Digging Deep for Positives: Wales and the Autumn Internationals.

Well, it really was worse case scenario in the end. Going into the Autumn test series, captain Sam was bullish about four wins, the fans would have taken two, and yet everyone (apart from teams playing in any colour other than red in Cardiff) had to settle for none. On top of four weeks of disappointments, Wales now find themselves stuck in the world rankings behind Samoa and Argentina, the sort of nation that the IRB needs to bend over backwards to help develop. That’s right, we are now statistically worse than the ‘we need help’ nations…it’s not good is it?

A goat is as good as bayonet on a day like this.

A goat is as good as bayonet on a day like this.

And yet, should we now turn to the depths of despair? After all, England, Ireland and France are all bouncing around the international scene with excitement and positivity, what can Wales be hopeful about in such dark times? Well, there are some crumbs of comfort, but you really need to look deep into the darkened crevices under the dinner table to find them – and much of it comes from the injury list.

Okay, so the party line from Welsh management, players and fans alike will be ‘no excuses’. Quite right, so long as Wales can put out a starting XV then there will be a recognised Welsh international team to cheer on and shoot down. In no way do we want to reverse that mentality, accepting defeat is unacceptable. But if we look ahead, say three seasons, maybe seven ahead, there is some scope for optimism.

After all, how many international teams would realistically be able to cope with the scale of injuries faced by Wales during these Autumn months? It’s not as simple as saying that Wales had many first team regulars at their disposal, the injuries Wales faced were not so evenly spread out. No, what Wales had was injury upon injury in the same, crucial, positions. Let’s take the tight head prop position. Even before the first ball was kicked against Argentina, there were plenty of Welsh fans writing off Welsh chances with the loss of Adam Jones, and yet, Wales found an eager Englishman to take his place. After a few games, it suddenly appeared that Wales had a new tight prop, one who could scrimmage. Then the Englishman got injured. Off course, there were two other tight head props in development in Wales, but they were injured before we even got the Autumn series started. So, against the All Blacks trundles on Scott Andrews, the fifth choice Welsh tight head, on the bench was a 20 year old in his rooky season, Wales’ sixth choice…

In the second row, by the end of the four matches, Wales had lost choices one through to four, fielding a fifth choice lock in the form of Lou Reed, and Ryan Jones, who barely qualifies as a sixth choice being that he is not even a second row! In the front row, it was said to be the case that Matthew Rees had slipped in the pecking order to become third choice for Wales, luckily for him, the first and second choice players were out injured as well.

While the situation was healthier in the backline, selected injuries to the likes of Roberts, Biggar, Beck, North compounded the problems faced in the boiler house. Brittle bones and limp ligaments served to play their part in the scuppering of Wales, but they might yet prove to be essential in the rise of Wales once more.

All of a sudden, Wales can compete on the World stage with fifth choice tide head props, sixth choice second rows, third choice hookers. The likes of Jarvis and Andrews have shown that they can compete, the likes of Shingler have proven their worth in key positions on the international stage, the likes of Liam Williams have illustrated the fact that Wales can be dangerous from the wing without George North.

Psychologically this Welsh team might be shot for a season or two, maybe not, that’s down to the coaching team. The standard of the players regional fair might be a constant cause for concern, and that is something for the Unions to address urgently. But in terms of player development, Wales remain right in the thick of it. Perhaps the players who came into key positions might not have quite the ability to beat the best in the world today, but they have proven that in their infant international careers, they can certainly complete. As England have shown, the more game time these young players get, the better they will become. Give the likes of Jarvis, Andrews, Lee, Shingler, Reed and Williams more exposure at this level, and they will grow. And then, if by same stroke of good fortune, Wales can field their first choice XV, they might do so safe in the knowledge that an injury to the likes of Adam Jones will not be the end of ambition, but the beginning of an opportunity for someone we know can perform.

This Autumn has frankly been a bag of disappointment, piled high with a weighty pile of misplaced expectation. The future does not necessarily need be the same. Wales DOES have the strength in depth once craved for, the challenge now is get that strength in depth playing to consistent enough of a quality week in week out, to make the very best of the tools at our disposal.

Believe.

Is anyone feeling sorry for Rob Howley?

Any rugby fan who has come across the classic, much imitated, Living with Lions series charting the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 1997, would have needed a heart of stone to not feel sympathy for Rob Howley when a very messy dislocated shoulder forced him out of the tour. Perhaps everyone in Wales and involved with Welsh rugby needs to go back and watch that sequence again, because little else in the form of sympathy will greet him this morning.

