Wales of­ten talk the talk, but don’t have the re­sults to show for it

Satur­day Com­ment

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

T WAS here in Cardiff three years ago that I got to ex­pe­ri­ence the feel­ing of hav­ing a big prop for­ward flame over with anger to the point that for a brief mo­ment you fear for your health.

It was at an early morn­ing ra­dio break­fast show hosted by Ra­dio Wales and the prop in ques­tion was Peter Rogers, a for­mer Welsh in­ter­na­tional who also played some of his rugby in South Africa.

The line that I ut­tered that Rogers took um­brage to was the fol­low­ing: “All I’ve heard while sit­ting here for the past 20 min­utes is how big, strong and fe­ro­cious the Welsh for­wards are, and I hear it ev­ery time I come here, yet in­vari­ably it’s the South African for­wards who turn out to be the big and fe­ro­cious ones. You guys have only ever beaten us once, and there must be a rea­son for that.”

Okay, it made for good ra­dio, or so I was told by the Ra­dio Wales peo­ple (I note though that they haven’t in­vited me back for a re­run this year), and Rogers wasn’t re­ally go­ing to hit me. On the con­trary, we had a good laugh af­ter­wards. But what was said was none­the­less hon­est – when it comes to rugby this place al­ways seems to be full of huff and puff, and pre­dic­tions of great worlds that are set to be con­quered, but the bark is rarely trans­lated into bite of any sub­stance.

The only time the Welsh had in fact bit­ten the Boks prop­erly was in 1999, when I some­times get re­minded by those who were part of it that a story car­ried un­der my by­line on the front page of the Cape Times played a piv­otal role in de­flect­ing the South African fo­cus.

To re­fresh mem­o­ries, that game was played in the week when the coach Nick Mal­lett had sounded off to a re­porter (yes, it was me) that he was not go­ing to be dic­tated to by politi­cians and told who he could or couldn’t select to his team.

Un­for­tu­nately, as Mal­lett be­came all too aware of later, politi­cians don’t like to be told that they can’t dic­tate things, and they love hav­ing a say in mat­ters they know ab­so­lutely noth­ing about. Rian Ober­holzer was on the phone to me at spar­row on the day that Cape Times story, un­der the head­ing “Mal­lett mar­ried to merit”, was run, just to check up that I had quoted Mal­lett ac­cu­rately.

As I know the pres­sure he was un­der I will al­ways de­fend Ober­holzer, but there can’t be any deny­ing that his an­gry meet­ing with the coaches and play­ers just two days be­fore the Test, where they were ef­fec­tively made to feel that their places were in jeop­ardy if they didn’t ac­cept cer­tain re­al­i­ties, played a big part in rob­bing Gary Te­ich­mann’s men of their fo­cus.

The up­shot was a 29- 19 de­feat that re­mains the only blem­ish on the South African

Irecord against Wales. If you con­sider that the ri­valry ex­tends back to 1906, and that, like South Africa, this is a na­tion that treats rugby union like it is a re­li­gion, that is quite a record.

Yet it hasn’t stopped the Welsh con­fi­dence, and the lo­cal me­dia are in some ways sim­i­lar to the Cape me­dia in the way they seem to al­ways find a way to make their team the favourites even when some­times logic sug­gests oth­er­wise.

Of course, there is good rea­son for it this time. The British and Ir­ish Li­ons team that won the re­cent se­ries against Aus­tralia was made up mainly of Welsh­men. And Wales did make the semi­fi­nals of the last World Cup, whereas the Spring­boks had to exit in the quar­ter-fi­nals.

Wales coach War­ren Gat­land, a Kiwi who also coached Ire­land to South Africa in 1998, is peren­ni­ally con­fi­dent, and maybe for­mer Bok coach Peter de Vil­liers had a point when he said in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that Gat­land per­haps makes a mis­take when he talks the Boks down to his team. While Gat­land makes the Boks out to be less than they are, De Vil­liers reck­ons that what the Welsh need is to be told the op­po­site, that they are up against one of the best teams in the world, and will have to play re­ally well to win.

If De Vil­liers is right, and Gat­land has been draw­ing on the Li­ons’ win over Aus­tralia for his team’s in­spi­ra­tion, then Wales could be in trou­ble for there is one thing we can tell him with­out any risk of con­tra­dic­tion – right now the Boks are in a dif­fer­ent league to the Wal­la­bies.

Two mas­sive wins over the Aussies tell us as much, and I don’t re­ally buy into any the­ory that the tries the Wal­la­bies scored in a re­cent high­scor­ing Bar­bar­ians-type run­ning fes­ti­val that was passed off as the fi­nal Bledis­loe Cup Test meant that there was any sign of an im­mi­nent Wal­laby resur­gence.

The Boks, like New Zealand, are a step up from Aus­tralia, and as so much of the Welsh effort hinges on pas­sion and testos­terone, Jean de Vil­liers’ team need to make their state­ment early in to­day’s match. If they do that, and rough up the Welsh for­wards with their phys­i­cal game, I fancy I will be writ­ing a sim­i­lar col­umn to this one when I next visit this city for a Bok/Wales match…

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.