The Wales and England ‘Six Nations’ fixture, this coming Saturday at Cardiff, reminds me of my own gallant days playing Welsh rugby.
Of course, it wasn’t for the national squad. For one thing I’m English to the core; for another I was new to the game and lacking any natural flair. But I joined a club in a Welsh market town, while working on newspapers in the Borders, just for something to do at weekends.
Colleague and fellow Lancastrian Big Dave, from Bolton, was the only other English member of Welshpool RUFC, otherwise made up of hill farmers. However, they were good sports and mostly county players.
“Mind you,” an unassuming team-mate explained, “our counties here are tiny, with more sheep than folk.”
Still, they got me fit and used me as a sort of battering ram in scrums against remote village teams. We played on sloping fields with frozen cowpats and had to ask local farmers to make up team numbers. They’d gamely leave their watching families and get changed into our spare kit on the sidelines.
Dave and I even toured with the club, going by coach to London when Wales were at Twickenham, then Cardiff for the return match. However we sat, of course, among Welsh fans, where we’d join in their singing and proudly admire that legendary national side of the 70s.
I wasn’t much of a singer either but memorably got applauded at Watford motorway services, when we dozen or so harmonised enthusiastically utilising their gents’ toilets’ fine acoustics.
Finally, my finest Welsh rugby moment was on the field, playing against Ealing. Amid gasps of disbelief from team-mates, I managed to neatly catch the opening kick then hand it out to the ‘backs’, just as I’d been taught.
After that, I stuck firmly to our coach’s advice to me – carefully avoiding any contact with the ball.
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