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Archive for the ‘Wales’ Category

Tomorrow (Saturday 4th of February) sees the start of the annual 6 Nations rugby competition. Despite the attempts of the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship to increase its appeal, there are few who would disagree that the 6 Nations is the greatest and most intensely contested tournament in World rugby. The 2017 6 Nations sees England start as both defending champions and favourites, and this despite Ireland’s autumn test series which saw them beat New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Wales, quite deservedly, start as third favourites behind England and Ireland, which is where I would place them too.

England are not only defending champions, but also they won the 2106 6 Nations with a Grand Slam. Very few sides have won back-to-back Grand Slams, so England will be hoping that they can achieve this rare feat. They are also unbeaten since Eddie Jones took over after their disastrous showing in the 2015 World Cup; so each of the other 5 nations will be looking to get that first win under his leadership. England’s opening match is a home one against France. France used to be perennial contenders for the 6 Nations crown, but have fallen badly behind Wales, England and Ireland in the last few years. Few expect them to cause an upset at Twickenham tomorrow.

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The 2017 6 Nations starts tomorrow (Saturday 4th of February). Wales’ first match is an away match to Italy on Sunday, followed the following Saturday (11th) by a home match against England.

Wales start their 6 Nations campaign on Sunday with an away match against Italy. No away match is easy in the 6 Nations anymore, and Wales have lost a few times in Italy. But, of all the away matches to start with, one against Italy is probably the most favourable. We have gone to Italy before and racked up points, and if we manage to do that on Sunday it will be a great start for us. Sadly, we usually start any campaign poorly, so I suspect that we will scrape a win against Italy, but it will not be a convincing one.

Our second match is against England in Cardiff on Saturday 11th of February. It would be a fairytale if we could be the first country to beat England under Eddie Jones’ leadership, and if this match were third of fourth or fifth in the campaign I would fancy our chances. But, I am not sure that we will be firing on all cylinders by the second match, and although I hope that we will win I fear a home defeat could well be on the cards.

Wales are, of course, going into this 6 Nations under the leadership of interim manager Rob Howley, as Warren Gatland is on leave to prepare for the summer’s Lions’ tour to New Zealand. We also won three of our four autumn tests under Howley, something that we had not done since 2004. But, we did not win any one of those three matches in a convincing fashion, and England and Ireland currently look streets ahead of us. But, at this level the margins are very very fine.

The Welsh squad certainly have the talent to be as good or better than England. In my opinion we have better players than England, but we are not functioning at the same level as they are as a team. The question is, can Howley iron out those little problems which were so apparent in the autumn series and see us get back to the level of play we showed under him in the 2013 6 Nations? Remember, that is the season when England came to Cardiff chasing a Grand Slam in the last game of the 6 Nations, and we annihilated them 30-3.

In some 8 days’ time, the game against England will be over and we will know if we are back to anything like that kind of form again.

Here is Wales’ schedule for the 2017 6 Nations. All times are GMT, not the local time (in Rome or Paris, which are one hour ahead of GMT).

  • Sunday 5th February – Italy v Wales (KO 14:00 GMT)
  • Saturday 11th February – Wales v England (KO 16:50 GMT)
  • Saturday 25th February – Scotland v Wales (KO 14:25 GMT)
  • Friday 10th March – Wales v Ireland (KO 20:00 GMT)
  • Saturday 17th March – France v Wales (KO 14:45 GMT)

COME ON WALES!!!! DERE ‘MLAEN CYMRU!!!!

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Later this afternoon Wales will take on Argentina in the second match of their 2016 autumn test series. As I blogged about last Monday, we got thoroughly thrashed 32-8 by Australia in our opening match. I sincerely hope that we can put on a better display against Argentina; really nothing except a win will satisfy the Welsh fans.

There are six changes in all from the team that started against Australia, with perhaps the most noticeable change being Jamie Roberts, who has been dropped to the bench with Jonathan Davies back from the tight hamstring he sustained just before kick-off last week to partner his Scarlets team mate Scott Williams. Sam Warburton is back in the  Welsh side, but Gethin Jenkins retains the captaincy. Alun Wyn Jones returns after missing last week’s  match due to the death of his grandfather.

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Wales will play Argentina at 17:30 in the second of their 4-match autumn test series. Last Saturday we lost 32-8 to Australia, so today is a must-win match.

Meanwhile, elsewhere the other autumn tests kick-off with a vengeance. At 14:30 England take on South Africa in Twickenham, to see if they can retain their 100% record under Eddie Jones. At the same time, Scotland take on Australia in Murrayfield, and Ireland take on Canada in Dublin with a 19:15 kick-off. New Zealand have, at least on paper, an easy match against Italy, with a 14:00 (GMT) kick-off, and finally France take on Samoa with a kick-off at 16:45 (GMT).

What a feast of rugby!

