Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Letting go : from Rolland to Gatland

Ireland and Wales may be Celtic cousins but in rugby they are far from kissing ones…

1Gatland-Rolland-6289479

Apart from Joe Schmidt’s debut as Ireland coach the one test I was most eager to see last weekend was Wales v South Africa…unfortunately for me the scheduling gods determined that both matches were played at the same time.

While there were many natural selling points for the match at the Millennium Stadium, not least of which being the number 2 side in the world playing at the home of the defending Six Nations Champions, this was not my principal motivation for watching.

Up until switching on the recording of the match on Tuesday evening I must admit I felt a bit guilty for looking forward to watching a match I knew a Warren Gatland-led side was going to lose after the whole BOD thing, because as we all know grudges are terrible things to carry round with you in any walk of life.

Then, just before kickoff, as the BBC Wales director switched to a close-up of match referee Alain Rolland, the chorus of boos echoing around the stadium (amplified of course by the closed roof) made me feel I was at least not alone in my grudge-carrying!

Look…it’s true, as nations we have a lot in common besides the whole Celtic thing.  We have sent our rugby talent back and forth, with the likes of Tommy Bowe, Simon Easterby and Robin Copeland doing well at the regions and of course Mike Ruddock & family settling well over here.

But the professional era of rugby has seen the two nations locking horns more than once…first and foremost, we have the success at international level of the Welsh vs that at club level over here. 

Wales have claimed multiple Grand Slam/Six Nations titles while we managed just the one (which we clinched in Cardiff of course).  Then we have the Irish triumphs in the Heineken Cups, a competition where the regions have failed to get beyond the semifinal stage.  Even at Pro12 level we had the emergence of the Leinster/Ospreys rivalry.

And we also have the individual incidents, which are almost too numerous to mention…Bradley Davies on Donnacha Ryan and "that” lineout which led to the Mike Phillips try in 2011 to name but two.

These are of course dwarfed by two mahoosive controversies - Alain Rolland sending off Sam Warburton in 2011 and just last June, Warren Gatland’s decision to drop Brian O’Driscoll.

My wish here is to focus on the rivalry, not the incidents themselves so I won’t dig up the individual arguments in this post…the point is, as you can see from what I showed earlier, the sore spots remain.
 
Should we let them go?  Probably.  Will we?  Probably not.
 
Besides…it’s things like that which give sport that extra edge and they help feed that wonderful thing we know as “banter”. 
 
Sure, there are people out there who take it too far, but once we can find it in ourselves to ignore them whatever country they hail from, the majority of us can poke fun at each other and go on enjoying the game the way it should be enjoyed.
 
I just hope that once all this Rugby Champions Heineken European Cup palaver is finally sorted we can still have regular contact with our cousins across the sea as often as we have up to now. 
 
By sea I mean  the Irish Sea, of course ;-) JLP
 
PS - as for the Wales v South Africa match itself, the Springboks were simply more clinical inside the 22 at both ends of the pitch.  Though I will admit the du Preez try should have been called back…another reason to boo Rolland I guess!  I will also admit that Jonathan Davies was having a blinder before he was forced off with injury.

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