Riath All-Samarrai rounds up the action - after a nail-biting couple of months for Welsh football and rugby
It Only Takes A Minute
The importance of a moment – it’s why we love sport. If Gareth Bale had missed his free kick in the 81st minute in Andorra, with the score at 1-1, would Chris Coleman still be Wales’ manager? Would Wales have recovered from the embarrassment and made history little more than a year later by qualifying for the European Championships? Consider Steven Gerrard’s slip for Liverpool against Chelsea in April 2014. Without it, they are closing in on their first Premier League title and Brendan Rodgers, a central character in the recent rise of Swansea City, is heading for a remarkable managerial legacy. With it, they lost the game and their shot at the title and 18 months later Rodgers is sacked, his reputation picked apart and unfairly damaged. Two big moments, two big consequences and dozens more every weekend from tracks to pitches to pools. All trivial in the wider scheme of things but how brilliantly trivial nonetheless.
Country Comes First?
I was recently part of a group interview with a mildly frustrated Tony Pulis, who was miffed that Salomon Rondon was about to return to Venezuela for the third time this season to play an international fixture. The friction between clubs and countries over the management of players is nothing new, but with Rondon earning a reported £50,000 a week, West Brom manager Pulis made the point that it is time national associations started covering the wages of players while away on international duty and paying compensation when they come back injured. In an era of the game that is rampantly commercialised it is a certainty that he is not alone among prominent figures in football who feel that way, even if it would destroy the sport at international level. Take Wales, Pulis’s own country, as an example. How would the Football Association of Wales be expected to cover the £200,000 a week that Gareth Bale is reported to earn at Real Madrid? The idea is a non-starter, you would assume and hope.
Of the great many brilliant things that happened in the Rugby World Cup, the social media vilification of Wales’ Alex Cuthbert is prominent among the bad. He made mistakes in his play, but his treatment was appalling. Among the things rugby and its followers could take from the world of football, the culture of filthy, personal abuse towards its players is just about the worst one they could choose. Going the other way, one thing football might have learned from rugby is that video technology is not always the answer. Its mere presence will not eliminate all officiating mistakes, as seems to be the rather boring desire of all those with a vested interest. Craig Joubert will testify to that.
Get Smacked In The Face!
I’m told world featherweight champion Lee Selby, also known as the Welsh Mayweather, is earning fortunes following his decision to link up with US-based advisor Al Haymon, with more fights planned in America. It’s hard to argue with the decision – why get smacked in the face if you’re not going to do well out of it? But consider how hard it will be for Selby, a wonderful talent, to build a following so far from home. His incredible skills appeal to all purists but he does not bring the crash and wallop that so many American fight fans enjoy. It seems reasonable to question if this move will deny him the kind of loud and loyal backing that fighters like Ricky Hatton, from Manchester, and Joe Calzaghe had from Wales. At a lower level, look how fans from Merseyside lift their own Tony Bellew. That kind of support has a tangible effect on fighters and you wonder if Selby will get significant Welsh support if he continues to fight away.
‘I was back in New Zealand coaching Waikato and was approached to fly to Sydney for an interview for the head of rugby, or performance director with England. I had a phone call asking would I be interested in talking further about the position. But I said I did not want to be stuck in an office, I wanted to be coaching so that was as far as that went.’ Warren Gatland recalling a phone call he received in 2007, just before he took the coaching job with Wales. It’s fair to say Wales did quite well out of it.
It would be remiss not to open this issue’s column with a tribute to the late Enzo Calzaghe, one of sport’s great characters. To say Enzo, who died in September at the age of 69, defied the odds would be an understatement. Born and raised in Italy, Calzaghe Sr made the decision to come to Cardiff on a whim after being abandoned by a travelling companion during a tour across Europe. He was a talented musician, and also worked as a window salesman and a bus conductor among other professions.
It was while in the capital that he first became involved in a boxing gym and many years later he would be recognised by Ring Magazine and the BBC for his coaching and training of son Joe to an unblemished 46-0 record. Before setting foot in that gym he had not a moment of training experience. Along the way there were plenty who doubted him, many who felt he should step aside and let others take over, that he wasn’t up
to the task. Of course, they were all wrong and other notable fighters to benefit from his influence include Gavin Rees, Enzo Maccarinelli and Nathan Cleverly. He was a great character, a great man and a great trainer and will be sorely missed by the boxing community and far beyond.
Clash of the kits
When CardiBlues and Glasgow Warriors strode out onto the Arms Park pitch for their Heineken Champions Cup clash the question was immediate: which team is which?
While the Blues can certainly not offer the colour clash as any sort of excuse for their 29-12 defeat, those who paid their hard-earned money to watch the spectacle must have been incredibly frustrated. It was bad enough for TV viewers as low autumn sunshine just added to the visual confusion.
Tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby have apologised to the two clubs involved, although it should be noted that a Challenge Cup game on the same weekend had to be delayed by 15 minutes after Perpignan and Bordeaux-Begles revealed their kit would clash. How can this happen in the modern day? The gist of the explanation seems to be that EPCR
did not realise the similarity between the Blues and Glasgow’s allocated jerseys for the fixture because the designs are submitted as graphics before the tournament begins. But that is simply not good enough and it is farcical moments such as this which undo the professional image rugby has done so much to paint for itself since the end of the amateur era some 23 years ago. It’s hard to recall any Champions League fixtures being similarly affected in football, while in US sports like basketball and American Football one team is designated to play in white and the other in their alternate colours.
EPCR have clearly made a mistake but the Blues should also be asked questions as to why they did not have an alternative kit to hand, why was their designated second kit at their base in Hensol? Tradition in rugby dictates that the home side change if there is a clash. In terms of contingency planning surely it would have made sense to have had the option for a potential worse case scenario? Whatever the outcome, this was a needless shambles that could easily have been avoided by greater care and attention from all parties. It must not be allowed to happen again.
Cardiff keeps on running
From humble beginnings to the Cardiff Half Marathon has become one of the biggest events in the Welsh Sporting calendar and this year's
edition was no different as nearly 20,000 runners took part. Cheered on by crowds lining a route taking in Cardiff Castle, Penarth, Cardiff Bay Barrage and Roath Park Lake, the 15th anniversary of the maiden staging showed why the race around the capital is considered among the very best of its kind. I was among the number putting themselves through 13.1 miles of hurt, but it was worth every step for the sense of accomplishment. Cardiff has held some fantastic and iconic sporting events in recent years, but no-one should forget this little jewel of a day made possible by a dedicated team and a vast volunteer staff. It’s a credit to Wales and a credit to Cardiff.
The return of the Wales football side to the Principality Stadium should have been an occasion to savour, so it was disappointing to see it end in rancour and recriminations. The notion that Wales would draw a big enough crowd to justify taking a game back to the 72,500 capacity venue would have been laughable not so long ago. That they could was a legacy of that unforgettable run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 which we all took so much pride in, and the subsequent growing interest in the team and the sport. So, to hear Wales fans chanting their disapproval at other supporters as the stadium lit up with phone lights during the second half was sad. Holding up a mobile phone in such a fashion is not something many of us would do at a game, it’s not something I have really seen in person before but should it really bother people that much? Does it merit chants of ‘Where were you when we were s**t?’ Is it such an issue that some now view the growth of the audience to see the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Ethan Ampadu as a negative?
Those who loyally spent their money time and again during the dark days to watch Wales home and away are supporters any team would be grateful to have behind them. But that does not mean those same people have the right to tell others how to back their team, or how they should behave at a game. It’s a needlessly insular attitude. The national side belongs to all of us, not just a few.