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.

 

 

Wales v Australia Warren Speaks Post Match

A few quotes from the Wales coach following an epic win over Australia this morning.

 

On the tactic of using drop goals early against Australia:

“It was just about winning really. It wasn’t about knockout stages. We just wanted to win the match and keep the scoreboard ticking over. That was the pleasing thing. The way the game is defensively, 15-20 metres out it’s pretty hard to break teams down. It’s a lot easier from 4-5 metres out. (Dan Biggar) just took that opportunity to keep the scoreboard ticking over and Rhys Patchell did as well when he had the chance.”

 
On the Samu Kerevi on Rhys Patchell incident:

“I thought it was investigated by the TMO and referee for leading with the forearm. There’s been a lot of criticism of the referees and I don’t want to get involved in being a part of that. We know they have a tough job out there. It’s important that the judiciary take care of those things and decisions are made and we’ve just got to abide by them. I didn’t see the Piers Francis situation. I did see the (Reece) Hodge one. In real time it looked OK, then when you slow it down, as everything does when you slow it down in slow motion, it does seem to be a lot worse and that’s the way it appeared to me.”

 
On how pleased he was with the performance:

“This team as a squad has grown up in terms of game management. That’s improved significantly. We’ve learned a lot from those experiences about management, coming off the bench, shown real character. We won some key turnovers towards the end of the game. It was pleasing to handle the six-day turnaround. Georgia wasn’t an easy encounter. Our composure and fitness was really good. We soaked up a lot of pressure.”

 
On Dan Biggar’s HIA:

“He failed an HIA. I had a chat with him afterwards. He’s disappointed he had to come off but it’s important we go through the (HIA) protocols. Rhys (Patchell) did a fantastic job for us. He’s been criticised a lot for his defence in the past. We changed a few things about the way he defended. I though his line speed was excellent. He made some big tackles for us and controlled the game pretty well. It was a big match for him to come on early and get the win and he’ll get a lot of confidence from that.”

 
On celebrating the win:

“I want the guys to look after themselves tonight but they deserve to pat each other on the back. It’s a big confidence boost for the next couple of games. Fiji will be hurting so we can’t take anyone lightly in this group. It’s important we prepare the best we can and don’t take anything for granted. We’ve got to be as clinical as you possibly can.”

Sunny Stoop Century For Harlequins Women 

There are glorious rugby days with the warm autumn sun on your back, when the world seems a wonderful place, Saturday afternoon at the Stoop was such a day.

Harlequins Women started their 2019/20 Tyrrells Premier season with a side full of players and combinations being tried and tested for the first time.

From minute one Quins played with a dynamism backed up by immense physicality and accuracy that sometimes took your breath away, their power and pace blew away a Richmond side that battled bravely and never gave up, but I don’t think any team could have lived with Harlequins on Saturday’s form.

A true United Nations outfit with Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, France, Sweden and Italy represented, scored fifteen tries to pass the century mark as records tumbled at the Stoop.

Irish eyes were smiling when Anna Caplice went over for a try on her debut within the first three minutes, and when Green converted a try by Brown after seven minutes we knew we were in for a colourful occasion.

Quins earned their four try bonus point after only fourteen minutes, nine tries in the first half gave them a 61-0 lead at the interval.

The second half showed no let up as ruthless Quins continued their assault on the scoreboard, six second half tries gave the home side an 101-0 victory.

Ellie Green had the eyes of sharpshooter converting thirteen of the fifteen tries including  one of her own in the 20th minute, her matchday total accumulating 31 points.

The season has a long way to run but Harlequins Women have set down a marker that sent shockwaves through social media on Saturday evening, bearing in mind internationals Burford, Riley, McCormack, Petersson and Cornborough will also become available in the near future, the completion for places will ensure that standards are not only maintained but improved.

Its going to be one heck of a ride.

