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Posts Tagged ‘Rugby World Cup’

In 1999 Wales hosted the rugby World Cup, and the magnificent Millennium Stadium was built to host the final. This stadium, which stands right in the centre of Cardiff, is thought by many international players to have the most intense atmosphere of any rugby stadium, particularly when the roof is closed which traps the noise within.

The stadium was built on the site of the old National Stadium, which was usually known as Cardiff Arms Park; but that actually refers to the whole land which was given to the City of Cardiff by the 3rd Marquis of Bute (the man also responsible for renovating Cardiff castle). In giving the land to Cardiff, he stipulated that the land had to be used for “recreation purposes”. Originally the site had a rugby field to the north, and a cricket ground to the south, but when the National Stadium was built in 1969 it replaced the cricket ground.

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Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, built to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

 

Between the Millennium Stadium and the Taf river is a walkway, known as the Millennium walkway, and on this walkway are a series of mosaics for the countries which took part in the 1999 World Cup. These countries were

  • Pool A – South Africa, Scotland, Spain, Uruguay
  • Pool B – New Zealand, England, Italy, Tonga
  • Pool C – France, Fiji, Canada, Namibia
  • Pool D – Wales, Argentina, Samoa, Japan
  • Pool E – Australia, Ireland, United States, Romania

 

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The part of the Millennium walkway where the mosaics and accompanying flags are to be found.

The mosaics appear in the following order (going from north to south, which is walking towards from where the photograph of the stadium was taken

  1. England
  2. New Zealand
  3. U.S.A.
  4. Scotland
  5. France
  6. Spain
  7. Japan
  8. Fiji
  9. Tonga
  10. Romania
  11. Other Nations
  12. Wales
  13. Namibia
  14. Uruguay
  15. Argentina
  16. Samoa
  17. Italy
  18. Canada
  19. South Africa
  20. Ireland
  21. Australia

I have no idea why they are in this order, as it does not seem to correspond to the groups they are in. Does anyone know where the order comes from? The Wales mosaic is in the middle, which as hosts makes sense, but other than that I see no logic to the order.

Each mosaic is quite charming, with the flag of the country and then some images around the edges meant to represent things about that country. How many of you have walked on this walkway and not even noticed them? Below each mosaic are tiles with the names of each player in that country’s squad, but these have become worn and are quite difficult to read now.

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Later today, Wales will take on Australia in their final group match in the rugby World Cup. Both countries have qualified from the “group of death”, with England (the hosts) failing to go through having lost to both Wales (28-25) and Australia (33-13) the last two Saturdays. Although both Wales and Australia have qualified for the quarter finals, the winner of Group A will have a much easier quarterfinal.

The winner of today’s Wales v Australia match, and hence of Group A, will play the runner-up of Group B, which could be either Scotland or Japan. The loser today will be runner-up of Group A, and they will face South Africa (who have topped Group B) in the quarter final, a much more difficult proposition. So, I would imagine both Wales and Australia will be going all-out to try to win this afternoon’s match.

Wales will take on Australia this afternoon at Twickenham, a neutral venue. The match starts at 16:45 BST.

Wales will take on Australia this afternoon at Twickenham, a neutral venue. The match starts at 16:45 BST.


Warren Gatland has gone for a very bold team in his attempt to top Group A. Normally Gatland’s selection policy is pretty conservative – he likes to stick with the players he knows well and whom he feels can perform at the highest level in big-game situations. But, on Thursday he surprised everyone with a few unexpected selections. He has brought George North into the centre, with Wales so depleted in that area due to injuries, and moved Liam Williams from full-back to wing. In at full-back is Gareth Anscombe, the New Zealander who has pledged his senior future to Wales by using his Welsh-heritage, after representing New Zealand at junior level. For the last season he has been playing his rugby for the Cardiff Blues; but I think I am right in saying that this has mainly been at outside half. However, I do believe he has some Super 15 experience playing at full-back, so hopefully he will slot in there quite easily.

