Monthly Archives: March 2015
The 6 Nations final day had been christened “Super Saturday” as any one of 4 out of the 6 teams could theoretically win the Championship. All 3 games were going to be played consecutively too, which could see more swings and roundabouts than in quite a lot of playgrounds, if you added them all together.
So, Wales were up against it and so it seemed were the Italian authorities. Italy’s national airline, Alitalia went on strike on Friday, as did the air traffic controllers which meant many people’s flights were either cancelled or rescheduled. The people we were supposed to meet rescheduled their own flights to leave Stansted at 945, which all being well, would see them with 40 minutes to get from the airport to make kick-off in time. They strolled in during the anthems……. complete with their carrier bag luggage!!!
The announcement of the teams was quite comical. I’ve never know a 2 syllable name turn into 4 – Rob Evans became Rob-bah Evan-sa – as did most of the Welsh team As the stadium filled up it was quite clear that many, many Welshmen (and women) had made the trip to Rome. Out of the near 66,000 there, it really was a close split in the stands in terms of support. You can normally tell during the anthems quite how many there really is, but the Italian band got “Mae hen wlad fy nhadau” (yes, I had to look up how to spell/write it) so badly out of time, everyone in the stands were all over the shop!!! But the Italian anthem boomed out loud and proud – the band were basically irrelevant. You can’t help but kind of dance and chant along with the Italian anthem – it is one of my favourites – especially the “Sí, Sí, Sí” at the end!
The first half went by in a blur. There was a try to both teams, a key injury to both teams and Italy were showing huge authority up front dominating the Welsh front five. When the Italians get on top, the Italian crowd roars “I-tal-ia, I-tal-ia” and it really is deafening. Who said the Italians didn’t understand their rugby? That fine Italian Samuel Vunisa was plundering the Welsh defences and it was one of his breakout runs that forced Leigh Halfpenny to try and tackle him, copping a knee to the side of the head which effectively ended his participation. Quite possibly the best player and kicker in the game right now, Halfpenny’s absence could have shifted Wales’ thoughts from win big to just win. A late penalty saw Wales go into half time only a point up.
The boys that moved heaven and earth to get to the game were starting to question whether it was going to be the biggest disaster of all time, but after a cloudy start to the day, the sun was beginning to break through…….
The next 35 minutes were perhaps the most exhilarating and possibly the best Wales have played since, well, since who knows when. After Rhys Webb took a quick tap penalty, only Liam (or Lee-amma) Williams reacted quickly enough to support, and duly accepted the gift to score untouched under the sticks. A minute later, Italy attacked by kicking ahead, Lee-amma Williams takes the ball in the air coming forward breaking free and kick starting the George North show. Williams released North 40metres out for an outstanding try; 5 minutes later North powered around the cover defence from 10 metres out on the left wing; another 5 minutes later, North pops up in the centre of the field, barges over two defenders and then sidesteps a third to ghost in between the posts. A 10 minute hat-trick has turned this tight game into an avalanche.
Wales had scored 28 points in the first 20 minutes of the second half and now the abacuses (or should that be abaci?) were out in force. Wales were plus 12, and now add 29 which makes us 4 ahead of England and 8 ahead of Ireland…… The dream was still on, especially as Italy seemed to be folding quicker than the World Origami Championships. When that other fine Italian Quentin Geldenhuys was sent to the naughty chair you could sense a meteoric rise in pressure at Murrayfield and Twickenham.
Rhys Webb went over and then quite possibly the try of the tournament followed. Scott Williams (or Scot-tah Wiliam-sah) fielded a kick 25 metres out from his own line. After cutting across the field and sidestepping inside to the halfway line, offloading to Tipuric who then offloaded to Super Sam Warburton who galloped home in his best Usain Bolt impersonation from fully 40 metres out to dive over untouched. I thought I had seen it all then!
There is nothing more exciting than a BIG man in full steam…..
Like many before in the heart of the Gladiator, Wales were possessed. Italy won an attacking line out on the Wales 5metre line, but Wales somehow turn it over – as quick as a flash and from behind their own line, with quick hands and direct running, 100 metres later Scott Williams crashes over to make the score 61-13. Abaci are out again and now England have to win by 24 and Ireland 28…… could this really happen. Have I traveled halfway around the world to witness quite possibly the biggest comeback since Lazarus?
With only a couple of minutes left, it was very nearly 31 and 35 respectively when replacement half Gareth Davies muffed an interception with only the ball boy to beat. Unfortunately the Azzuri’s Leonardo Sarto managed to break clear from the resultant scrum and score a memorable solo try from 80 odd metres out. Orquera slots the ugliest looking conversion from the touchline to make it a 14 point swing in terms of the title and bring to a close this phenomenal, somewhat bemusing 6 Nations rollercoaster.
This truly was a great game of rugby. It had some of the best tries you will ever be fortunate to witness on an International field. The Stadio Olimpico provided a great stage for the spectacle in front of the most passionate fans you are likely to encounter. The Italians do love their rugby!! If they ever get good – just watch out, it will be a tough place to come and get a result!
The drinking went long into the early evening…. Well it was a 130pm kick off. There was lots of singing; there was masses of celebrations as the 2015 International season came to a head. Thoughts and conversations moved towards the September World Cup’s “Group of Death” which features England, Wales and Australia together where only 2 can qualify for the quarter finals. Jubilant supporters funneled their way back to centre of Rome to enjoy what was left of their Super Saturday; although some of them, whose day started at 3am to try and and make that elusive kick-off were flagging and didn’t make it past 9.30pm.
And then to top off a great, almost magical day, I got hit on in the pub by a 51 year old medium from Morecombe who tried to “read” me. She was convinced that I was really good person inside, and that I was pining for the love of my life who was either Angelina or Angela. To all the Angelinas and Angelas in my life, and in my future life, be ready, I’m coming for you (or I may already have……..)
RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP
ITALY 20 – 61 WALES
After the game, Ireland walloped Scotland, leaving England needing to beat France by 26 points to claim a Championship they barely deserved (ooh, controversial…) They eventually played out a 90 point basketball-esque end to end thriller, overcoming the French Cosmos 55-35; a try short of where they needed to get to – even worse though was the fact that they were camped on the French line for the final couple of minutes when Welsh ref Nigel Owens found a penalty from nowhere to finish the game off, breaking English hearts (sob, sob…). I guess in the end the best team won the Championship – but remind me again, who did they lose to…….