QUINS CENTURY OF SCORING

Timeline Of Tries

3 Mins.   Anna Caplice

7m.   Shaunagh Brown

10m.    Lucy Packer

14m.   Jess Breach

20m.    Ellie Green

25m.    Leah Lyons

32m.    Chloe Rollie

38m.     Emily Scott

40m.     Khadi  Camara

41m.     Shaunagh Brown

52m.     Jade Konkel

63m.     Abbie Scott

70m.     Amy Cockayne

75m.      Emma Swords

80m.       Chloe Rollie

Georgia On My Mind

It has finally arrived, after months of anticipation the wall charts are blue tacked to the kitchen units, fridges are full and we are ready to embrace a Rugby World Cup in the land of the rising scrum.

For Wales going into a Rugby World Cup as potential winners is a totally new experience, but they dare not think too far ahead, and for now, like Ray Charles, they’ve only got Georgia on their mind.

A nation that borders Azerbajan, Russia, Armenia and Turkey in one of the most volatile regions of the world, is not going to be passive and take too much nonsense, physicality will be their main weapon particularly at scrum time.

Mikheil Nariashvili, the Montpellier prop, is one of the best loose heads in the game, hewn from the rocks of the Caucasus he is so tough it is said he can even break Tonka toys.

Fellow Montpellier lock Konstantin Mikautadze has turned out for the Barbarians and at 6ft 7ins and 20 stone his line out presence will be notable, although you can only feel sympathy for his lifters.

The French connection is felt throughout the squad with 16 of the 31 players plying their trade in the Top 14 or Pro D2.

Georgia’s main industries are steel and coal, a throwback to Wales glorious industrial past, and the capital Tblisi is twinned with that other war torn region of the world, Bristol, an unlikely twin you would think.

Wales face Australia on Saturday after a short six day turnaround, so selection will have given Warren Gatland plenty of food for thought, but this is a match they dare not lose.

In 2017 Gatland put out a second string outfit to face Georgia in Cardiff, Wales were very nearly embarrassed, but scraped home 13-6.

It has been yet another roller coaster week in the history of Welsh rugby, after the joyous reception in Kitakyushu, where 15,000 turned up to watch Wales train, but things soon came crashing back down to earth as backs coach Rob Howley was forced to return to Wales, to face an investigation of an alleged breach of World Rugby’s regulation six which covers gambling and anti corruption.

Tomorrow’s match at the City of Toyota stadium will be a tough one and with Australia and Fiji to come things will not get an easier.

 

Shane Williams Big In Japan

Shane Williams is well acquainted with Japanese life, having spent three years at Mitsubishi Dynaboars – a second-tier club based about 50km west of Tokyo – at the end of his playing career. But setting up home in Japan was never part of the plan for Wales’ record try scorer. Back in 2012, Williams was ready to retire – he’d scored a try in what was meant to be his final professional appearance, and life at home was settled and happy.

‘It came completely out of the blue,’ he says. ‘My boy had just started Welsh language school and my daughter, who had struggled at school initially, was doing well. My wife and I had just started a business and we were happy living in the town we and our families had lived in all our lives.’

Despite this, Williams left the tiny mining village of Glanamman and headed for Kanagawa Prefecture. ‘I was petrified,’ Williams admits. ‘I was worried about the language; about how busy it would be, coming from a small town; simple things like getting around, reading signs when getting a train, all that stuff – but I also thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’

Hungry to experience the country and its culture as much as possible, Williams began a process of total immersion. He had toured Japan in the past, with Wales, but that involved ‘eating at McDonald’s most of the time’. Big Macs and fries were replaced with yakiniku and sushi, and even today Williams maintains he’d ‘much prefer to travel around Tokyo than London’. Whether he was swimming in the sea in Okinawa, walking up Mount Fuji or snowboarding in Hokkaido, Williams fell in love with a completely new life, all while still getting to play rugby.

‘I know the game inside out, but I had to learn how to manage people and get my points across, all in Japanese,’ he remembers. ‘I messed up so many times, and they all took the mickey, of course, but they helped me so much along the way.

‘It’s not a place to steadily retire. I was worried the drop in quality would be massive. I had more space and time, but the tempo was relentless and their fitness levels were incredible – that was a shock to the system that playing style has become synonymous with Japanese rugby. Trying to compete with the huge packs of France or South Africa simply isn’t going to bear any fruit, so the Japanese – from the grassroots up – keep the ball and move it quickly. The style has proved successful, and ultimately played a part in growing the sport throughout the country.

They play to their strengths, and they play cleverly,’ Williams says. ‘When they beat South Africa [at the 2015 World Cup], viewing figures in Japan quadrupled for the next game and attention shifted massively. They beat Italy recently and teams view them as a threat. They’re proud – rugby may not be huge in Japan, but the nation will get behind them in a big way.’

That South Africa win – masterminded by England’s current boss, Eddie Jones – was the biggest in Japan’s history and couldn’t have come at a better time. Casual fans’ sudden surge in interest was heightened further by the realisation that Japan would play host next time around.

It was the same year that a Japanese rugby franchise, the Sunwolves, entered Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere’s top club competition. This put some of the best players in the world – David Pocock, Kurtley Beale, Michael Hooper – in front of Japanese audiences. Having such powerhouses regularly playing in Japan is integral to growing the game in Asia, and with Tokyo hosting the Olympics in 2020, excitement is building.

‘When I started playing there were a few hundred fans in the stands – that grew to a few thousand,’ Williams says. ‘Rugby must be the fifth, sixth, maybe seventh most watched sport in Japan. Certainly within the three years I was there, the levels rose significantly. The high-school matches were getting 30,000 supporters, as were the college [ones], and that definitely wasn’t the case before 2015.’

Before the last World Cup, Japan had won just a single game on the sport’s biggest stage, a 52-8 victory over Zimbabwe in 1991. In the 2015 tournament, they won three. Next year they are in a pool with Ireland, Scotland and Russia. Getting out of the pool will be an unprecedented success.

The 2019 World Cup sees the hosts play in the opening game, while the Russians will be providing the opposition and attempting to dampen local excitement. ‘What I like about the Japanese people is they’ll support anything,’ says Williams. ‘They’ll make a day of it, turn it into a festival environment. It’s why I’m excited about this World Cup, because they’ll not only support Japan, they’ll back all the teams and watch all the games, and they want this to be the best. They genuinely could make the best World Cup that there’s been.’

Shane was initially offered a one year contract worth a reported £600,000, unlike many of his ilk, Shane took his wife and children with him, they embraced the culture, an experience which they all thoroughly enjoyed

“I just think now is a great time to go over there,“They’ve obviously spent a lot of money in preparation for the Olympics and they’ll have the World Cup before that. That’s perfect timing as far as I’m concerned.

“It means everything is going to be ready for both events.

“And the whole country is just something that you will never have experienced before in your life. It’s very unique.

“The fact that they have the Olympics after it… everyone’s going to be ready. All the sporting fans in Japan are going to be ready for this Olympics and will jump on the rugby bandwagon.

“What you find with the Japanese fans and supporters is that, if they think there’s a match on or something’s happening, everyone will come and support it.

“It doesn’t matter who’s playing, they’ll support anyone. They’ll put the jerseys on and they’ll enjoy it. I think that will reflect on the World Cup itself.”

And Williams believes the tournament will be all the better for being played in front of a new audience.

“I’ve been to a number of World Cups now in big rugby nations,” he added. “However, Japan is a country that is growing in respect to rugby but they’re completely fanatical about the things they put on.

“They’re going to really embrace it, make sure that everyone enjoys it and wants to come back to Japan.

“Having experienced Japan for three years and seen the kind of festivals and events they do there, I just think it could be amazing and very different to any other World Cup we’ve ever seen. I’m looking forward to it.”

 

Fika And Welshcakes A Tale Of Two Swedes 

Sweden holds a warm place in British hearts, from Ikea to Abba via Volvo, they appear to produce nothing but quality, and reliability, with a touch of class, the same can be said of two their Women rugby players.

Abba may have had Agnetha and Anni-Frid but Harlequins Women have an even better double act in Victoria and Tove.

Any city that has a beach called the cat’s bottom (Kattrumpan) must be pretty special, the city in question is Kalmar the home of Victoria Petterssen, situated alongside the Baltic Sea it is one of Sweden’s most beautiful.

Heading north some 245 kilometres and a three hour drive via route 35 and the E22, we arrive at Norrkoping Sweden’s tenth largest city situated at the mouth of the river Motala Strom, and the birthplace of the other half of Quins Swedish duet, Tove Viksten.

Both of these young ladies have brought their own scandanavian warmth to darkest Surrey, there is always a smile and a friendly greeting from this modest pair, and their addition to Harlequins Women’s already international entourage has been a massive plus for the club.

Tove is a prop and Victoria a wing/centre/fly half ,in rugby terms you coudnt get much further apart, but there are many similarities between them both stand at 5ft 6ins in height, their birthday’s are a month apart, and they both love welsh cakes.

Tove and Vic are classic exponents in the art of “Fika” an important part of Swedish culture, it is much more than just coffee and cake, its about making time for friends and colleagues over coffee and a bite, it’s a state of mind and I can vouch for their Fika skills first hand, back home in Sweden even the mighty Volvo car plant stops for Fika.

Victoria’s rugby journey started due to a chance meeting at a party, following game time at university and local club Kalmar Sodra she found herself jetting off to leafy Surrey at the tender age of 22 to join Harlequins.

She displays a maturity beyond her tender years in the way she talks about life and rugby, with her wonderful modesty and a smile as wide as the oversund she is one of the most popular members of the squad.

Having settled into English life the one thing she misses from home is her mum’s potato and leek soup, on the plus side she and her partner have delevoped a taste for Welsh cakes, my home country’s economy has taken a dramatic upward turn thanks to those two.

Injury prevented any Quins action from January onwards, but a summer of Sevens with the Swedish national team has left her looking very sharp at pre season training, having the ability to play fly half, centre and wing she will be an integral part of Harlequins Women’s drive for success this coming season, and whatever happens the down to earth Swede will take it all her stride, Abba recorded  “The winner takes it all ” but they also sang” I let the music speak” a much more appropriate title for Vic.

Some 16 kilometres south west of Stockholm, the Motala river flows through the former industrial city of Norrkoping, once the centre of Sweden’s textile industry, this is the place Tove Viksten calls home.

Tove is a scandavian name that derives from the old Norse “Thorfrithr” meaning beautiful Thor.

Having seen her demolish a scrummaging machine at pre season training there is also plenty of “beast” to go with that derivation.

She arrived in the UK in 2017 after impressing Quins coach Gary Street at a training camp in Sweden, another engaging and intelligent Scandinavian she has settled into the English rugby season like a duck to water, someone who has a great regard for rugby values the game is in safe hands with people like Tove around.

Holding down a demanding full time job and playing amateur rugby with professional commitments is a tough juggling act for the affable Swede, but her love of the game is so strong that she somehow finds a way to achieve success at both, quite an achievement.

Her Dad is a big rugby fan who comes over to watch Harlequins Ladies whenever he can especially the annual “Game Changer” at the Stoop, we look forward to seeing Mr Viksten next April when Quins face Wasps in the 2020 event.

Tove feels very much at home in England but does miss Sweden’s unique natural beauty and its vast unpopulated spaces.

Both Vic and Tove take huge pride in representing their native country which comes at price both physically mentally and financially.

Playing for Sweden at both sevens and fifteens requires them to fund their own transport to and from training camps international matches and tournaments which due to their adopted country of residence involves expensive flights.

This is the burden for many players at the top end of the women’s game, and like Victoria and Tove they never complain about the crippling costs involved, in fact rather than financial gain they would much prefer to have the time to rest and recover  properly.

Maybe we should end our Swedish odyssey back in Kalmar, and just along the coast from cats bottom beach is Kalmarsunsbet, it doesn’t have a bus stop but instead a pusshalplats in other words a “kiss stop” Borta bra men hemma bast.