Blind-side flanker Dan Lydiate is dropped, replaced by open-side flanker Justin Tipuric. According to Gatland, this is because Lydiate has a facial injury from the match against Fiji; but I cannot help feeling that he wanted to play two open-side flankers in Tipuric and Warburton to counter the Wallabies’ marauding pair of Hooper and Pocock. The breakdown will be a major area of contest, and it could be argued that it is where Wales won the game against England and where England lost the game against Australia.

The final surprise in the selection is that veteran loose-head prop Gethin Jenkins is dropped in favour of Paul Jones. Again, according to Gatland this is because Jenkins is feeling the strain of three matches in a short space of time, and Gatland wants to give him a break before the quarter finals. Whether the change is also to try to shore-up the creaking Welsh scrum is a distinct possibility; whilst Gethin Jenkins is almost unsurpassed as an loose-head prop in open play, his scrummaging is not as strong as Paul Jones’ and this is an area where Wales have looked distinctly shaky in their matches against both England and Fiji.

Gatland has gone for a bold selection in his attempt to beat Australia and top Group A.

Gatland has gone for a bold selection in his attempt to beat Australia and top Group A.


I have to say that Australia were very impressive against England; and Wales have not beaten them since 2008. In each of the last 5 or 6 times that we have played them we have lost by just a few points each time; and on more than one occasion have been leading going into the last few minutes. Hopefully these near misses will galvanise the Welsh team to a win this time, with the prize being a much easier path into the World Cup semifinals.

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After the great performance against reigning 6 Nations champions Ireland in beating them in Dublin last weekend, on Saturday Wales played their final warm-up match before the Rugby World Cup by playing Italy. The match was in stark contrast to the game the week before; Wales looked laboured and below par, grounding out an uninspiring 23-19 win. At least they go into the World Cup with two wins under their belt, but at what cost? The headline news from Saturday’s game is that two of Wales’ key players came off injured and are now doubts for the World Cup.



Wales ground out a 23-19 win over Italy on Saturday; but the main news is the injuries suffered by Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb.

Wales ground out a 23-19 win over Italy on Saturday; but the main news is the injuries suffered by Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb.



According to the news I heard last night (Sunday night), we should know today (Monday) how bad the injuries are to the two players; but there is no doubt that both are key to Wales. Rhys Webb, at scrum half, provides a speedy service to outside half (and regional team-mate) Dan Biggar; and Leigh Halfpenny is one of the most accurate place kickers in the World game. Both would be massive losses to Wales if their injuries prove bad.

The Rugby World Cup will finally start on Friday the 18th, with the opening match being between England and Fiji at Twickenham. Wales start their campaign on Sunday the 20th with a match at the Millennium stadium; our second match is against England in Twickenham. Here are they key fixtures in Group A for Wales rugby fans. Two of our four group matches are at home in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, and two are in Twickenham. Without taking anything away from Uruguay and Fiji, it is the two away matches against England and Australia which are key to our qualifying from our group (the top two countries go through to the Quarter Finals).


  • Wales v Uruguay – Millennium Stadium – Sunday 20th September 14:30 BST
  • Wales v England – Twickenham – Saturday 26th September 20:00 BST
  • Wales v Fiji – Millennium Stadium – Thursday 1st October 16:45 BST
  • Wales v Australia – Twickenham – Saturday 10th October 16:45 BST
  • England v Australia – Twickenham – Sunday 3rd October 20:00 BST
  • Runner up pool A QF – Twickenham – Saturday 17th October 16:00 BST

    Winner pool A QF – Twickenham – Sunday 18th October 16:00 BST


England played Ireland on Saturday at Twickenham in their final warm-up match. They also ground out a win in a solid but hardly spectacular performance. England were much the better team in the first half, with their pack strangling Ireland’s and denying the men in green any real possession. But, in the second half Ireland seemed to be a different team (it was the same players), and played much better than England to nearly win the match.