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As I mentioned in this blogpost here, last Friday (4 November) I went to see Paul Simon playing live in Cardiff. It was a wonderful concert; I found Paul Simon totally mesmerising. He is very small. I knew that already, but it strikes you when you see him on stage. He was also very very charming, chatting to the audience, and he was very funny.

His set included a great mix of some songs from his new album Stranger to Stranger (which is well worth getting, I have been listening to it a lot over the last few weeks), but also songs from Graceland, Rhythm of the Saints, other solo albums and some Simon & Garfunkel songs too. He finished with “Graceland”“The Boxer” and “The Sound of Silence” in his final encore. To see the man who wrote “The Sound of Silence” singing it live and standing only about 10 metres away was a truly moving experience.

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I took this very blurry photograph of Paul Simon performing “The Sound of Silence” as his final song in the concert.

I had been listening to quite a bit of Paul Simon music in the lead-up to the concert, and so all the songs that he played were songs that I had recently listened to. Except for one, his 1972 song “Duncan”. For some reason, even though I know this song and have it on one of his Greatest Hits albums (a vinyl Greatest Hits album), I did not have it on my phone, so had not heard it in many years. It is a remarkable song, so indicative of Simon’s wonderful song-writing skills. The opening lines “Couple in the next room / Bound to win a prize / They’ve been going at it all night long” are just wonderful. Simon grabs your interest straight away with those lines, and gives us something with which we can relate. We have all stayed in a cheap hotel or motel room with those paper-thin walls.

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“Duncan” is on Paul Simon’s 1972 solo album called Paul Simon. It was released as a single in July 1972.

“Duncan” was released as a single in July 1972, it was the third single to be released from his second solo album Paul Simon. It only got to number 52 in the US singles charts, not very high for someone who had many number ones with Art Garfunkel. But, I think the stature of this song has grown over the years, it is a beautiful example of Simon’s skills in writing a narrative. The song also includes some Andean flute playing, again a nice illustration of Simon’s love of bringing in musical influences from all over the world into his songs.

Couple in the next room
Bound to win a prize
They’ve been going at it all night long
Well, I’m trying to get some sleep
But these motel walls are cheap
Lincoln Duncan is my name
And here’s my song, here’s my song

My father was a fisherman
My mama was the fisherman’s friend
And I was born in the boredom
And the chowder
So when I reached my prime
I left my home in the Maritimes
Headed down the turnpike for
New England, sweet New England

Holes in my confidence
Holes in the knees of my jeans
I was left without a penny in my pocket
Oo-we, I was about destituted
As a kid could be
And I wished I wore a ring
So I could hock, I’d like to hock it.

A young girl in a parking lot
Was preaching to a crowd
Singing sacred songs and reading
From the Bible
Well, I told her I was lost
And she told me all about the Pentecost
And I seen that girl as the road
To my survival

Just later on the very same night
I crept to her tent with a flashlight
And my long years of innocence ended
Well, she took me to the woods
Saying here comes something and it feels so good
And just like a dog I was befriended
I was befriended

Oh, oh, what a night
Oh, what a garden of delight
Even now that sweet memory lingers
I was playing my guitar
Lying underneath the stars
Just thanking the Lord
For my fingers
For my fingers

Here is a recording that I made of “Duncan” from last Friday’s concert. The audio quality is not great, but you get an idea of the atmosphere in the concert. Enjoy!

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50 years ago today, on 21 October 1966, a tragedy happened in a small mining village in Wales which horrified the world. At 9:15am, Pantglas school in a place called Aberfan was engulfed by a river of coal debris. 116 children (more than half of the school’s pupils) and 28 adults were killed. Dozens more were rescued from the horror, with people from Aberfan and surrounding villages digging with their hands in a desperate attempt to save some lives.


The tragedy was due to a tip of coal waste (“slag heap” as they were often called) which had been piled on the side of the mountain against which the village nestles, and was entirely preventable. For months the local council had been warning the National Coal Board (NCB) of the risk, but the NCB had taken no notice. 

In a tribunal held after the tragedy, the NCB were found guilty of negligence and of corporate manslaughter. However, they never paid a penny of compensation to the families, nor did they pay to have the numerous slag heaps rendered safe. Local families had to raise the money to do this themselves. After years of campaigning, in 1997 the newly-formed Welsh Assembly government finally repaid the families the money that they had raised. Some 10 years later the Welsh Assembly government paid the families a much larger sum, to correct for the inflation in the intervening 40 years. 

I have been to the cemetery and memorial park in Aberfan. It is a beautiful tribute and memory to the tragedy that happened that wet October day in 1966. 

Here is a very moving poem simply called Aberfan by Vera Rich, an English-born poet.  

