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NOTHING BEATS A RUGBY INTERNATIONAL IN CARDIFF

It took me 35 years to fulfill a dream but the wait was certainly worth it.
 
On New Year’s Day 1977 while on vacation in Wales, I attended a practice for the Welsh national rugby team at the old Arms Park in Cardiff. Since then, I’ve been constantly reminded how exciting an actual Six Nations rugby game truly is.
 
And from what I’ve seen on TV - every time Wales took on England, Scotland, Ireland, France or Italy - I couldn’t agree more.
 
Finally last month - this Canadian born, rugby fanatic - witnessed the real thing as Wales defeated Italy 24-3 before 61,000 fans at the new Millennium Stadium in the Welsh capital. My dream came true - albeit some 35 years after my foray to the old Cardiff Arms Park.
 
It’s little wonder that my second excursion to Cardiff all came about within several days. When I found out that tickets were available for the Wales/Italy match on Saturday March 10th  - my best friend Marian and I decided - LET’S JUST DO IT!! NIKE would be so proud!!
 
We left for Cardiff on Wednesday March 7th and arrived the next day - via Buffalo, Detroit and Amsterdam. It felt like a homecoming for me because my parents were from Swansea, South Wales and I had visited the coastal town eight times previously - but not since 1978.
 
Cardiff is a palatial city of some 330,000 people. While the downtown is a beehive of activity - the city is very clean and safe!! My cousin Carolyn - who lives just outside Cardiff - gave us the grand tour before we settled in for the afternoon.
 
After dinner that evening - Marian and I took a walk towards the Millennium Stadium - located about 10 minutes from our hotel. The 74,500 seat facility was obviously closed but even from the outside - one can appreciate the enormity of this 10-year-old facility - a venue that would rival any NFL park.
 
Friday was for shopping and WOW - can women ever shop. But Marian is my best friend and she deserved the best!!
 
I also took her to a Welsh pub so she could enjoy the best food and beer that Wales has to offer.
 
Saturday was match day as they say in Welsh vernacular as the city glowed under the warm sun and hundreds of people strolled through Cardiff adorned in the red and white, Welsh colours. Part of the city had been cordoned off to allow for safe and easy access to the stadium. People were allowed to drink on the streets but it resembled nothing of the chaotic, tailgate insanity that is sometimes commonplace at an NFL venue.
 
The ambience was one of anticipation - not antagonism or violence which has long been associated with European soccer. As the saying goes, “soccer is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans while rugby is game for hooligans played by gentlemen.”
 
As we walked into the Millennium Stadium and took our seats high above the field in the north end zone, I finally saw in person what a magnificent stadium this truly is. It actually took me several minutes to catch my breath. The retractable roof was open and the acoustics were excellent. After all, Wales is known as the Land Of Song!!
 
The game got underway at 2:30 pm. and I immediately felt as if I was sitting in Rugby Heaven. Wales took a 9-3 lead into halftime as all the points came off penalty kicks. It was a defensive battle to say the least with most of the play taking place at the other end of the field from us.
 
Wales attacked our end in the second half and we were rewarded with two outstanding tries as the Welsh prevailed 24-3.
 
While the game itself was everything I had dreamt about - the atmosphere was even better. The cheering and singing of the partisan Welsh crowd brought the stadium to life every time Wales threatened.
 
But there was none of the unruly behaviour sometimes witnessed at an NFL game. None whatsoever!! I guess the absence of tailgating coupled with less alcohol being served at the game is the main reason for this.
 
Everyone was in a buoyant but well behaved mood as we exited to the streets. The pubs and restaurants were packed as the late afternoon sun further warmed the people walking outside. It was spectacular to say the least.
 
The win over Italy set up a Grand Slam showdown against France the following weekend in Cardiff (which Wales won to capture the title.) The post game celebrations after both matches were a festive occasion unlike the riots witnessed in Lexington after the recent Kentucky Wildcats semi-final win and NCAA championship.
 
The rugby world should be forever proud!!
 
We were up at 3 am. Sunday to catch our flight home. The two of us were still basking from the day before. Our first rugby excursion together was everything Marian and I could have hoped for. It certainly won’t be our last!!!

 

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