I was not looking forward to being away for the Triple Crown match, but as it turned out last night (or rather early morning) in Sydney was one of the best environments short of being there. It was also a great advert for the camaraderie of Rugby. I had just come from South Africa, fearing the consequences of visiting gangs of European racists in 2010 masquerading as supporters of their national soccer teams. Separation of fans by walls of riot gear wielding police is not unusual in soccer. Last night in Cheers we had one Englishman, a round dozen Scots, thirty eight Welsh and jut over forty Irish with some others left over from the previous weeks Gay Pride march. All packed into a very small space with easy access to alcohol and little resistance to purchase of same. Yes it was a partisan group, but all stages it was good humored.
The BBC (transmitted via Santana Sports) showed once again that they are the EBC. The most important match (judged by position in the table and consequence of outcome) this weekend was Wales v Ireland for the Triple Crown but the build up was all about the Calcutta Cup until a few minutes before the match when they reluctantly went across to Dublin for live coverage. Half time was spent back in Edinburgh for more build up to the English game to which we returned with indecent haste at the end of the Triple Crown match.
Meanwhile in Sydney the rendering of the national anthems was an emotional experience with many a tear and through out the match both Welsh and Irish alike sang. While we were outnumbered, we had more songs and we had an outstanding tenor whose voice (of near operatic quality) would strike above the noise to lead a rendering of Calon lân, followed closely by Cwm Rhondda. Despite inter-tribal rivalries even us Cardiff fans sang Sospan Fach. Hymns & Arias and the odd chant of Oggi Oggi Oggi (Cornish in origin, but then the Cornish and the Bretons are Welsh) reflected the passing of the Chapels and the rise of Max Boyce in recent Welsh cultural history. No match day in Cardiff has ever rivaled the intensity of the experience of being amongst Exiles.
That wonderful man broke through to score the only try of the game and there was a mass of red shirts in one big group hug. A certain set of ironic references to Irish claims before the match that his lack of height was a weakness. His strength provided the extra force to support Philips’s magnificent tackle, to prevent what would have otherwise being an Irish try in the defining moment of the first half. Hearts in mouths as we played for twenty minutes for 14 men (rightly so, but one might have asked for some consistency from the referee especially given the amount of ball that was killed by the Irish forwards), then Hook scored that penalty to put us four points clear and just as in the English game the forwards tied the ball up for the last five minutes, showing that we are no longer just romantic, but also cynical in closing a game down.
Mass celebrations followed, more rounds of beer were bought and all three celtic nations now settled down to sing Flower of Scotland. With only one silent Englishman present there was no counter and he didn’t have to buy a drink all night. At four o’clock in the morning I just about made it back to Pitt Street despite having problems with direction and gradient. Unlike a similar occasion in Auckland after a Bledisloe Cup match some years I did not wake up to find my room full of a dozen Kiwis from the Bay, wherever that is, which I suppose I can count as a blessing. Several pots of coffee later …