© Huw Evans Picture Agency

Rob Howley has gone from outstanding playing talent and record breaking Welsh rugby captain, to national pariah, doomed to be chased around the streets of Bridgend by mobs carrying pitchforks and wearing the tattered rags of Celtic Warrior jerseys, such has his stock fallen. His brief reign in charge of Wales has gone from defensible efforts in challenging climates overseas, to humiliating reductions in front of an increasingly hostile and disengaged home crowd.

Looking back though, it was always slightly puzzling as to why Howley ended up as the man in charge. Howley’s previously responsibilities fell on managing the Welsh attack, which since the reign of Gatland had begun, often seemed one of the weaker elements. Welsh victories had been ground out through fitness and forwards, not to mention a healthy dose of massive long range penalties. In attack Wales had been profligate for the talents at their disposal. The least effective cog in the coaching machine had taken over the entire managerial mechanism.

So as the knives are sharpened, and Howley’s back and shoulders becomes notable for the many laser projected red dots that are fixed on him, what next for the former Welsh hero? Quitting would be the honourable thing to do at this stage. Other than Nigel Davies and Scott Johnson, who arguably had few resources, certainly in terms of time with the squads at their disposal, there is now no worse Welsh international coaching record than Rob Howley’s. Take away the Welsh victory over the fictional nation of the Barbarians, and Howley has the worse Wales coaching record in history. Others have been fired for far less from the Wales post, is there any justification for his continuance into the Six Nations?

If Howley is coach going into the prestigious tournament, he would likely be taking on a team that will in all probability have suffered seven defeats in a row, and could well sit outside the top ten of the world rugby table. Is there anything in Howley’s coaching pedigree to say that he won’t lead Wales into double figures of consecutive defeats? Not yet at least, and we should all hope for his sake as well as that of Wales, that the WRU and Gatland have the good sense to hand over the reins to someone who is not covered in the persistent stink of failure, it is pervasive and does not wash off with ease.

In the memories of Welsh rugby fans, Howley probably retains just enough of a position in our hearts based on his on-field efforts to not be completely vilified. But that situation will only remain, and his legacy be assured, if he does the right thing and step to one side. Yes, players a plenty are to blame for the defeats as well, but ultimate responsibility for persistent failure stops with the man in charge. It is the mentality that Gatland used to apply to his players, and it needs to be applied to his coaches as well. As soon as possible preferably.

A brief note on BiLingo

We were going to let this one slide, given that BiLingo appears to be a coughed up left over of gogwatch, and we’ve largely done that one to death already. However BiLingo have managed to garner much more attention than their parent site gogwatch ever did, so perhaps some attention is warranted. Plenty of other Welsh political bloggers have covered the details of this story already, but to summarise, BiLingo appeared as a front for alleged concerns from parents in Ceredigion. Accusations were made which essentially suggested that child abuse was rife in the region, as punishment for not speaking the Welsh language. This was quickly jumped upon and promoted by the Telegraph and Mail. As the story developed though, the allegations suddenly vanished from the website – perhaps the owner of BiLingo got more than ‘he’ bargained for with the coverage, and suddenly considered the legal implications of what many presume to be the unfounded allegations of a single individual. Regardless of the legitimacy of the comments, they were made, heard, and now a temporary hoohah has broken out regarding the Welsh language.

Now, it’s somewhat difficult to be specifically critical of the BiLingo website, simply by virtue of the fact that it’s owner seems to be redesigning it on an hourly basis, as the legal ramifications of their accusations appears to dawn on them. But the current (as of Friday afternoon) webpage argues that for BiLingo, ‘the main issue seems to be the lack of choice’. This certainly has echoes with the old gogwatch pages, after all, they never wanted to get rid of Welsh did they…no, of course not, what they advocated was choice. Maybe a cursory glance at the BiLingo twitter feed will enlighten us further.

Excellent to see so much coverage of our website today. Join us on our glorious march out of the dark ages – we say ONE world ONE language.

This is the very first tweet from the BiLingo feed. One language they call for…one language. So BiLingo, your concept of choice actually boils down to offering no choice at all, how very gogwatch of you.

We’re standing on the shoulders of giants @gogwatch

This would seem to indicate that whether BiLingo claims to be connected to gogwatch or not, they certainly see themselves as being in similar company. 

