Wales are playing Ireland in rugby today. I know this is off script for an article that usually focuses on cinema, but occasionally my Welshness gets stirred.
Rugby is not the best game in the world. If your team sucks, then there's nothing more demoralizing than watching them get physically overpowered, and as if to stem the flow, committing fouls everywhere, conceding penalty after penalty. I can remember international games in the 1990s where Wales lost regularly by sixty and seventy points against the usual suspects (England, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia). Losing against England was particularly bad, because rugby was the one sport Wales were meant to be able to compete against the best, including our all-conquering neighbour. In Wales, you grow up hearing about the 1970s, our glory days when we almost always thrashed England, but what's seared in my memory was growing up in the 1990s when Wales were at their worst and England (and everyone else who was decent) always thrashing us. The old stars from the 1970s would emerge in TV interviews, shaking their heads, talking (in Welsh) about the shame and humiliation of it all – gwarth and cywilydd muttered from their embittered lips. Is this what they fought in the (rugby) wars for? My generation had let down their country.
Wales don't usually get thrashed anymore, but rugby's not a good enough sport for this to be important. It doesn't help that the rules are so vague, to the point where it seems the players aren't sure what's right and wrong. Few games seem so dependent on the match official to decide both the shape of the game and the ultimate outcome. Perhaps that's why rugby will never become a truly global event, played beyond the seven or eight countries that take it serious. If I want to watch a brutal, complex contest of physicality done well, I'll watch a game of American football.
Still, Wales are playing Ireland today. I used to watch such games in the 1990s drunk and with flatmates who got violent. I hate those memories. I won't watch today, though maybe some day in the future I'll return to Cardiff (where I studied in the 1990s) and walk through those broad Cardiff avenues while the rugby fans mill around; maybe sit at a café or my old local in Roath, rueful of a past that didn't need to be as bad. It's not being mediocre that bothers me, it's that it was always on other people's terms.Go Wales, I guess.