Benvenuto Italia

Italians arrived in Wales in the 19th century and brought with them a wonderful colourful culture of ice cream parlours, cafes, and fish and chip shops.

They brought colour and panache to a dark grey landscape for which we are forever grateful.

Between the wars they continued to arrive from all over Italy but mainly from Bardi a town in Emilia Romagna.

Bardi is a hilly town similar geographically to many welsh valley towns where the Italians made their new home, meteorologically though the similarities were non existent.

Frank and Aldo Berni opened a humble cafe in Merthyr before going on to establish the famous Berni Inn chain.

The link between the Italians and the Welsh is probably more visible in the capital than anywhere else in Wales, an Italian restaurant or coffee shop will come into view in almost every street and shopping centre in Cardiff.

The 2018 vintage arrived in smaller numbers this weekend, but soon found a home from home in the piazzas of the Welsh capital.

Yesterday on a mild sunny Mothering Sunday in Cardiff, the blue and the red mixed as old friends do, over an aperitivo and a plate of antipasti, before heading to the Principality Stadium for what they hoped would be a mouth watering primo and secondi.

Bread of Heaven was served up after just four minutes when Hadleigh Parkes went over for a try.

After six minutes George North scored a second and it looked like a feast was on the cards with Wales leading 14-0.

Just when it looked like Wales would run away with it, Italy clawed back a try after 10 minutes.

After the first course Wales led 17-7.

Their appetite recovered, the men in red added three more tries in the second half to Italy’s one, and Wales ran out comfortable winners 38-14.

As “Hymns and Arias” rang out after Wales fifth and final try the home fans appetite had been well and truly sated, and bread of heaven had indeed feed them until they want no more.

Wales now move up to second place in the Nat West Six Nations table and look forward to another gourmet event next Saturday when France come to town.

As the coffee shops and cafes of Cardiff closed their shutters there was time for one last espresso and a nod to a nation whose people have an indelible link with the land of our fathers.

Ciao Italia


Seeing Red

In Ancient Rome the colour red symbolised blood and courage, whilst in China, it is regarded as a vibrant optimistic colour symbolising success, happiness and warmth, along with good luck and wealth.

But for a select group of men the colour red symbolises a brotherhood whose claim to five and six nations fame is a somewhat dark and shameful one.

There is no highlighted annual glory for them, just a little talked about statistic in the back pages of the guides and previews of this wonderful tournament.

These are the men who have received their marching orders, the recipients of the dreaded red card.

Stuart Hogg 2014

The first 5 Nations dismissal took a while coming, you wait ninety-four years for a sending off then two come along at once.

The late great Willie Duggan of Ireland and Geoff Wheel of Wales were the first players dismissed in the Five nations when Wales entertained Ireland Cardiff on day month 1977.
Scottish referee Norman Sanson did the honours in the days when you could only get cards from Hallmark, it was just a pointed finger to the touch-line, which even the BBC cameras missed, fortunately commentator Nigel Starmer-Smith didn’t.

It will come as no surprise to English readers that France are the Kings of the Red Card three of which were received in their vintage decade of “Le Biff” the 1990’s

The complete antithesis to the French are England, whiter than their white shirts, who have not received a single red card throughout the entire history of the Five and Six nations.

Although when it comes to yellow cards, James Haskell holds the dubious honour of receiving the most individual yellow cards, managing to collect five between 2007 and 2017.

Italy as the new kids on the block, have made up for lost time with three dismissals since they joined the tournament, when five became six, in the year 2000, in addition Italy also hold the most yellow cards with forty-five.

The most recent red card was given by Jerome Garces to Scotland’s Stuart Hogg in Cardiff in 2014.

Teddy’s Life Has Been No Picnic 

Teddy Thomas has lit up this years six nations with the kind of footwork his nursery rhyme ancestors would have been proud of, one step, two-step and a bit of “round and round the garden” before dotting down over the try line three times in two matches.

The man with the”Man Bun” has been the eye-catching speedster follwing the opening two rounds of the tournament, the nicknames are bound to follow, TGV Ted maybe, or the Racing Rapier, I will leave that for my friends at L’Equipe and Midi Olympique to sort out, but my Welsh imput will consist of “Thomas The Try”

Teddy is born and bred French, with some Malian blood from his father.

In an interview Teddy said “My father abandoned me shortly before my birth”

All he knows about his Dad is that he was born in Bamako, and came to France to play professional football with Saint Etienne and Marseille, but when Teddy was born, on 18 September 1993, his Dad disappeared off the face of the earth.

Born within the shadow of the Biarittz stadium, the young winger was raised by Mum Carole, with his uncle and Grandad providing the fatherly guidance.

It was they that took him to training, encouraging him into the Biarittz academy under the guidance of a great former French wing Patrice Lagisquet.

Teddy bears no bitterness towards his father, just sadness that he didn’t know him.

“I don’t want to judge him, I don’t know the circumstances of his departure and I don’t want to know them”

Teddy Thomas stands at 6ft 1 and weighs in at just over fourteen stones, on his left bicep are two tattoos one shows Mali within a map of Africa, the other is written “Dad” in Latin.