Bilingo – a campaign for language human rights and justice for the silenced

and yet, lines like this, that espouse the merits of human rights, are simply direct echoes of that which gogwatch relied upon as a central theme to their complaints. Not gogwatch, but something that sounds exactly like it. 

Welsh is a wonderful language, but why should we use it to punish children? Their only young once #cymru

While BiLingo makes the odd brief concession to the Welsh language, they still see it’s presence in an educational setting as a punishment in it’s own right.

@mark4ceredigion will you join our campaign? We want representation at Westminster to stop the pro welsh madness

But then, BiLingo still fall back on the fact that what underpins Welsh language in education, is madness – again, how inclusive of them… 
It’s just a snap shot of the usual vitriol that comes out of this community, a campaign to eradicate the Welsh language dressed up as an attempt to create ‘fairness’. Yet, as with gogwatch before it, the only sense of ‘equality’ that will be enjoyed by such campaigns will be only for English speakers, and the paranoid anti Welsh minority. May they enjoy their moment in the limelight, it won’t last long – and for their sake, they had better hope that they have something substantial to back up their claims, we can imagine there are many in the teaching community in Ceredigion who are lining up all sorts of law suits against this little site.

Shamed and Pain: Wales, Argentina and Iestyn Harris all over.

In 2001 Wales were on the receiving end of one of their all time humiliating home defeats. An inexperienced Iestyn Harris had been dumped into a vulnerable outside half starting role, and proceeded to implode. That day Argentina ran riot and coasted to a 16-30 victory, leaving Wales embarrassed, battered and broken. What happened in Cardiff yesterday was worse.

In 2001 the wheels had long been coming off of the Welsh rugby machine. Graham Henry’s tenure in charge was winding down to an ignominious end and, despite the margin of Argentina’s victory being a surprise, the fact that a first home defeat had been conceded to the Pumas was not. In 2012, our collective expectations were supposed to be so much higher. This was after all the reigning Grand Slam team, this was after all the team that had come ‘so close’ to victory in Australia, this was after all the squad who many were predicting would be able to take on the All Blacks. Put in simpler terms, this was a team upon which expectation had been placed. It did not materialise.

On this occasion excuses abound, and even the most hardnosed cynics would have to be in a bad mood to suggest that the loss of both Jamie Roberts and Alyn Wyn Jones did not have an impact on the result. Yet the departure of both players proved to be more symptomatic of the problems faced by Wales in defeat, than the reason for them.

During the first half of play, Wales had the makings of a game plan. Parity in the pack, followed by crash balls down the middle. It was working. Perhaps the Argentine defence had not buckled, but inroads were being made, and a points lead was being built. But the second the Welsh injuries occurred, ‘plan A’ went off the field with them. No doubt somebody muttered something to James Hook about a ‘plan B’ but it appeared to be the case that ‘plan B’ amounted to little more than ‘play rugby, and see what happens’. In short, there was no ‘plan B’.

As the game wore on, it was Argentina who looked the fitter, not the Welsh returning from their ice baths. The breakdown was particularly telling, as (what are on their day talented) Welsh forwards, were obliterated by a hungry Argentinean backrow. They showed an intent for victory sorely lacking by Wales.

So who is to blame and what is the response? No doubt fingers will once more be pointed towards Priestland for his game management, Scott Williams for his incredible and inexplicable selfishness and Warburton as well, for where was the leadership on the field? All of these can be tackled, Wales has the talent throughout the squad to deal with those issues. Alas the one thing that cannot be changed is the coach. The inexperienced Robert Howley will have another roll of the dice against Samoa – and things could yet get worse.

Howley is yet to show any real coaching insight when it comes to events on the field. He outraged many in the Welsh community by selected Priestland over an inform Biggar, he outraged many more by leaving the multitalented Shingler out of proceedings as well. He further failed to show any note to form in relying on the underwhelming Warburton. During the game, he pulled off a front row that had operated well against Argentina’s powerful pack,  seemingly for no reason other than that he had planned to change the front row, so that’s what he did – regardless of need or consequence. Yes, there was a severe case of the headless chickens amongst the Welsh team, but this was a team that was set up for a fall. With no ‘plan B’ in the backroom, and little to no form in the starting line-up, few should be surprised at the result that followed.