So, the warm-up matches are now all over; the real thing will start in just under two weeks on the 18th. As usual, New Zealand go into the World Cup as favourites, I don’t think there has ever been a World Cup when this has not been the case. Who will emerge victorious in October and lift the William Webb Ellis trophy seems a long way off; and for Wales we first of all have to beat at least England or Australia to even get out of our group!

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It was a good weekend for Welsh sport. In Wales’ penultimate Rugby World Cup warm-up  match, we beat the reigning 6 Nations champions in Dublin, no easy feat. I did not see the match, but from all accounts the 16-10 score line was flattering to Ireland, with most rugby writers in the newspapers I read saying that Wales were much the better team. It seems that Wales were particularly dominant in the breakdown. 

How useful these warm-up matches are for determining true form going into a World Cup is debatable. I’m sure they are very useful to the coaching team to test various combinations and tweak things at the set pieces, but personally I don’t think that they give much of an indicator of form. No coaching team is going to reveal any attacking tricks they may have up their sleeves, so I wouldn’t pay much attention to Wales’ lack of attacking potency. 

  
Wales are, of course, drawn in the “group of death” with England and Australia. England have looked fairly indifferent in their two warm-up matches against France, but next Saturday they host Ireland at Twickenham. I will be hoping for an Ireland victory; if Ireland were to win that match I think England’s confidence going into the World Cup would take a massive blow, which can only help Wales. We will play Italy in Cardiff on the same day, the last time we played them in March we thrashed them so how useful a game this will be seems debatable to me. 

Yesterday Wales’ only team in the English Premier League – Swansea – got a wonderful win at home against Manchester United. It puts Swansea into 4th place in the table, although of course one cannot read too much into the standings after just four games. My team Chelsea, however, are wallowing in 13th place after a home defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday. With two losses, a win and a draw from their first four games, it is the worst start to a season that Chelsea have had in many years. Manchester City, on the other hand, have four wins from four and look very impressive. 

 

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Tomorrow evening Wales take on England in Cardiff in the opening match of the 2015 6 Nations. Two years ago England were at the end of a thrashing by Wales in their last game of the Championships (see my blog about the match here), losing 30-3 to a rampant Wales. At Twickenham last year England comfortably beat Wales, winning 29-18. Wales and England have been playing each other since 1881, with 125 matches played between them. England have won 57, Wales have won 56, and 12 matches have been drawn. So, it couldn’t be much closer really between the two countries.

Over the last 10 years Wales have had the upper hand over England, since 2005 Wales and England have played each other 13 times with Wales having won 7 times and England 6 times. However, three of these matches were World Cup warm-up matches, so if we just look at the 6 Nations matches then Wales have won 6 of the 10 since 2005, winning at home in 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2013 and away in 2008 and 2012. We have lost once at home to England in the 6 Nations since 2005, namely in 2009. Wales have beaten England twice in Twickenham in this period, in 2008 and 2012, both Grand Slam years!

The Wales v England match was also the first match of Wales’ 2005 6 Nations campaign, and was the beginning of Wales’ most recent “golden era” during which we have won three Grand Slams (2005, 2008 and 2012) and four 6 Nations titles (2005, 2008, 2012 and 2013). When we beat England in that 2005 match it was the first time we had beaten them since 1999, when we beat them 32-31 due to a last-gasp try by Scott Gibbs.

Tomorrow evening’s match is important for both sides. Win your first match in the 6 Nations and a team can rapidly gain momentum; conversely losing it can suck away a team’s self belief and can mean bleak prospects for the rest of the tournament. Added to that are the additional factors that England’s last visit to the Millennium Stadium was an absolute drubbing, and that the two sides are in the same group in the World Cup later this year.

Whereas the Welsh team is at full strength with all of Gatland’s first choice players available, the same cannot be said for England who have a horrendous injury list. In fact, if Wales had so many first choice players out injured we probably wouldn’t even have a team to put out ;), but England has so many more professional rugby players than any other country that they can also boast unparalleled strength in depth.

