Crikey’s rugby correspondent Wally Flanker is back from catching up
with the Joneses at Cardiff Arms Park – and when Wales takes on
England, is there a better atmosphere in a sporting event anywhere in
the world?
Under the terms of the new contract, your correspondent Wally wasn’t
due to start writing about the 2005 season for Crikey until the Super
12, but a Test match of historic importance took place at the weekend
which could not go unreported.

Contract negotiations last Tuesday were very fruitful. His eminence has
signed the Flanker byline to Crikey for an up-front fee of $200,000, in
a package ultimately worth a cool $1mil by September 2006. Just where
that sort of money would be coming from was a question not asked, but
in any event we all found out the next day.

The deal done, there was nothing for it but to board the next available flight to London and catch a lift over to Cardiff with
Prince Harry, in the old Vauxhall Viva he bought off his aunt Anne. The
trip was at the suggestion of his Grandmother, who presumably was
hoping we might have a quiet yarn along the way about the subtle
differences between being an outrageous party animal and being an
offensive one. Harry was still technically grounded, so having dropped
his passenger at a pub near the stadium, he presumably drove all the
way back home again.

The record crowd was not quite a ring of scarlet around the pitch and
the singing’s still not like it was in the days of the Arms Park, but
the expectation of victory was heavy in the air after near-misses last
autumn against the All Blacks and Springboks. The first Welsh try by
left-winger Shane Williams ten minutes in was greeted by a thunderous
roar that caused the closed stadium roof to bounce in places, yet hopes
were tempered slightly when five-eighth Stephen Jones missed the
conversion.

Three minutes later the Poms kicked a penalty goal, then followed up
five minutes further on with a field goal attempt bouncing off and
outside the uprights. By now the match had settled into a slugfest for
possession and territory. Slight try-scoring gaps weren’t left open for
long. Jones took a shot at a field goal two minutes after the missed
England attempt, but the boyos kept up the pressure inside England’s
half and a penalty goal was soon posted.

Welsh outside centre Gavin Henson deserved his Man of the Match award.
His midfield defence would have been painful to play against. Prior to
half time he let fly with a booming punt which bounced into touch and
early in the second half crunched his opposite number head-on with a
tackle that forced a turnover.

At the 64th minute, Wales substituted Jones with Jones. This did not
affect the team’s two Joneses already on the field, particularly Jones
at five-eighth, who sadly missed another opportunity to kick a penalty
goal a few minutes later. England breakaway Jones breathed a sigh of
relief.

Charlie Hodgson kicked England ahead to 9-8 with ten minutes left and
the tension in the crowd grew to be unbearable. Then the moment came: a
penalty shot 45 metres out and from the sideline, after an enterprising
dart and kick-through from scrumhalf Gareth Cooper caught Robinson
scrambling to cover. He was pinged for not releasing the ball. Henson
stepped up to the mark in as hushed a stadium as could be found
anywhere and potted the ball clean over as if it were just another
practice kick. Your correspondent’s hearing will be cactus for some
time.

Words don’t adequately describe the Welsh reaction to the sound of the
full-time whistle. The despised English had been put away and the only
complaint from those around was that not enough cursed English blood
had been spilt trying. Old men hardened from years of mining and
unemployment, their bottom lips quivering with emotion and pride,
struggled to contain their tears.

If you want to experience true elation, the fleeting feeling of an
entire nation being your friend, streets teeming with sound of
perfect eight-part choral harmony, “FEED ME ‘TIL I WANT NO MORE!!!” et
cetera, then Cardiff is the place to be when Wales beats England.

Four more games like that and the Six Nations will be theirs.

Email Wally at wallyflanker @yahoo.com.au. But don’t expect a quick reply; he’s still recovering from the jetlag.