For next week? One thing that should not change is the front row that started, that was the one area to go well, and those who came on were outclassed. However the lack of a recognised second row adding weight and scrummaging ability failed Wales as well, so having someone who knows what they are doing in such a key position on the bench seems a must. Further back, surely the time for Tipuric is now? Surely the time for Shingler is now? The Welsh backrow were on the verge of obliteration as the game closed out, form is required. And behind the pack, surely the time for Biggar is now? He may not be exciting, but what Wales currently offers is clearly not good enough, so for that reason alone, change seems essential. A fit Beck and Davies in the centres would help somewhat in adding competent decision makers in those positions. As game plans go, less random kicking up field would help (of which both Priestland and Halfpenny are guilty), and given their importance, finding a way to bring North and Cuthbert into the attack might be useful – how these two can be left as passengers for so long is baffling. Perhaps remembering how to offload would be a starting point. Watching the ease with, and intent to off load in the tackle from Argentina was warming from a rugby purist perceptive. From a Welsh perspective, where offloads appeared impossible, it was depressing.

In summary, this was a very, very bad day for Welsh rugby. The momentum of this young generation is on the cusp of being thrown away. Winning is a very hard habit to maintain, losing is a very hard habit to break. Selection and intent against Samoa could have a huge impact as to whether the habit becomes an addiction for Wales – a loss next week and the next Welsh victory may not be seen for many, many months, whisper it, or years.

Why Wales Gets Angry.

Earlier this week, Cardiff was home to shocking scenes of random violence, which claimed the life of a well loved member of the community, injured a dozen more and terrified people across the city. The motivations for the cowardly attacks by an individual driving a van into members of the public who had no hope of protecting themselves from his actions, are as yet unclear. Certainly though the impacts of his callous attacks will be felt for a long time, and we can only imagine what  will be going through the minds of the children affected by this event the next time a speeding white van comes near them.

The story was appalling, and yet, as the day of the incident wore on, another story developed on the pages of social networking sites. For an attack on a capital city which had affected so many, there was a lingering sense of confusion, and then anger, as to why this merited so little coverage on the news. Early on the same day, Conservative pleb basher Andrew Mitchell had resigned from Government, and it was this that seemed to preoccupy the minds of the national news networks.

No doubt the crumbling of the Westminster Government was newsworthy, but surely on a day when a capital city in Britain had witnessed such widespread attacks on the general public, it could not in any way be considered as the ‘top story’? The following day, the print media community continued to wash over the events of the previous day in Cardiff, preferring to salivate over a prominent politician’s demise. Meanwhile blood stocks in Wales continued to be in critically short supply following the high treatment demand resulting from the van driver’s attacks.

There is a pervading sense that, in general terms, the media simply don’t care about Wales. Certainly there had been plenty of coverage over the tragic story surrounding April Jones, but then, without wanting to be too cynical, the national media will often prioritise a missing child. The sense remains though, that had this been a story breaking in an English city, London perhaps, that there would no doubt as to the leading story, ‘terror in London rampage’ would have represented the tone of the headlines. Yet, if it happens in Wales, it’s probably just not that important. One wonders how many people would have needed to die for this to be considered the most important news story of the day?

Put in context, BBC News have given more coverage and commentary time today to whether or not an English footballer worse a t-shirt, than it did to the events in Cardiff. It is this disparity in coverage that incenses so many in Wales, we often feel like second class citizens in this ‘United’ kingdom, because that is the way we are treated. Sadly, the priorities of all the national news carriers illustrated that even when areas in Wales are subject to attacks that would dominate were they to happen across the border, their locality in this instance means that they are just not that significant.

And that is, one of the reasons at least, why Wales gets angry.

The Valleys: Why Wales Fumes.

Okay, perhaps the second part of that headline needs to be qualified as ‘why the political community and well to do celebrities of Wales fume’, because there are no shortage of people in Wales who look on at The Valleys and nod with a smirk of agreement. You see for many in Wales, The Valleys on MTV is not a reality television programme designed to shock its viewers into tuning in week after week, it is more akin to a documentary summarising the average Friday and Saturday night out in Cardiff. Most of those living in south Wales will long be familiar with the weekly flooding of Newport and Cardiff railway stations, as hoards from the valleys come down for a night out. It might not always be clever, but it is certainly not out of the ordinary. Yet we have the likes of Chris Bryant and Leanne Wood of the political spectrum lamenting how unrepresentative such scenes are of the valleys, and plenty of Welsh celebs pointing the finger of judgement. Perhaps the outcry over The Valleys can best be summarised as such: everyone knows this sort of thing happens, but we’d rather the rest of the world didn’t know.

