Cardiff Basques In Sunshine And Sporting Glory

Blue has been the colour this week, as Cardiff  basked in a week of glorious sunshine and unadulterated sporting glory.

It’s difficult to decide which is the more notable, as meteorological success in Wales is probably harder to come by than sporting triumph, but for the capital city to have both, and in the space of less than a week, may well make residents and supporters rush out en masse, to buy a lottery ticket, as unlike the weather, good fortune appears to raining down on the South Wales city at the moment.

On Friday night glorious success spanned the 1006 miles from Cardiff Bay to the Bay of Biscay, and from Barry to Bilbao, I would imagine there were even “Bluebirds” over the white cliffs of Dover.

The Welsh capital had only just recovered from its massive footballing hangover, following Cardiff City’s promotion to the premier league, when the “hair of the dog” came in the form of European Challenge cup success in the San Mames stadium over Gloucester.

The celebratory pintxos replaced Clarkie’s pies on this occasion, and chip alley was temporarily re located to Plaza Emilio Campuzano, a gastronomic upgrade of massive proportions.

It couldn’t have started much worse for Welsh side, losing star man Josh Navidi after 6 minutes with what looked like a dislocated shoulder, from then on Gloucester bossed the first half and went in at half time with a 20-6 lead.

I had already prepared my headline “Cardiff sunk in the Bay of Biscay”, but not for the first time, and certainly not for the last time. I was proved totally wrong.

Barely having time to finish my Cortado, a minute into the restart Blues scrum half Tomos Williams went over for a brilliant try, that set the tone for a thrilling and nerve jangling second half.

The tide was turning in the Bay of Biscay, and the water was starting to look a bit choppy for Gloucester.

The Blues scored seventeen unanswered points in fourteen second half minutes, to give them a 23-20 lead, but the cherry and whites were not finished, and proceeded to score ten unanswered points of their own to take a 30-23 lead.

The score remained that way until the clock hit 76 minutes, when Blane Scully went over in the corner, Anscombe missed a difficult conversion, as finger nails slowly disappeared with Gloucester clinging on to a 30-28 lead.

The Arms Park boys gave it one last thrash, which resulted in a Cardiff penalty in the 79th minute, Anscombe slotted the pressure kick as Cool as the cucumber in my vegetable bocadillo, they collected the restart, wound down the last few seconds, and booted the ball into touch to gain a memorable win by 31 points to 30.

Open top buses are going to be in short supply next week in Cardiff, as the city’s sporting heroes display their wares, if there’s another week of sunshine to go with it we may just have to pinch ourselves.


The Red Rose That Always Bloomed

When the mist rolls in off the Bristol Channel on a cold winters night, the folks that inhabit “The Old Ship Aground” pub in Minehead tell tales that send chills down your spine, tales of shipwrecks and smugglers, tales of peril and tragedy in the local waters that have one of the highest tidal ranges in the world.

Inevitably as the night gets darker, and the ale gets more plentiful, the tales get taller, as indeed do the stories of local heroes who have become legends, largely through many misty ale soaked nights where the thin line between fact and fiction is breached.

One local legend is immune from such treatment, a local Barbarian whose exploits are so incredible in their own right, there is no need for embellishment, even fiction writer Arthur C Clarke, also born in Minehead, would have difficulty making these tales taller, even ale assisted.

Rugby can be a brutal and unforgiving sport but every now and then a player arrives on the scene that can raise the game above the ordinary, a player who amid the bump and grind of top-level sport, manages to make the difficult look easy, a player whose skill and execution provide a sheer beauty, grace and elegance that warms the soul, sets our pulses racing,  a player that appears to have more time and space than those around them, Danielle Waterman is such a player.

This week “Nolli ” as she is affectionately known announced her retirement from international rugby.

A red rose that could always be guaranteed to bloom, whatever the weather, whatever the soil conditions, she has graced the white shirt on eighty-two occasions.

It is impossible to calculate how many girls and women have been inspired to take up the game by watching her, but I have witnessed first hand the  “Nolli Effect” around the playing fields of Europe.

She is renowned for her bravery on the field, but perhaps even more noteworthy is her bravery off it, for being part of the RPA “Lift The Weight” campaign and discussing her depression candidly, typically, not for her own benefit, but through a desire to help others who may or have suffered similarly.

The international stage will be a lesser place as a result of her absence but like all good Wasps she will be making a nuisance of herself on the open fields of Tyrrells Premiership grounds all next season.

Danielle Waterman’s list of achievements is endless, a Rugby World Cup winner in 2014, nomination for World Player of the Year, a member of the first ever Team GB Rugby Sevens squad to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Nolli captained England A at the tender age of seventeen, and made her full England debut in 2003 whilst revising for her A levels, aged just eighteen.

But in the years to come we will not be discussing the cold statistics, it will be that sidestep, that tackle, or the unique running style, and that joyous smile after scoring a try or making a last ditch tackle.

So if you ever happen to visit “The Ship Aground” on a damp misty moonlit night and you notice the locals huddled together speaking in hushed tones, they may well be telling tales of horticulture, or to be specific their favourite local Red Rose.

The Pain In Spain Falls Mainly On The Game

There is an old saying “You only get one chance to create a first impression”, for the game of rugby, in the football mad country of Spain, that chance came on Sunday 18 March.

For once, rugby was on the front pages, it was on prime team television and radio, this was the moment the rugby lovers, and supporters of Spanish rugby, had been waiting for, a chance to showcase their wonderful game, and its values, to let the uninitiated and the casual sports fan know just what the our sport was all about.

The bars and cafes across Spain were alive with anticipation and excitement, over a Cortado and a cerveza people were speaking about Malie instead of Messi, Rouet and not Ronaldo, and instead of Bale there was talk of Belie.

But sadly What was intended to be a celebration of Spain’s potential qualification for next years Rugby World Cup in Japan degenerated into an ugly and sordid affair, resulting in a complete antithesis of everything rugby people dear.

All the unseemly events that unfolded that afternoon of which we are now all too familiar, came about as a direct result of the actions, or rather the inaction of Rugby Europe.

This was an accident waiting to happen, Rugby Europe appointed a Romanian referee to a match where his home nation and employer would directly benefit from a win for Belgium.

The “Ref Team” should never have been put in this position and in my opinion Rugby Europe failed in their duty of care to the referee and his Romanian assistants.

Requests by the Spanish Rugby Federation to change the officials were refused, as were the requests for a Television Match Official for what was the biggest and most important rugby match in the world on that particular day.

Conspiracy theories abound, investigations, conversations, recriminations and conference calls are all ongoing, and to add to catalogue of catastrophe Russia has now complained that Romania fielded an illegible player during the qualifying tournament.

The real loser, whatever the final outcome of the governing bodies findings will not be a referee, or even Spain or Romania, the loser will be rugby itself.

Many of my Spanish rugby friends are heartbroken, not because they lost a rugby match but because the years they have spent fostering and proclaiming the spirit and values of rugby, whilst being global ambassadors for the sport, have been compromised and disrespected.

A wonderful and unique opportunity to spread the development of rugby in Spain has been blown, hearts and minds have been lost, some forever.

If that match had been the first rugby game I had ever watched I’d have switched to the round ball game overnight.

The Spanish team did not cover themselves with glory either after the final whistle, and the scenes witnessed were disgraceful, shocking and depressing in equal measure, but would these unseemly events have occurred if Rugby Europe had carried out its duties competently, and appointed a team of officials from a different country.

World Rugby, the game’s governing body, are awaiting Rugby Europe’s explanations, and I have no doubt there will be repercussions, whether these will be to Spain’s advantage I have my doubts.

Whatever happens Spain can still make next years World Cup, and I hope their anger and frustration will be channeled and prove to be a motivating factor in their efforts to beat Portugal, and Samoa, to secure qualification for RWC 2019.

The rugby world will be wishing them well, and just maybe those hearts and minds lost on that wet Sunday afternoon in March will be recovered next year in the Japanese sunshine.

The land of the rising sun would be the perfect place to see a new dawn for Spanish rugby.

Harlequins Ladies Sting Wasps In Sunny Stoop Semi Final

A sun drenched Stoop rocked on Saturday, it rocked to the excitement of a cup semi final, it rocked to the sight of the some of the world’s top rugby players going head to head, and hell for leather, and it rocked because it proved once and for all that the women’s game is the real deal.

On a day of shades and shorts there were fans queuing waiting for the gates to open, the whole atmosphere felt different, there was an edge, a big game ambience, something I have not witnessed before in the women’s domestic game.

It felt more like Tenerife than Twickenham, but as well as factor 50, there was also  X Factor on show, and it came in many forms.

You can take your pick from Rachael Burford’s delicious floating passes, to Deborah McCormack jumping like a salmon at the line out, the skill sets on show were a joy to behold.

Scrum half Leanne Riley barked at her forwards and sniped around the scrum like a hungry Jack Russell, providing fly half Ellie Green with a service that Roger Federer would have been proud of, whilst Zoe Sayner put her body on the line time and time again hitting rucks and mauls like a rampaging bull.

There are over 100,000 different species of the insect variety of Wasp who are renowned for their persistence, but when it comes to the two-legged rugby version, there is one Wasp that is always a delight to watch.

I’m referring of course to Dannielle Waterman who’s silky skills are more butterfly than Wasp, watching her glide like a phantom through tackles with a grace that would be a credit to the Bolshoi, was worth the entrance fee alone.

The home side had the slender advantage of a six point lead from the first leg of this Tyrrells Premier 15s semi final, and you sensed from the kick off that they were not going to let that slip.

This was Quins third semi final match in seven days, in various competitions, and coaches Gary Street and Karen Findlay have had to manage their charges carefully, inevitably some players have had to perform in all three matches, and there were some tired bodies, and minds at Twickenham last night.

Quins lost wing Ellie Miles after eight minutes and centre Fiona Pocock after nineteen minutes, both injured, but it caused little disruption and it was replacement Stacey White who scored the first points of the game with a try on the half hour.

Jess wooden added a second on thirty-four minutes and Quins went into the sheds with a 10-0 lead, and an aggregate scoreline of 35-19 in their favour.

Harlequins started the second half like bats of out hell and Deborah McCormack who is making the number 7 shirt her own these days, scored for the second week running with a twenty metre sprint to the line,

On fifty-two minutes prop idol Vickii Cornborough produced a searing thirty metre break that resulted in Jess Wodden producing some crisp finishing (rather appropriately in a Tyrrells semi final) to touch down for her second try of the match and Quins appeared home and hosed.

Wasps rallied with a Waterman try on the hour mark, but the contest was over to all intents and purposes

As referee Nick Wood blew the final whistle the sun-baked Quins fans rose as one to salute their team, and the joyous scenes on the pitch provided a wonderful end to a wonderful day.

With an aggregate win of 47-26 Quins head to the final, where they will face Saracens.

Wasps, the class outfit that they are, took defeat with grace and dignity, and as the evening sun began to set, maybe it just heralded another bright new dawn for women’s rugby.

Hadleigh Parkes The Centre Of Attention

Just off Highway 1 in the Rangitikei district of New Zealand’s North Island , there lies a small community called Hunterville.

The township on the Porewa stream had a population peak of 546 way back in 1896, but in the census of 2013 its population had declined to 429, the railway station closed in 1988, the maternity hospital in 1989 and in the 1990’s three of its banks closed.
The town is best known for its statue of the Huntaway, a herding dog that uses its voice to control sheep, the steep hills of the Rangitikei would be impossible to farm without the dogs.

But Hunterville may be getting a new statue the way things are going, as it is also the home of Hadleigh Wayne Parkes.

The geographical similarities between home and Carmarthenshire are evident, and as the likeable Kiwi comes from a proud farming heritage, it may explain why the international centre feels so at home in Llanelli.

The people of Wales have taken Hadleigh to their hearts, a down to earth humble bloke, who Scarlets fans adopted as one of their own quite some time ago, but since December the whole country has grown to respect and appreciate the Kiwi centre, for his performances on the field, and his demeanour off it.

His debut for Wales on December 2 2017 against South Africa was treated with scepticism in some quarters, this was soon quashed after a superb performance scoring a try after 8 minutes, another after 33 minutes, topped off with the man of the match award.

He looked like he had been on the international stage all his life, if there were any nerves they certainly didn’t show once the match kicked off.

Pre match is another story, learning the national anthem from hours spent with his Scarlets team mates,  Hadleigh was anxious to sing it and to sing it properly, another act that endeared him to the people of Wales.

“It was a huge opportunity and privilege to be able to represent the Welsh people”

His parents Bill and Janet missed his Wales debut, but his partner Suzy arranged for a video tribute to be sent from New Zealand from family and friends, which brought a tear to all our eyes as well as his.

Thankfully Mum and Dad made it to the Principality Stadium, in February, to see their son make his 6 Nations debut against Scotland.

“They were waiting until the team was picked, with their bags packed, were ready to go” says Hadleigh and when the call came they set out on the 12,000 trip to see their son in action.

Bill and Janet became celebrities themselves when shown on the big screen during the match and there was a lovely moment when their boy in the heat of battle glanced up to view Mum and Dad having a whale of a time.

“I caught them out of the corner of my eye, it was just a good laugh to see Mum and Dad enjoying themselves, and we were playing a good game of rugby as well

It was a tough decision for both him and Suzy to leave home (New Zealand), but they were both keen to explore new cultures in the Northern Hemisphere.

Rugby playing offers came from France but having known Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac from his Auckland and provincial rugby days Hadleigh opted for the West Wales side.

Since then he has become the glue of the national team with his superb rugby brain bringing a coolness and consistency to the number 12 shirt.

The Northern Hemisphere experience could switch to Asia in 2019, as I have no doubts that he will be an integral part of Wales Rugby World campaign in Japan next year.

Hopefully Suzy and Hadleigh will partake in some further European exploration in the Basque city Bilbao in May, a champions cup win there with Scarlets, and there could well be another statue erected to a Hunterville citizen, this time one with two legs.

But the biggest match of all takes place in New Zealand in June where there will be two certain winners, Suzanne and Hadleigh, when they become Mr and Mrs Parkes.

That will be some “Shemozzle”

Spain Sets Out Legal Case For Independent Review

FER calls for an independent committee to review the Belgium-Spain

The arguments on which based the Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) claim for allegedly intentionally partial arbitration of the Romanian Vlad Iordaschescu in the match Belgium – Spain, played last March 18 in Brussels, are as follows:

Ethics of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by failing to respect the impartiality, objectivity and independence in the appointment of three arbitrators of the meeting.

2. Violation of Article 6 of the Code of Ethics of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to have allowed these appointments Romanian referees who will emerge a conflict of interest because if Belgium won the match, Romania qualified for the World Championship 2019 .

3. So this because Rugby Europe, in Article 1.3.5. of its statutes, it is obliged to enforce and defend the Olympic Charter.

4. Breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights by not been an independent and impartial judge in the meeting. Two of the three referees have economic and / or wage relationship with the Romanian Rugby Federation.

5. Violation of Regulation 18.1.3 of World Rugby (WR), power form the performance of the referee a clear prejudice to the interests and image of World Rugby. This behavior is collected in a documentary video test with 19 sequences of decisions made by the referee or were sanctions against Team Spain without having been violations of the rules or were violations of the Belgian team that were not sanctioned .

Therefore, it has it requested that an independent committee of arbitrators (not be worth those who have participated in the nomination and appointment of three arbitrators to be contaminated) revise the arbitration proceedings and in accordance with the assessment made decided by the body competent again play the match Belgium – Spain. This reliance on the Regulation 18.6.1.b) World Rugby.

Tempus Fugit The 2018 Six Nations

There is a theory that time passes quicker as you get older, if this years 6 Nations is anything to go by then that theory has some substance.

It only seems yesterday that the Christmas special of call the midwife came to a tearful end, and the glorious anticipation of the 2018 tournament filled our hearts and minds with that wonderful warm glow that it always does.

Now all of sudden here we are on a damp Monday morning, with snow still on the ground, after the final weekend that saw Ireland win the Grand Slam.

This years tournament seems to have flown by even faster than usual.

Maybe the fact that I reached the tender age of 60 halfway through the tournament has increased the speed in which time has passed.

Such is the rapidity at which the tournament has unfolded, I still have croissant crumbs from Marseille (after France v Italy) in my iPad holder that require removal.

Einstein theorised that time slows down or speeds up depending on how fast you move relative to something else.

Try telling that to whoever is stood ten metres away from a runaway Matthieu Bastareaud, I would imagine that physics theory is rapidly replaced by a more basic fight or flight reaction.

The passage of time has been a crucial factor in this years tournament, on the opening weekend in Paris with 80+3 minutes on the clock a Johnny Sexton drop goal snatched a victory for Ireland against France.

In Dublin Ireland took on Wales and with the score at 33-30 to Ireland, one pass with 80 minutes on the clock from Gareth Anscombe and time stands still for the briefest of moments.

If it goes to Tipuric it’s almost certainly a win for Wales, but an interception for Stockdale results in an Irish try that seals victory for the men in green.

Indeed Ireland seem to be the Time Lords, they have scored 31 points in time added on after either at 40 or 80 minutes during the championship, so we could be looking at Joe Schmidt as the next Dr Who at this rate.

For Italy, facing Wales in Cardiff, the opening six mins must have seemed like an eternity as the rampant red raiders raced in for two tries, that gave the Azzuri an impossible chance of recovery.

There are a number of French players who would love to turn the clock back to the start of the fateful night in Edinburgh, that resulted in a police investigation and their subsequent dropping from the France squad, and there are a group of Scottish players who hoped their Saturday night in the capital would never end, after their wonderful victory over England.

Time is not measured by clocks alone, but also by moments, and the 2018 Nat West 6 Nations has provided us with plenty of moments, moments of joy and sadness, of hope and despair, of ugliness and beauty.

We’ve had France’s version of Beauty and The Beast in Teddy Thomas and Mathieu Basteraud.

Poor Sergio Parisse reached the incredible milestone of one hundred Italian defeats, whilst the Flower of Scotland sent England home to think again, and indeed they did think again, and again, and then lost their next two matches against France and Ireland.

Wales finished as runners-up and with eleven players out injured have acquired an unexpected strength in-depth, just in time for next years Rugby World Cup in Japan.

So it’s finally over and we now file away those moments in our memory bank, to go with all the others we have collected over the years, and some of us are already counting the days to the next tournament.

I’m already thinking about 1 February 2019, when Wales and France open the next six nations tournament, in Paris, at the very gallic kick off time of 9pm.

Undoubtedly time will pass quickly, and if we are spared we will do it all again, how time flies when you’re having fun.