Sunday, 26 November 2006

Let's invest in a winning Wales

On the afternoon of 7th March 2004, I watched Wales (22) get beaten by France (29) on television at my apartment in Paris, smoking cigars and drinking old bas armagnac (the only rugby-watching experience that comes anywhere near actually being there) with two French friends.

I’m a very bad loser so, despite the fact that the boys gave a good account of themselves and pushed France close at the end, I felt the need to quip, “That’s what you get when a big nation of 60 million people takes on a little nation of only 3 million people.”

My friend, Monsieur Freibourg, a graduate of Sciences Po, the elite Parisian academy that educates the French political and diplomatic leadership, not to mention its captains of industry of which Monsieur Freibourg is one (meaning that I should have known better than to try to be clever with him), immediately quipped back that he thought Wales would have “no problem beating China” at rugby.

Apart from being a deftly executed turnover, this was also a good philosophical point, which came into sharp focus as another little nation of 4 million people took us apart in Cardiff today.

The game, for me, conjured up the scene of the Battle of Morannon (The Black Gate) from the movie of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – shot in New Zealand as it happens – in which the tiny Army of the West is vastly outnumbered by Sauron's army of men-and-other-creatures-in-black. In Cardiff this evening, there was no one able to throw Graham Henry’s ring of power into the Taff, so the inevitable happened.

I didn’t think the boys played that badly but there was no way they could win since New Zealand play an entirely superior quality of game with far greater aggression and athleticism. There was no shame in defeat since Wales fought manfully to the end, but the problem is that, despite the best efforts of Mr Giggs, rugby is all we’ve got. New Zealand extracts national pride from having a decent cricket team too.

The priorities in England must be different. After all, rugby union is just one of any number of team games at which England tends to be thrashed nowadays – cricket, football, rugby league and hockey all spring to mind.

But rugby union is the fountain of Welsh national sporting pride and, after today, simply beating England and winning the Six Nations should not be considered important enough objectives. We need to win the World Cup, beating New Zealand by at least twenty points in the final. We should be prepared to invest whatever it takes to achieve this outcome, even to the point of raising taxes in Wales if that’s what’s needed.

It’s only a small step from there to setting out to achieve in Wales a standard of living approaching that of Ireland, population 4 million, which is now ranked 4th in the world after Norway, Sweden and Australia (the UK is ranked 18th). We’d just need inspired representation with our real interests at heart and – crucial point this – the power to go for it.

If little nations like New Zealand and Ireland can achieve these important objectives then so can we. We’re not lacking in heart or intelligence or numbers, we’re simply lacking the tools to do the job.

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