy refereeing. But falling at the last hurdle would be losing a final, aside from ’66 they’ve never played in a final. Hell, they’ve only reached the semis twice (90 and 96).
And they speak of penalties like its some cheat FIFA have made to rob them of glory, when really its a combination of handling pressure and luck.
Ah, luck.
The Hand of God, the Lampard non-goal in South Africa, noone can deny England have fallen foul of lady luck. But come on, Germany beat them 4-1 two years ago, and utterly dominated them, Lampard’s goal would merely have been a consolation.
The other reason I quickly get annoyed with England is all the pre-tournament hype. Unrealistic expectation, average players promoted to almost godlike status and a stream of hyperbolic adverts.
For the wannabe neutral it makes it really hard as it just grates, especially as you know the beer companies don’t really give a toss and are just pandering to make more cash. Carlsberg in particular are the worst for these.
It doesn’t help that the England team also includes some of the biggest douches to ever kick a ball, and this is football, which aside from bus drivers has the highest proportion of douchebags for any job. John Terry and Ashley Cole could play against a team of Nazis, serial killers and Lee Ryan, and I’d probably wind up rooting for the Nazis and co.

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Adding to the irritation is the horribly biased commentary you get, particularly from ITV.
Every tournament they do a “who’s coverage will be better” thing pitting ITV against the Beeb. Its always gonna be BBC.
They have Alan Hansen, who’s a punditry god, the likable Gary Lineker and the surprisingly insightful Alan Shearer. Sure they have weak links, but they have a strong core, and better commentators. Oh, and Gabby Logan.

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ITV are fronted by the slappable oaf Adrian Childes and have some woeful commentators, not least the execrable Clive Tyldesley.

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Tyldesley is tedious and lacks any real insight, and today spent much of the game whinging about how the ref was biased to the French, even when it was blatant an England had dived.
Ukraine have just won. So I’m 0-8 in predictions.
Given the rather shaky performances from both teams tonight, Englans might come out of their group quite well.
And I will try and root for them, especially against the Ukraine, and to aid this I’ll have to mute the match if its on ITV.
The only thing to recommend the ITV coverage is the inclusion of Roy Keane, the second scariest man in football. He has an aura of menace and you suspect he’s always mere moments away from violence.
You expect him to deliver his analysis from a throne made of skulls, and doing outside broadcasts with him is brave as you fear he might dive into the crowd if they make too much noise.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO