Sayonara Japan Bonjour France

There is a Peculiar feeling when World Cup tournaments come to an end, an emptiness, a void that is difficult to fill, weeks and months even years of hope and expectation suddenly evaporate, and we are left with the vagaries of so called normal life.

The land of the rising sun finally reached dusk last Saturday, as South Africa lifted the trophy in Yokohama.

Cheslin Kolbe’s feet had barely touched the ground before the rugby circus had packed up its tent, and the mass migration to Hanenda airport had commenced.

But as the sun sets in the east, a new dawn has already risen in the west, as France take over the RWC torch for 2023.

As Bak-San scrubs off the last vestiges of body paint, despite the sadness our lives all feel that little bit richer for our holiday romance with Japan.

Six weeks ago many of us knew very little about Vasily Artemyev, or Kotaro Matsushima, but they are now firmly etched into our rugby memory banks, along with the sights sounds and screams of flying Fijians, sinking Scots and wounded Welshmen.

A new rugby cycle is about to begin, after a whole host of international farewells including Warren Gatland, Steve Hansen, Guilhem Guirado, Louis Picamoles and Wayne Barnes and many more.

This time next year the draw for RWC 2023 takes place in Paris.

The 10th Rugby World Cup begins in the French capital on September 8 2023, and ends on October 21.

Forty five days of gum ulcerating baguettes, only soothed by a decent chateauneuf du Pape but boy the French do these tournaments so well, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean it will be a feast both on and off the field, the nine host stadiums span the length and breadth of country from the mountains to the seas.


So as the bullet train prepares to make way for the TGV, it’s time to take a deep breath, let us all hope we are spared to do it all again in four years time, and who knows maybe even Brexit will be sorted by then.

Easy Like A Sunday Mourning


Despite what Lionel Ritchie says Sunday mornings have been anything but easy for Wales fans this last month.

In fact the day of rest has become, in ascending, order the day of pride, the day of relief, and the day of heartbreak after matches against Australia France and South Africa, all of which have taken place on Sunday mornings during this Rugby World Cup.

Spending Sunday afternoons in a mentally exhausted haze had become the norm, and yesterday was the last and ultimately the hardest to deal with.

South Africa proved to be a step too far for Warren Gatland and his men, and whilst Sunday morning became a Sunday mourning, the gut wrenching disappointment is masked with huge pride for what Wales have acheived.

As in 2011 we dared to dream of making the final, and at half time yesterday Wales were only three points adrift their injury toll lengthened, but the dream was still alive and with five minutes to go with the scores level at 16-16.

Alun Wyn cracked at the post match interview and as his eyes welled up the whole nations bottom lip quivered, the bond between the national team and its fans has never been stronger, and that collective spirit will be a huge comfort in the days weeks and months ahead.

For Wales this is not end, the future looks bright, but at the moment the immediate past is proving rather difficult to process and accept.

To add insult to injuries Wales have to face New Zealand in four days time in a meaningless 3rd/4th place play off match, with the casualties the men in red have incurred the team that takes the field will be nowhere near full or even half strength, surely it would be far better to leave the tournament following a brutal physical encounter with pride at the semi final stage.

By this time next week we will know the winners of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and if anyone cares, who indeed who has come third and fourth.

Sunday mornings will now change dramatically, they are going be an awful lot more relaxing from now on, we won’t be emotionally wrung out by noon, and may even able to hold a coherent conversation by mid afternoon, but you know what, in a strange and sadistic way we ain’t half going to miss them.

Waking Up To A Semi

Monday mornings are hell on earth, especially at this time of year when they can be awfully tough to deal with.

A wet cold dark start to the working week is hard going at anytime, but the day after a Rugby World Cup quarter final feelings and emotions are accentuated to the maximum.

This morning when the Welsh nation awakes, the wind and the rain will not sting quite so badly, and the early hours darkness will not blacken this ancient land as much as usual.

Wales have reached the Rugby World Cup semi finals, quite how they managed it none of us are really sure, I denied my country three times yesterday as a France victory was looking more and more inevitable, but Wales did win 20-19, in a match that surely holds the world record for the number of people watching a game from behind the sofa.