On November 8 2014 he made his French debut against Fiji, on the left-wing, scoring a try in the first minute, he went on to complete a hat trick that day.

He has scored eight tries in five matches for his country a pretty impressive ratio, those of us craving a return of the French rugby flair that lit up our youth, are pinning  an awful lot of our hopes on the young Racing 92 player, to lead French back play from the darkness in to the light.

It is a bitter irony that due to incidents in Edimburgh after the Scotlamd game, the flying winger will not be able to face Italy, at the velodrome, the ground where his Dad played professional football for Marseille.

Hopefully for Teddy there are still big games to come against England and Wales, France will badly need “TGV Teddy”  for those huge encounters.


Guilhem Guirado The Humble Hooker

Arles Sur Tech is a tiny village, set in a scenic forested valley, in the eastern foothills of the pyrenees, where catalan and French are spoken.

It is less than one hours drive from the Spanish border, a journey which has a major relevance to one of its inhabitants, France captain Guilhem Guirado.

In stature and appearance, he is exactly how you would imagine a French hooker to look like.

At 5ft 11ins and 15 stone 8lbs, he is as tough and solid as the local Pyrenean Boulders on the field, and as calm and gentle as the meandering river tech off it.

A private man who puts his love of his family above all else, his grandparents were part of the 500,000 Spanish exodus, that fled the violence of the Spanish Civil War, and crossed the Pyrenees with the one sole aim of finding refuge in France.

His parents were born in Granada, and were only five years old when they arrived in France with almost nothing to their name.

“Until I was 15 all I knew was this village where my grandparents had arrived, my favourite memories are from here, I loved being that age, it is here everything really started for me and I found a passion for rugby”

Guilhem is a man who knows where he is, and more importantly  where he has come from.

I first met him at the RBS 6 nations launch in 2016, after he had just been revealed as the new France captain, he stood out as a man at peace with himself taking everything in his stride in a calm and measured manner.

“To know where you want to go you need to know about where you came from and the determination that went before” he says philosophically, and when you delve into his family history you get a sense of where that inner strength has come from.

“What I like about rugby is the direct confrontation with an opponent a physical contest and collisions tackles”

But when he gets home he puts his bag down and rugby is finished

“The most important thing for me is my family and the people who are around me, whether my parents, grandparents wife or daughter”.

“It’s my stability it’s something that allows me to put things into perspective, to be able to relax and see life in a different way, I’m not only thinking about rugby and that allows me to perform well on the field”


“I don’t have a specific style it is mainly a feeling, a lot of conversations and a lot of questioning, and the captain is nothing without the players around him”

“It is a great pride, a huge honour for all that it means for me and for France”


“I think it’s always an honour to play for and represent France, everything goes more quickly and it is a bit stressful because of the fear of not being up to the mark, you want your family to be proud of you”

“I like to know what has happened in the past and immerse myself in it because I also have to represent all the former players, there have been some huge players, and great hookers who have gone before me”

“For me this shirt really represents the welcome given to the Spanish exiles, I am French I grew up in France, it is a country that was ready to welcome to my grandparents so of course I think of them”


“My first memory is the first time I played rugby, it was with all my friends in Arles sur tech, and the most beautiful thing is we all got to know each other on the rugby field, and today we are still sharing our lives and great moments together”

“I have been lucky to be able to play for my club that made me dream when I was a kid, the Perpignan team USAP, and finally to be able to play with France a few years later, and now to play with RC Toulon with the best players in the oval world”

He won his first cap on 9 March 2008 , coming off the bench against Italy at the stade de france in a 25-13 victory “I remember my first cap, a special taste, I remember it like it was yesterday”

His first start for France came in the 2010 autumn international against Fiji.

The recently sacked France coach Guy Noves spoke publically of his desire to keep the “Toulon Talonneur”as skipper for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The new incumbent Jacques Brunel was coach of Perpignan when they won the French league some years ago, wearing the number 2 shirt through that campaign was none other than Guilhem Guirado, so he too is well aware of leadership qualities the man himself possesses.

Whatever happens you sense that Guilhem will take it all in his stride, his mother says “He must never forget where he is from, it is his strength” and as we all know, mothers are usually right.


This Roar Is For You Dad

How many of us were taken to our first rugby international by our Dad ? Quite a few I should think.

My father took me to Cardiff Arms Park on October 2 1971 to see Wales play for the very first time against Canada.

Forty seven years have passed but that day still lives with me.

In those days of black and white television to be taken to a new rugby world where the grass was green and the Welsh shirts a blood red was a shock to the senses, the colours were all so vivid after a childhood of grey grainy pictures on a small television that doubled up as a cocktail cabinet.

Those forty seven years have passed in a flash, age has caught up with us all, but this weekend it caught up with one man in particular.

My lovely dad passed away at 2.30pm, a proper old fashioned kick off time.

Like a true prop he gave it all he had but this time he was on the losing side, and now it’s time for him to rest in peace.

As the 2018 six nations is about to begin the glorious irrelevance of rugby will be the great comforter that it always has been, and to all those of you who will going to Edinburgh, Cardiff, Rome, Dublin, Twickenham, Murrayfield and Marseille, enjoy every second, and if you happen to be going with your Dad, hold him tight and give him an extra hug from me.