Gatland made the unusual step of announcing the Welsh team two days early, on Monday rather than yesterday. He said it was because he would be telling the players themselves on Monday and decided he didn’t want the team selection to leak out in the intervening two days. But, I suspect it is more to do with England’s extensive injury list and Gatland playing mind-games with his opposite number Stuart Lancaster by highlighting how settled the Welsh team is. This is exactly Gareth Thomas’ take on it too, see below. Apart from the question as to whether Gatland would start with Liam Williams in the back three, the rest of the team had pretty much picked itself and most Welsh rugby fans could have named it two months ago after we beat South Africa 12-6 in Cardiff.



Is Gatland's decision to name the Welsh team two days earlier than planned a question of playing mind-games with his England opposite number?

Is Gatland’s decision to name the Welsh team two days earlier than planned a question of playing mind-games with his England opposite number?



Make no mistake, tomorrow evening’s game is massive for us here in Wales. Having been to a 5 Nations match in Twickenham (back in 1983! It was England v France), the atmospheres do not compare. All of Cardiff is taken over by rugby fans on an international day, with the iconic Millennium Stadium being right in the centre of the city. Also, the design of the stadium with the steep stands means the crowd are nearly on top of the pitch, creating an atmosphere which is just not found in any other rugby stadium.

England can expect to be faced with a wall of noise from 74,000 passionate Welsh fans. I have not heard whether the roof will be closed or not, Gatland has stated that he wants it closed but it requires both teams to agree so it will be up to England to decide. But, whether open or closed I think we can expect a ferocious encounter, and I am confident Wales can win and level the series between the two rivals at 57 wins each.

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It wasn’t a pretty game, but it was all about the result; and finally it went Wales’ way. Wales beat South Africa 12-6 to end the Autumn Test series on a high, and to register only our second ever win over the Springboks in 108 years. Really we should have won by more, we squandered several try scoring chances; but we also nearly threw the game away in the last few minutes. A poor penalty kick for touch by South Africa saw Welsh replacement Scott Williams fumble the ball, giving the Boks a 5-metre scrum and a golden opportunity for a try. Thankfully the Welsh forwards, who were immense all afternoon, disrupted the South African scrum and Wales cleared their lines.



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The official man of the match was Dan Biggar, who had probably his best ever game in a Welsh shirt. His tactics were spot on, and his tackling was incredible. In fact, the tackling of the whole Welsh team all afternoon was incredible, they smashed the South African players back over the gain-line time and time again. Finally, after eight years since our last win over a southern Hemisphere ‘big three’ (Australia in 2008), Wales have taken another scalp to show that we can compete with the best in the World. So many times in the last few years Wales have gone into the last 10 minutes ahead of either Australia or South Africa, only to lose the match. All Welsh rugby fans are hoping that this win will help us develop that self-belief and psychological edge to win these close matches.

All the national teams are building up for next year’s World Cup, and Wales are no exception. Warren Gatland said that this Autumn series, and the 6 Nations which starts in just under nine weeks, are both just preparation for the World Cup. As I’ve mentioned before, Wales find themselves in the ‘group of death’ with both Australia and England, and our next match is against England in Cardiff. England too won on Saturday, beating Australia to end up with the same results from their Autumn tests as Wales – two wins out of four but only one win over one of the ‘big three’. The last time England came down to Cardiff, in March 2013, they were chasing a Grand Slam but we thrashed them 30-3. If Wales can beat England in February then I think it will go a long way to our feeling a psychological supremacy when they meet in the World Cup in October.

As Wales captain Sam Warburton said in the press conference after Saturday’s win, Wales need to make beating a southern hemisphere giant a regular occurrence, not something we do once in a blue moon. We have dominated Northern Hemisphere rugby for most of the last decade; now is the time Wales need to step up to the next level and start beating the big three regularly. We have the fitness and commitment, hopefully Saturday will give us the self-belief that we can do it.

The regular Sunday round-up of the weekend’s rugby action on BBC 2 Wales is called ‘Scrum V’. Last nights review of the game and look ahead to our opening match of the 6 Nations against England ended with the credits rolling to The Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’. Let’s hope this isn’t another false dawn in the roller coaster that is Welsh rugby!

