Left field

The Reuters global sports blog

Cathedral of Welsh rugby witnesses a truly epic clash

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There is something about the Welsh National Anthem – The Land of My Fathers – that makes the hairs of my back – and there are many of them – stand on end.
 
It always has done. Even as a sports-mad child growing up in the 1970s I eagerly anticipated settling down on the sofa to hear it before the likes of JPR Williams and Phil Bennett strutted their stuff on muddy rain-soaked pitches.
 
I’m not Welsh but to hear it bellowed out by over 70,000 passionate and emotional Welshmen, usually accompanying opera singer Katherine Jenkins, before a rugby international at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is one of the great experiences in sport.
 
Saturday was no exception. As a Reuters journalist I have been to the cathedral of Welsh rugby many times and as usual, my spine tingled as the Morriston Orpheus Choir, along with the Regimental Band of the Royal Welsh, led the singing.

There was also something in the damp cold air that suggested the following 80 minutes of rugby served up by Wales and Scotland might be something special as well. And so it proved in a manner few could have predicted.

Leading 24-14 entering the final five minutes Scotland, who had more than matched their hosts and were heading for a first away win in the Six Nations for four years, threw the game away.
 
Even after Wales had drawn level at 24-24 in injury time, Scotland still had the chance to salvage a draw by booting the restart into touch which would have ended the game.
 
But, for reasons only known to replacement Mike Blair, he kicked the ball back to Wales who seized the opportunity to go for Scotland’s jugular.

Moments later Shane Williams crossed for the winning score and punched the air in celebration as he was mobbed by his team mates. Cue mayhem and disbelief in the stands as the crestfallen Scottish players sunk to their knees.

UPDATE: England need solid backs not flashes of brilliance

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Relief rather than elation greeted England’s decision to select Mathew Tait, Riki Flutey and Delon Armitage in the backline for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Wales.

(*Flutey has since had to pull out with injury)

One try in three tests told its own story in the November internationals and the selectors had no real option other than to restore Flutey and Armitage and recall Tait.

Italy must be wary of my old school chum McLaughlin

Italy’s marauding pack should tread carefully if they think they can pick on Ireland’s debut flanker Kevin McLaughlin in Saturday’s Six Nations opener.

Why? Because this writer has been there, done that and has the mental schoolboy scars to prove it.

What are the odds on getting the Six Nations winner right?

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Picking the winner of the Six Nations championship is always a tricky task as the vagaries of form and the fixture list ensure that no two seasons are the same.

France, who finished third last season, are rated 6/4 favourites by Ladbrokes while grand slam champions Ireland are only second-best at 9/4.

Johnno loves England too much to see them keep losing

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Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst discovered that winning a World Cup as a player is no guarantee of success as a manager and Martin Johnson is beginning to feel the heat after a torrid first year at Twickenham.

His appointment as England “manager” was always going to be a risk, and one that he publicly accepted. Despite having absolutely no coaching experience Johnson was held in such high esteem by everyone in the game that it was felt by the RFU that his very presence would bring stability to the team.

All Blacks arrive without the aura

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allblacksRoughly once a decade throughout the 20th century, a group of South Seas islanders in the guise of the New Zealand All Blacks would invade Europe to teach the old world the ways of the new.

There were reverses, notably at the hands of Wales in 1905, 1935 and 1953, three of the first four games between the two small rugby-mad nations. But the win-loss ratio remained overwhelmingly in favour of the All Blacks, whose distinctive all-black uniform and pre-match haka (Maori war dance) enhanced their special aura.

A bunch of fives from Jonah Lomu

RUGBY-ZEALAND/LOMUI have big hands and am 6-ft 4-ins. I can palm a basketball, and dunk it — just about. It’s not often meeting athletes I feel weedy.

Until the All Blacks and Wallabies came to town.

Last weekend’s Bledisloe Cup test in Tokyo between the hulking trans-Tasman rivals prompted me to dust down the Dunlop Green Flash and renew my lapsed gym membership. For that I thank them.

The one thing rugby union could copy from league – 13 players

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Rugby union seems to be eternally engaged in a forlorn struggle to make itself more entertaining without losing its soul.

For all the rule changes the game has undergone, many matches still turn into battles of attrition decided by penalties rather than slick hands and sidesteps.

Golf, rugby back in Olympics, Tiger set for Rio?

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OLYMPICS/2016Get ready for a Tiger assault on Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The International Olympic Committee voted on Friday to accept golf — and rugby — back on to the Olympic programme, starting in Rio in seven years’ time.

Golf last featured at an Olympics in 1924. Ninety-two years on, the sight a lot of people will want to see is Tiger Woods attempting to crown his glorious careeer with an Olympic gold medal.

Tri-Nations waves goodbye to tedious kick-and-chase

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Australia’s shock win over South Africa in Saturday’s Tri-Nations breathed new life into a series that was in real danger of fizzling out.

The Wallabies’ 21-6 win not only stalled South Africa’s seemingly unstoppable march to this year’s title but also provided some much needed entertainment.

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