France’s New Coaching Team Talk To The Press

The name Brunel is associated with achievements that defied established theories and practices creating breathtaking results still evident today.

I am of course referring to Isambard Kingdon Brunel, whose namesake Jacques, the new France coach, has agreed to undertake an engineering project that would have tested even the great mans capabilties.

Last week in Marcoussis, at the French National Rugby Centre, Jacques Brunel and his three coaching assistants faced the press.

The head coach spoke of his immediate aims:

“It really begins today with administrative formalities, with the press, with the club coaches with whom we will try to find a consensus on the work to be done on the players. We have the same goals, the player’s performance is at the centre, but very quickly, because we have very little time, we have to switch to the tournament and especially the first match. We’ll get to work right away.

“The mission will be to put the team of France where it has been often, namely to attempt every year to win the tournament, to be in the hunt on the last weekend to fight to claim to win the tournament.  This means that Ireland is fundamental to that goal. I do not plan on the World Cup. There are games to climb before. The World Cup is a special moment with a special preparation, a lot of time we can spend together. Today, what matters to me the Tournament and especially the first match. “

“The potential player exists, he is there, we will use a good part of what was in place. We will try to put them in the best conditions. It is certain that the accumulation of defeats did not strengthen this confidence, on the contrary it deteriorated. We will try to create an environment that makes them perform and they grab the few ideas that we will give them. We are going on a fairly simple basis, a framework in which they will be well. There is a rather special first match because Ireland has a particular type of game that we will have to answer. It is through working everyday, especially the first fifteen days that we will spend together, that we will be able to create the climate that will lead us to victory. “


Brunel commented on a possible future captain role for Guilhem Guirado.

The new coach assured “Midi Olympique” earlier, that he had decided to continue with the Toulon hooker, with whom he worked at Perpignan when they won the league title in 2009.

However, when questioned on this last Thursday he seemed to be hedging his bets.

“I can not say it right now, he will first have to be selected in the squad, if he is in the squad  I’ll have to talk with him,

“I do not know exactly how he coped with the captaincy, whether it’s a burden for him or not”

“I saw his investment in the role, he gave everything, we will make the decision when the time comes”.


“I feel a lot of pride and a little apprehension because I am aware of the difficulty of the task”.

“For now, contractually, I only committed for the duration of the Tournament. If all goes well, the rest will follow. I have already started working on the Irish Alignment, our first opponent of the Tournament “.


“It’s very exciting to coach both the teams from France and Lyon.

I will continue to keep an eye on my club, of course, but when I’m in France, it will be to get 100% involved. “


“It’s nice to be here. It’s a big challenge. We represent an institution, a country, it will be one of our first messages. The boys need to realize how lucky they are to be here. We must also regain confidence. The players have experienced disappointments, they have taken shots on the head. To work in defeat is never good. We want to restore their confidence. I arrive with a lot of desire. Rugby is my passion. “

Brunel’s 6 Nations Squad, and captain, will be announced on Thursday (January 18).


Harlequins Ladies 80 Worcester Valkyries 7

In Norse mythology a Valkyrie is one of a host of female figures that choose who will live and die in battle.

Fortunately yesterday  the Worcester variety of Valkyrie did not have such a sinister job description as they faced a Harlequins side in a purely sporting battle.

But for the home side it was one of those “Days in the sun” both literally and metaphorically, as Quins played with a verve and panache scoring forty points in each half, eleven tries and won by 80 points to 7, to secure a play off place in the inaugural Tyrell’s Premier 15s Championship.

As Coaches Gary Street and Karen Findlay reached for their factor 50 high up in the stand at a sun kissed Surrey Sports Park, Fiona Fletcher had already touched down for the opening score.

Ellie Green bossed matters at ten with a maturity and composure that belied her tender age, remember the name, because in years to come you won’t be able to forget it.

Leanne Riley at scrum half “looked after” her fly half and did a lot of unseen work to ensure that she was given a first class service to enable her talents to shine.

The bonus point was secured by half time after further tries from Holly Myers, Aldora Itunu (2), Shona Brown and Megan Brown, the 40-7 scoreline was an accurate reflection of a breathtaking first forty minutes.

Starbucks had barely emptied as the latte clutching spectators raced back pitch side to see Itunu complete her hat-trick, the try tsunami continued for Quins as Fiona Fletcher got her second, followed by Sam McCarthy (2), Chloe Edwards and finally Shona Brown got her second of the match.

Spare a thought for the exhausted scoreboard operators, Scotland and Wales internationals Beth Dainton and Deborah McCormack whose consummate performance must surely put them in line for roles in the next Channel 4 series of countdown.

Vicky Foxwell scored the Valkyrie’s only try but the Worcester side played their part in an entertaining game that thrilled the ample crowd.

Harlequins Ladies are seeking to make history by hosting the largest ever crowd to a women’s club rugby match on Saturday 10th March when they face Richmond Ladies (kick-off 15:00). Get your tickets now and make it apart of your 6 Nations weekend.