60,000 Welsh rugby fans pack the Millenium stadium to watch a match being played 12,000 miles away between Wales and France. The talk is of the glory days of the 1970s, and matching the forty years of celebrations after England’s 1966 World Cup triumph against Germany
A little history
The Original Post (2008)
In Welsh rugby, the New Zealand connection runs deep. Yesterday’s Triple Crown battle was framed as Warren Gatland coaching Wales, against Eddie O’ Sullivan, who succeeded Gatland as coach of Ireland. Yesterday’s match against Ireland was billed as a grudge match between the coaches, the very Irish O’ Sullivan, and the very non-Welsh Warren Gatland.
The start of a legend
Where to start the story? A few years ago Graham Henry came to Wales as coach. Henry went back to his native New Zealand to build a team expected to walk to victory in the World cup in 2007 but who failed to meet expectations.
Enter Graham Henry
A few months before this season’s competition, the much-maligned Welsh rugby selectors turned to another would-be rescuer from across the seas. The man created hope. He created more than hope. He created Ospraylia, a new country of dreams around the Mumbles, the hills overlooking the Mumbles Bay, and the sleep-steeped Dylan Thomas town of Swansea. His creation was based on The Ospreys, its newly created provincial rugby team.
Out of Osprey land he called forth a team of warriors, with just a few other recruits from the distant city state of Cardiff. The army marshaled against the Irish was as follows
Wales [Osprayia]: L Byrne (Ospreys); M Jones (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Blues), G Henson (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Ospreys), AW Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: G Williams (Blues), D Jones (Ospreys) for A. Jones (72), I Evans (Ospreys), G Delve (Gloucester) for R. Jones (75), D Peel (Scarlets), J Hook (Ospreys) for S. Jones (65), S Parker (Ospreys).
Gatland had hit on an old idea, which worked brilliantly. He created a brotherhood. The dream was both new, and as old as the Celtic myths of leaders who took their armies across the Irish Sea to do battle. And so it was that the warriors from Osraylia walked calmly on to another great place of battle, Croke park, where Ireland were held to be huge favourites.
The battle was fierce. After fifty minutes ,the teams were level at 6-6. A ferocious start from the Irish had been fought off. The Ospraylians, althoughdrilled to overcome past errors of indiscipline, twice lost men banished from the fray for their misdeeds. Even then they clung on.
The Decisive Blow
The decisive blow came with a scampering try from Shane Williams, the smallest man on the field. Williams had been struggling to avoid contact with full-size Irish defenders throughout, but he managed that one glory run on adrenaline-enriched fuel and fear. Ospraylia were ahead.
After that it was trench warfare in mud and rain. But the Irish could make no headway. Two minutes of grunt and scrabble ended it. Not a great match. But a great result and a great story.
The Independent View
The Independent returned to the tale of two coaches
In four victories Warren Gatland has transformed the rabble that was once the Dragonhood into a unit who have competitive steel to match the talent that has lain untapped for far too long. Of course, there was some personal revenge being wreaked on the nation that dispensed of Gatland’s services so abruptly six years ago, not to mention on the ambitious assistant who took his job. But when he claimed that “this was not about me and Eddie [O’Sullivan]” it was difficult not to see his point. Wales have found Warren, Warren has found Wales and this love affair will run and run.
The love affair lasted
And as in all legends, the story never ended. Three years later, Gatland had replaced many of his original warriers with new young players for their place in Rugby history, possibly against the New Zealand All Blacks, coached by, (who else) Warren Gatland. The film rights are already being lined up for another Invictus.
Postscipt: it was 1066 and all that
The semi-final made wonderful drama which ended in France winning by one point. Wales had played for most of the match with great spirit and skill, but with fourteen men, having lost their Captain through a controversial refereeing decision. The film may not now be made, but the story will be added to Welsh Rugby mythology.