Upholstery repairers will be doing a roaring trade this week to get the three piece suites back to prime condition in time for Sundays semi final against South Africa.

Many Welsh fans are still awaiting the return of their furniture after the Australia game, which produced an awful lot of living room casualties.

France yesterday lived up to every rugby cliché that has ever been thrown at them, which France team would turn up ? well it turned out to be an awfully good one, but their indiscipline and composure cost them big time, resulting in them losing their cliché battle 2-1.

Maybe there is such a thing as rugby karma after all, in RWC 2011 France beat Wales by a single point and Wales received a red card.

In RWC 2019 Wales beat France by a single point and France received a red card.

So as you await the repair of your DFS triple seater,spare a thought for the poor French fans “Chaise Lounge” that have probably been well and truly wrecked and beyond repair.

 

 

 

 

The French Quarter

I wonder how many times you have heard the phrase “Which French team will turn up” this week ? Probably as many times as you’ve seen Sam Warburton’s red card revisited on every media platform known to mankind. 

Wales face France on Sunday in the Rugby World Cup quarter finals, it’s hard to believe that eight years have elapsed that rainy night in Auckland when a nation wept after losing a semi final to France 9-8 whilst playing with fourteen men for 63 minutes.

Many thought the chance of World Cup glory might never come again but here Wales are 240 minutes away from potential glory the like  of which the country has never witnessed before.

France are just being France at a World Cup, strife in the camp with captain falling out with coach, a full back returning home injured only to turn out for his club a few days later in the Top 14, and who knows what else has been going on behind the scenes, but Wales beware this is when les Bleus are at their most dangerous.

There appears to be a quiet calm in the Welsh camp, a settled side that have overcome the Cymric rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs that were a trademark of the national team and its followers, they don’t panic when they fall behind  anymore,they know how to close out games and they appear to be able to get up for the really big occasions.

Despite France dismal record under Noves and Brunel they still have the ability to produce moments of genius, in this tournament they have tended to have produced them in the opening quarter of their matches before gradually unravelling into a shambles by the time the final whistle had blown.

Wales will hope that this vein of form will continue until Sunday at least,

In this years Six Nations encounter in Paris France dominated the first half racing into a 16-0 in the rain and icy sleet of Saint Denis before imploding into a soggy mess in the second half.

In 2011 the Welsh nation wept with sadness and pride some of us are hoping that rugby karma will take us and Wales into a blissful week where we can continue to dream.

Sunday’s Teams

 

Vasily The Moscow Express

Vasily Grigorievch Artemyev has been one of the stars of RWC 2019, the “Moscow Express” has charmed and delighted everyone with his post match interviews conducted in a Russian/Irish hybrid drawl, that had listeners bemused and fascinated in equal measure.

Zelenograd is a city that was built in the environs of Moscow in 1958, under the old Soviet Union regime, it has developed as a centre of electronics and computer industry, known as Russia’s Silicon Valley, the emblem of the city is a squirrel, it was here that Vasily Artemyev was born.

A rugby star could have been lost to the arts, as Artemyev learned  ballet at the age of six, his grandad’s sister was a ballerina with the world reknowned Bolshoi, so instead of a rip roaring full back there could well have been an alternative Billy Elliotski.

Aged 15 his parents wanted him to learn English so he went to Blackrock College in that delightful town on the edge of Dublin Bay, why Ireland ? well the story goes that it was cheaper than either England or New Zealand.

He was due to spend a year in Ireland but ended up staying for seven playing in the Leinster schools final at Lansdowne Road in 2006.

After graduating from Blackrock, he entered University College Dublin to study Law, a return to Russia in 2009 was followed by a move to England on 2011 when Vasily joined Northampton Saints, scoring a hat trick of tries on his debut against Saracens in the LV Cup.

In 2011 he left England, and joined Krasny Yar where he has played ever since.

Having played for Ireland age at youth level his Russian international debut came on February 7 2009 in an 18-14 win against Portugal in Lisbon, 89 caps and 29 tries later he is still going strong.

After losing to Ireland in Japan coach Lyn Jones gave his verdict on Vasily at the post match press conference.

” May I apologise for his moustache what a great character he is, a great captain, great person and an example to any captain in world rugby”

As Russia head home after exiting the 2019 Rugby World Cup at the pool stage, there is no doubt that the man from Zelenograd has been one of the characters of RWC 2019.

The Colour 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.

In Wales the colour red has been a symbol of our nationality, and heritage, the Red Dragon on our national flag, the red shirted heroes of our national rugby team.

But on a damp night at Eden Park, Auckland, on 15 October 2011, the colour red came to symbolise the end of a glorious dream, the cruel twist of fate that cost Wales the place in a Rugby World Cup final for the first time in their history.

With Nineteen minutes on the clock, Sam Warburton upended France’ Vincent Clerc, referee Alain Rolland pulled a card from his pocket, the colour ? Red.

Fast forward to 2019, in Japan the colour red is believed to bring good luck particularly when paired with white.

The red packaging of Kit Kat has made the chocolate a good luck token to the Japanese and it is a popular gift for students at exam time.

So far the colour red is doing rather well at the Rugby World Cup maybe a few kit Kat’s could be delivered to the Wales squad currently residing in Otsu, as they prepare to face further stern examinations and tests next week and hopefully beyond.

Fire and passion are also associated with the colour red, both of which were visible by the bucket load when Wales beat Australia in Tokyo in one of the most thrilling and brutal games of the tournament so far, a result that has given Wales a huge foothold in their ascent to the world crown.

Next up are Fiji, on Wednesday followed by Uruguay on Sunday, five days which will determine the men in red’s World Cup future.

Under Warren Gatland there will not be a single morsel of complacency, Welsh fans still shudder at the mere mention of Fiji which evokes memories of Nantes 2007 for which many of us are still getting flashbacks in the dead of night,

There is still a long way to go in the 2019 tournement and we dare not get involved in the arithmetical accumulation of fowl, but maybe,  just maybe the colour red will, be the colour in which we Welsh will paint the town on November 2 ?… now where’s that Kit Kat ?

The Miracle Of Kamaishi

On the morning of March 11 2011 an earthquake struck Japan leaving a small coastal town 500 miles north of Tokyo devastated  by the resulting tsunami.

In a town with a population of 35,000 people 1,300 lost their lives, to bring rugby into the equation may seem crass and inappropriate, but in the months that followed the total devastation, locals wanted to give the town a sense of purpose, a start to the healing process and restore pride, rugby was at the very heart of the process.

The Kamaishi Recovery stadium was built on the exact spot where the local school was washed away.

Stadium director Takeshita Nagata “We wanted to build something that would symbolise hope for the future, it’s not just rebuilding something physically it’s about rebuilding hearts”.

Last Wednesday a group of men from 11,500 miles away ensured that Kamaishi will always be remembered for a joyous uplifting heart pounding event to counteract that soul and life destroying event of March 2011.

Before Wednesday’s game, local woman Rui Horaguchi (pictured above) gave an emotional account of the tsunami that swept away her home, and her school, which once stood on the site where the new stadium has been built.

My house was washed away in the waves, and after that I remember we had donations from across the world”

“It is all of that support that allowed us to look forward, and once it was decided that Kamaishi would host the Rugby World Cup there was huge increase in the construction of the city”

“That was when we began to understand why Kamaishi was chosen, to help grow the area again, this has really helped the community to come together, and I am hopeful that we will maintain that unity to make it even better”

For once the gods smiled kindly on Kamaishi a glorious sunny day with a temperature of 22 degrees and a rugby match that is now enshrined in Rugby World Cup history.

Sport has an amazing power to unite and inspire, and more often than not it can provide comfort and a platform for healing, Rui Horaguchi and the people of Kamaishi will never forget March 11 2011, but thankfully they will also never forget September 25 2019, when the rugby world held them in its arms in the warm Japanese sunshine, and for a short while everything was alright with the world.