I have seen their eyes, the terrible, empty eyes
Of women in a glimmerless dawn, and the hands
Of men who have wrestled through long years with the dark
Underpinning of the mountains, strong hands that fight

In dumb faith that what was once flesh born of their flesh
And is earth of the earth, should rest in the earth of God,
Not that of the devil’s making…

The Tip had crouched like a plague-god, with the town,
A victim in reversion, held beneath
A vast, invisible paw… Not a lion to toss
A proud, volcano-mane of destruction, crouched
Like a rat, it waited…

I have seen their eyes, and the empty hands of men,
And they walk like victims of a second Flood
In a world no longer home, where the void of sky
Between tall mountains looms as a cenotaph
For a generation of laughter… 

                                      I have seen them
Walking, near-ghosts, wraiths from a half-formed legend
Of this more-than-Hamelin, where, on an autumn Friday,
Between nine and ten of the clock, death raised his flute
And the children followed… 

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As I mentioned on Thursday, Wales were playing two matches over the last few days as part of their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup. On Thursday we played Austria away, and yesterday (Sunday 9 October), we played Georgia at home. Both matches ended in draws, we drew 2-2 with Austria and 1-1 with Georgia. It is a mark of the raised expectations amongst Welsh fans that both results were disappointing.

In Austria we were twice ahead, but after Austria levelled the game at 2-2 they looked the better team for much of the second half. The same was true against Georgia yesterday, after going 1-0 up through a Gareth Bale goal we were pegged back to 1-1 early in the second half, and after levelling the match it was Georgia who looked the better team.

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Wales drew 1-1 with Georgia yesterday evening, in a disappointing display which saw us hanging on in a second half dominated by Georgia.

Upon reflection, an away draw to Austria is not a bad result, I think the disappointment at not winning was due to our being ahead twice and because of our fantastic run in Euro 2016. But, to not beat Georgia at home is definitely a poor result, and I expect the Welsh media to be full of inquisitions in the coming week as to why we performed so poorly.

The Wales manager, Chris Coleman, will be disappointed with the way we failed to dominate Georgia. It is a match we very much should have won, and yet for the last 20 minutes we were hanging on to keep it to a draw. Our next match is home against Serbia on 12 November, and hopefully we will have Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen back, as yesterday we certainly felt the absence of the two of them.

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Today I thought I would share this poem by Wales’ most famous anglo-welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. I have blogged about Thomas before; in this blog I shared the opening passage of his radio play for voices, Under Milk Wood. The poem I am sharing today is one of his most famous – “Do not go gentle into that good night”, which he wrote in 1947 when he was 33 years old.

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Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night” in 1947. He would be dead himself just 6 years later, at the age of 39.

The poem deals with death, or rather the refusal to fade away in old age. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Profound words for a 33-year old to write, and ironic that Thomas himself should never live to see old age. He drank himself to death just a few years after composing this poem, when he was only 39 years old.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Here is a video of Thomas reading his poem. What a beautiful voice he had. Enjoy!

Which is your favourite Dylan Thomas poem?

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After last weekend’s matches we now know the line-up for the Euro 2016 semi-finals. This evening (Wednesday 6 July) at 20:00 BST (19:00 GMT) Wales play Portugal, then tomorrow evening (Thursday 7 July) the hosts France take on the World champions Germany.

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Wales play Portugal this evening (Wednesday), France play Germany on tomorrow (Thursday). Both matches start at 20:00 BST (19:00 GMT)

Wales’ match against Portugal is in Lyon, whilst the second semi-final is in Marseille. We in Wales are incredulous that we’ve got to the semi-finals, but we are also grateful to be facing Portugal and not France or Germany.

Of the teams to reach the semi-finals, Portugal have been by far the least impressive. They qualified 3rd in their group with three drawn matches. Then, in the round of 16, they only beat Croatia 1-0 in extra time. In the quarter finals they beat Poland, but this time only on penalties with it being 1-1 after extra time.

Of course, any team that has Cristiano Ronaldo in its ranks cannot be written off. With his brilliance he can turn a game around in a flash. But the contrast with Gareth Bale is interesting. Both play for Real Madrid, both are the stars of their teams, but there the similarities end. Bale is a team player, down to earth and a very popular member of the squad. The very opposite of a prima donna. Ronaldo is petulant, greedy and, one gets the impression, does not consider himself ‘one of the lads’. He is like a preening peacock; if he weren’t so brilliant he would surely be universally disliked.

Wales are, of course, riding on a wave of euphoria. The team will be bursting with confidence after our thrilling 3-1 win against Belgium on Friday evening. But, I am also confident that we will not take Portugal for granted. Chris Coleman is far too wily a coach to allow his team to do that. We will be missing midfielder Aaron Ramsey and defender Ben Davies, both suspended after picking up second yellow cards in the match against Belgium. But, we have such a structure  and game plan, which the team all believe in, that I am sure their replacements will step up admirably to to the high standard Ramsey and Davies have set.

It is going to be a very tense countdown to the big match in Wales! Dere ‘mlaen Cymru!!! (come on Wales!!!)

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