Like so many others in Wales, I saw a rerun on TV last night of Gavin Henson’s famous kick against England.
The 2005 moment captured in the BBC Wales documentary beat, brought back memories of a very special afternoon in our Welsh capital.
There’s nothing quite like Six Nations Day in Cardiff, especially when England comes to the city.
Encountering the old enemy takes things up a notch, but even without England you just can’t beat the Cardiff experience.
READ MORE: First Covid restrictions lifted in Wales
That’s why I really, really hoped that everyone’s well-being would come first, of course, that there would be a full house at the Principality Stadium when Scotland come to town in three weeks’ time, and also for Wales’ other home games against France and Italy, which everyone here will wish for, is another title decider, as Wayne Pivac’s men defend their trophy.
You only need to look at the home and away record of matches in the tournament to know how important the fans are to each team.
That applies whether it’s Murrayfield, Twickenham, Dublin or the Stade de France, where I’ve stood among the players before starting with over 80,000 belts from La Marseillaise. Trust me, if you’re in the middle there, that’s really a hair on the neck experience. Anyone who plays in Paris knows that they are facing it at that moment.
I whistled the 2018 Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England at Murrayfield when the noise levels were phenomenal. When it became clear about five minutes before the end that Scotland was going to win, they went up another decibel.
Defeating England does that for the Celtic nations. Always has, probably always will. And as we saw in that game in 2005, when Gav’s stunning kick helped Mike Ruddock’s team win 11-9, it’s as true for Wales as it is for anyone else.
But for me, what really makes Cardiff stand out more than the other venues is that whoever the opponent is, whatever the occasion, there is always something special about rugby matches in the Welsh capital.
Wales v Scotland, Wales v France, autumn internationals, whoever.
I was lucky enough to referee two matches on the ground during the 2015 World Cup. New Zealand against France in the quarterfinals and Ireland against the French again in a group decider.
Once again the atmosphere was phenomenal on every occasion, perhaps better than anything else during that tournament?
That stadium has something very special about it. On the pitch you just feel part of it, with the fans so close to the pitch. But beyond that, there’s something about Cardiff that just brings out the support, creates a buzz – and that includes opposition fans who love walking just a few hundred yards from the train station to the ground right in the city centre. , to the nearby pubs, restaurants, just enjoy the whole occasion.
Even people without tickets want to come to Cardiff for a day and be a part of it, which is something quite unique to us I think.
That’s why I was a little concerned about this talk of no fans for the Six Nations in the stadium this year. The fans make the day. Take it from me, they are important.
Even if they boo you as a referee and call you every name under the sun! It is an essential part of rugby.
I was at Parc y Scarlets on New Years Day to provide commentary for S4C as the Scarlets played their arch-rivals Ospreys in an empty stadium due to Covid rules in Wales.
There was just something creepy about the occasion, it didn’t seem right before, during, or after.
I saw the referee that day, Adam Jones, who has done a pretty good job and has a bright future ahead of him, run off for his warm-up with his fellow officials before kick-off to silence, or at best an echo. Hell, I was thinking of the times I’ve whistled that particular derby and how the ground would already be full by that stage – and I’d be greeted with booing, booing and the occasional cheer as I walked away!
For some of these games the Ospreys would be in their splendor, with their big name Galacticos the Scarlets were also a formidable force. If the quality of rugby wasn’t exactly testing level, and the standard can drop in derby matches, or even cup finals, when there’s so much at stake and nobody wants to make a mistake, the intensity was certainly of the level you’d see in international rugby.
That was up to the crowd; the players would react and feed on their passion. the two groups of supporters.
I just felt that intensity was not there on this particular occasion. If it wasn’t a training ground drill, it certainly didn’t have the feel of a real and historic great Welsh derby showdown.
We need the buzz the fans are creating in the Six Nations too and with Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement earlier this week that restrictions on sporting events in Scotland, and thus Murrayfield, will be lifted, it was only a matter of time before a similar announcement was made. was done here.
Fortunately it has been.
I just feel like people are getting frustrated, we’ve been doubled and even tripled, there are vaccine passports. Cardiff’s economy also needs full bustle, given the great rugby day in the city for local businesses.
The fans are, so to speak, the sixteenth man in Wales. They make a huge difference when the ground is full, not only for the Welsh players who are lifted by the noise and fervor created, but also for the opponents who sometimes subconsciously wonder ‘What the hell is going on here? ?’
Welsh rugby has just had a rough patch, with the Ospreys and Cardiff being beaten by Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively last weekend, which doesn’t bode well for the game in Scotland on paper.
But we shouldn’t read too much into it, this has happened before and we tend to see a team from Wales inspired by home support raising their level in the Six Nations.
Surely that happened in 2005? Back to the Gav kick against England, something I got to see up close at the time. Really close.
While it’s natural to assume that I never experienced the Cardiff factor on Six Nations Day, as my own refereeing duties often took me elsewhere, I was actually only a stone’s throw from Gav when he aligned his attempt on the sidelines that Saturday afternoon.
Myself and Hugh Watkins were the fourth and fifth officers of Steve Walsh, the New Zealander who was the man in the middle, which meant we were charged with bills, time someone had in the bin for yellow card violations, that sort of administrative thing .
I saw Gav align the stairs in front of me, look up at the posts, take his run and pop, he sailed from far over. There was no roof at Millennium Stadium that day, but if there had been one, it would have come off when the linesmen raised their flag.
A victory over England, the start of a famous march to the Grand Slam that culminated in that victory over Ireland on a day when they thought there were as many people partying in the streets of Cardiff as in the stadium itself.
As I said, nothing beats Cardiff on Rugby Day, especially when Wales is winning.
Everyone is looking forward to the Six Nations. Christmas is over, there’s that lull in January, but the fact that the biggest annual rugby tournament is just around the corner keeps many people in the mood.
It would have been demoralizing for many if the matches were played in front of an empty stadium. Everyone’s well-being must of course come first, but, as I said, we had to be in a position where Wales fans cheer for their rugby team in February.
That’s what every sports fan wanted. I know I have.
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