And perhaps such attitudes are not unfair, after all, balanced representations are not the name of MTV’s game. Where for instance is the documentary on the communities in the valleys, as opposed to concentrating on people who don’t want to be there. Where is the reality television programme on a valleys rugby team, a valleys choir, a valleys community project? Okay, none of these things might be 100% representative of valleys life, but they are part of the story, and MTV’s offering is certainly not 100% representative (things are not great, but equally they are not that bad). And this is where the real concerns of Bryant and Wood should fall, not that such a programme exists, but that there is no voice for everything that represents the opposite of a cultural cesspool where fucking in a nightclub corner is the limit of ambition.

For instance, type ‘the valleys’ into a search engine. Now, imagine yourself as a potential investor, someone considering bringing business to this place that they have heard of, these valleys. Wikipedia entry aside, potential investor, or tourist indeed, will be met with a block page of reference to the MTV production of the same name, all of which highlight the depraved, base and generally despicable aspects of the programme. A ‘cast member’ of the programme was interviewed in WalesOnline this weekend, where they confidently asserted “people need to realise we’re not in there to represent Wales or the valleys as a whole”. Excellent to hear, sadly though, that is exactly what they are doing.

Chris Bryant and Leanne Wood know perfectly well that the MTV show reflects some of what goes on in both Cardiff and wider valleys communities on a weekend. They also know there are many things in both places that are the exact opposite. But the other thing they are only to well aware of, is that even amongst those who have and never will watch The Valleys, they will have heard of the programme, and this is what they will think of first when the area comes up in conversation.

This programme is clearly exploitative. It is exploiting the idiots lining up to take part in the programme, and the idiots who lap it up as some example of societal ambition – put simply girls and boys, make a career out of waving your genitals around in public, and you won’t have a very long career in anything…apart from porn perhaps, but you’ve already stooped lower than that, because you have found yourself on MTV, something much worse than pornography, arguably worse than genocide…perhaps. But it is also exploiting the name of the valleys, an area historically exploited, abandoned, and then done all over once more. The valleys are not some sort of magical rose garden full of sparkling bunny rabbits granting wishes, with unicorns dancing in ponds of crystal water, they are, in places, pretty rough. The last thing these communities need is for the masters of youth distraction to stomp in with hammer and nail, and close the coffin on the area once and for all. That is what Bryant and Wood are scared of, that is what they fear from this programme, and why they and others are so angry that this car crash of a television programme exists at all.

Inside the Mind: Jeremy Hunt

The ‘Inside the Mind’ series probes the potential realities that might be experienced were we able to walk through the subconscious experiences of individuals. Today we explore subject 043: Code name Jeremy

Field Notes Summary:

Upon entering the mind of Jeremy, you are immediately struck by how white everything is. While there is certainly no shortage of baggage in this reality, clear outlines of boxes can be made out, but they are cleverly disguised under white canvas sheets. There is the sense that the mind creating this can keep going on as normal, so long as it forgets whatever is hidden in all these boxes. Through deniability, the user has created a tranquil haven. We might presume while the user is in this particular space, they might exhibit a slightly dull, vacant smile, removed from the rigors of reality.

As we moved through the subconscious of 043, we discovered a huge domed room. Clearly indicated above the only doorway into this space was the title ‘Policy’. It was with some surprise that in this vast cavernous area, there were only two things. On the left of the room, sat in a golden chair, was a huge man, bearded and shimmering. He was scribbling bible passages down on scraps of paper before tossing them into the air. On the ground, miniature versions of subject 043 scurried at the feet of this deity like figure, tearing at the shreds of paper and consuming what remained. Those who eat enough of the bible passages then appeared to float skywards, we presume, though have not confirmed, to a part of the subjects subconscious that is responsible for rational thought and behavior.

On the other side of the space, further miniature versions of subject 043  (hereby referred to as Hunts) swing with enthusiasm on the handles of a giant pair of scissors. The  Hunts chant the word ‘cut’ in a low mantra, while above the scissors, further Hunts feed the letters C, U, L, T, R and E through the blades. The letters N, H and finally S sit stacked on a pile nearby the cutting tool, and seem destined to follow the path of the previous letters.

This is a troubled mind indeed, defined by a need to please figures that will always wield more power than himself, by committing to symbolic acts of cutting based sacrifices. The subject’s only coping mechanism in this reality is to deny, and it seems to be working for him.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 90 other followers