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When Wales went into the lead against Australia at 28-27, with less than 10 minutes on the clock, I have to admit I doubted they would hold on to win the game. Such is the habit that Wales have made of losing close games to Australia that I no longer believe Wales can win them. Sadly, I was proved right. Using far better game management in the final 10 minutes, Australia scored a drop goal and a penalty to win the game 33-28. That makes it 10 (yes, ten!) wins in a row for Australia over Wales, with the winning margin in each of these being less than a converted try. In this match it was 5 points, in the previous four matches it was 4 points, 2 points, 1 point, and 2 points (working backwards).



Wales suffered their 10th defeat in a row to Australia in, once again, a game they could have won.

Wales suffered their 10th defeat in a row to Australia in, once again, a game they could have won.



This is a game Wales could have won and should have won. The three tries that Australia scored were all down to errors that Wales made. The try that Rhys Webb gave away was a classic example of how naive the Welsh players can be. It came from Australian fullback Israel Folau intercepting a long, speculative miss-pass by the Welsh scrum half, but what on Earth was he doing sending such a pass in the first half of the game? Such risky play is understandable in the last 10 minutes if a side is behind, but to do it in the first half when the sides are fairly equal on the scoreboard is just plain stupid.

Another example of Wales’ stupidity and poor decision making was when we were awarded a penalty with some 7 minutes to go. The scoreboard was at 30-28 to Australia, so a penalty kick would have put us back in the lead. But, Wales squandered the penalty, playing on and losing the ball after the advantage had finished. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Contrast this to Australia’s drop goal. They just drove up the field, going through phase after phase, until they got close enough to slot a drop goal. This is exactly how England won the World Cup back in 2003, when Johnny Wilkinson put over a drop goal to win an incredibly close final. It is not pretty, but it often wins matches. Wales too often want to win with style, which is all very well when you are already well ahead, but in tight games you have to take every point which is on offer.

It is these sort of ridiculous decisions by Wales that, in my opinion, are preventing Wales from taking that step to beating Australia. We have the physical ability and the skill level, and the attacking and defending ability, it is our decision making which is letting us down. Unless we can sort this out, and sort it out soon, we are not going to turn the losing streak we have against Australia around, nor or we going to win other tight games against other teams when the stakes are high.

I sincerely hope that the Wales coaching staff realise that, although they cannot neglect the physical conditioning which they subject the players to, they really need to work on the mental strength and self belief and game management skills. Maybe they need to draft in a sports psychologist to help with this, I don’t know. Ten years ago, Wales ran out of physical puff in the last 15 minutes of match, they just didn’t have the physical conditioning. Those days are gone, we are as fit as any team, but we are woefully laking in game management skills.

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On Saturday (the 8th of November) Wales will begin their Autumn Tests series with a match against Australia. Over the next several weeks we will take on all three of the “Southern Hemisphere giants”, playing Australia, then New Zealand and finally South Africa. We also play a match against Fiji.



The "Dove Men Series" (Autumn Test Series) sees Wales play all 3 major Southern Hemisphere countries.

The “Dove Men Series” (Autumn Test Series) sees Wales play all 3 major Southern Hemisphere countries.



The full list of fixtures is

  • Wales v Australia – Saturday 8th of November, K.O. 14:30 GMT
  • Wales v Fiji – Saturday 15th of November, K.O. 14:30 GMT
  • Wales v New Zealand – Saturday 22nd of November, K.O. 17:30 GMT
  • Wales v South Africa – Saturday 29th of November, K.O. 14:30 GMT



Traditionally, Wales seem to start any series of matches slugishly, be it the 6 Nations or their annual 4 match Autumn series. But, of the three Southern Hemisphere giants to meet for our first game, possibly Australia is the best one as they have just replaced their coach and are going through some transitions. Wales’ last game was the 2nd Test against South Africa back in June, a match we should have won (I blogged about it here). We should therefore go into Saturday’s game with some confidence. In addition, the Welsh regions have been performing quite well so far this season, and the various players who play outside of Wales have also shown good form.

This time next year we will be in the middle of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Wales have been drawn in the same group as Australia and England, and with only two countries progressing to the knockout stages even advancing from our group is going to be a mighty challenge. Saturday’s match against Australia will be the last time we play them before the World Cup, we play then at Twickenham on the 10th of October in our final group match. We have lost far too many narrow games against Australia in the last several years, it is time to turn these defeats around and beat them.

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The wait is nearly over. Tomorrow, at 3pm, the much anticipated showdown between England and Wales in this year’s 6 Nations will kick off. The build up in Wales over the last ten days has been relentless, it is certainly the most anticipated game since last year’s Championship decider between the old rivals in Cardiff. As I have mentioned before, not only will tomorrow’s game go a long way to deciding who is out of contention in this year’s 6 Nations, but also either Wales or England will go ahead in the 124-match series.

One thing I have not mentioned so far is that this game also has important implications for next year’s Rugby World Cup, which England are hosting. Because Wales dipped outside of the top eight in the World rankings when the draw was made, we find ourselves in the same group as Australia and England, with only two countries qualifying from each group. Tomorrow will be the last time England and Wales will meet at Twickenham until the match in those group qualifying matches, so winning tomorrow may play a vital part in determining who manages to get through to the knock-out stages next year.

Thankfully for Wales, we have a nearly full-strength team for the first time this 6 Nations. World-class centre Jonathan Davies is back after tearing his pectoral muscle in our loss to South Africa in November. He and Jamie Roberts have formed a formidable centre partnership over the last few seasons, and shone together in the Lions team in Australia last summer.



Jonathan Davies and Alun Wyn Jones are both back in the starting fifteen for tomorrow's showdown with England.

Jonathan Davies and Alun Wyn Jones are both back in the starting fifteen for tomorrow’s showdown with England.



Alun Wyn Jones is also back from the foot infection which made him withdraw at the last minute against France, so with the exception of Ian Evans, who is out of this year’s 6 Nations due to a disciplinary action ban, Wales are nearly at full strength. In a last-minute change announced yesterday, Luke Charteris has had to pull out with an injury, so his place will be taken by Jake Ball (who looks like W.G. Grace reincarnated) who played so well against France two weeks ago. It should be a cracker of a game, as England are certainly on the ascendency. They have already shown in the last 6 months that they are a better team than the one Wales thrashed 30-3 in Cardiff last March. Before the first weekend of matches I tipped England to win this year’s Championships, and should they beat Wales tomorrow they will still be my tip to win it. But, of course, I want Wales to put England out of contention with a convincing win at Twickenham tomorrow. We will know soon enough!

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The poem “Invictus”, written by William Ernest Henley, first came to my attention through the movie of the same name. The movie, made in 2009, is about South Africa’s attempt to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, shortly after Nelson Mandela had become President. Rugby had always been seen as an Afrikaaner game in South Africa, so much so that the majority South African blacks would often support the opposition rather than support what they saw as a game played almost exclusively by their white racist masters.



William Ernest Henley

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) wrote Invictus in 1875, it was published in 1888.



Mandela sees an opportunity to unite South Africa by embracing this white-dominated sport, and show his willingness to let the past be the past. In the movie, Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman, and the Springboks’ captain François Pienaar is played by Matt Damon. If you haven’t see the film, then I highly recommend it.





The poem was used by Mandela to boost his spirits during his long incarceration in prison on Robben Island, and he shares it with Pienaar in the hope of inspiring the Springboks to victory. Here is the poem in its entirety.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.


The best known lines in the poem are the last two lines. Recently they have cropped up in a TV commercial for the Irish stout Guinness. The commercial features a group of men in Brazzaville in the Congo who belong to “La Sape”, which stands for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (Society for the Advancement of Elegant People). A member of this Society is known as a “sapeur”.





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