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Badger and the Grand Slam

This is an opinion piece by The Badger. This particular mustelid has been writing for The Herald since 2013 and has 399 published articles. He has large following in west Wales.

#[email protected]&%*!

And, what’s more: bleep, bleeping, bleepy-bleep, blankety-blank!
That’s last week’s rugby result dealt with, readers.

#[email protected]&%*!

Well, almost.

<expletive deleted!>

There. That’s better. Having dealt with his frustrations about the rugby, Badger now moves to the barrage of abuse directed at some Welsh players on social media.

Badger can understand frustration and disappointment. After all, he watched Welsh rugby in the 1980s and 1990s. It was a time when the spectre of regular and – sometimes – humiliating beatings haunted the national team.

Back then, Wales still had star players. Still, it neither had enough of them nor the structure to develop and coach them in the realities of semi-pro and then fully-professional rugby. Badger remembers the brightest of those stars, Jonathan Davies, remarking on the greater focus on skills, strength, and fitness in top-class rugby league club rugby.

And, back then, thank goodness we didn’t have Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms.
Badger is a MAH-OOSIVE fan of Simon Thomas, Wales Online and the Western Mail’s rugby correspondent. He also is glad he isn’t Simon Thomas. He can live without the trolling, the chronic abuse, and the sheer venom directed at someone for doing their job. Simon Thomas is a superb and gifted writer whose ability to get to the heart of Welsh rugby and forensically examine it is unmatched. However, his social media and articles are repeatedly targeted by those with axes to grind.

When Uilisi Halaholo was called up to the Welsh squad during the Six Nations, some of the abuse directed at him revealed so-called fans in their true colours. Racists. Pure and straightforward racists. The sort of attitudes that, in the 1950s, drove Billy Boston out of Welsh rugby union and into rugby league. They were back in all their reeking ‘glory’.

That’s bad enough.

More than bad enough, on its own.

But after a game of rugby on Saturday, the level of abuse directed at some of the Welsh players – especially Liam Williams – was beyond appalling. People without a clue about the demands that test rugby places on players piled on to social media and flamed some of the Welsh players.

For the record, and it pains Badger to admit it, for the last twenty minutes of the game, all Wales offered was dogged defence and brave resistance. The French were all over Wales like a cheap suit.
They were – in the pinch – the better side.

Even then, they only just squeaked past a Welsh side which soaked up more physical punishment in the game’s last quarter than Badger has seen on a rugby field for years.

Alun Wyn Jones said: “I thought we were pretty good for the 80 odd minutes of the game, but obviously France edged it in the final play.

“They built the pressure in those final minutes. Indiscipline probably cost us, but credit to France for getting the win.

“The way we have gone through the tournament and off the back of the Autumn Nations Cup, we’ve had an avalanche in terms of improvement of performances, but we obviously fell short today.
“There is no consolation in pride. It’s something you feel and put a value on, but we came here to win.
“You learn every day. We’ll let the dust settle and see where we are.”

Those are the words of a rugby giant. AWJ is one of the finest, if not the finest, on-pitch leaders in Wales’ rugby history. As he’s played when Wales have been poor and played when Wales have been stellar, Badger takes Alun Wyn Jones at his word.

If he says Wales lost because the French were demonstrably better at the end of the game, that’s the end of it. You argue with him.

Badger double dares you.

If you’re getting out-muscled, outgunned, and pummelled for fifteen minutes, holding your discipline – let alone clinging to a lead – is as draining as playing what’s in front of you.

To blame individual incidents for Wales’ failure to win the Grand Slam is what Badger expected (and got) from Eddie Jones after England got shelled by Ireland.

As the WRU said: “The players are proud to represent their country and their jersey. The abuse players are receiving has to stop.”

And it’s not as if it’s specific to this one game. Elliot Genge got death threats – #[email protected]&%*! death threats! – for not shaking hands after England lost to Wales.

What the bloody hell – Badger can use that one – is wrong with people?

Badger played rugby. He looks at the size, strength, and speed of players now and is rather glad he did so when he did. When Badger propped, he was about fifteen and a half stone tops. About a dozen years ago, Badger played cricket against former Wales Number Nine Mike Phillips. Bloody hellfire, readers, he was the size Badger was when he packed down at Number One!

But faster, stronger, and – needless to say – fitter by a margin Badger can’t even calculate.
And the game has moved on from then.

Badger was a big fan of Nigel Bezani – who didn’t play top-class rugby for Pontypridd until he was 31. That couldn’t happen now, readers. The gap between community rugby and professional rugby is too large.

Players are now bigger, faster, and stronger than they ever have been before. The gap between the top international players and club rugby is not only huge, but it is growing.

Whether that contributes to a perceived distance between the best players and supporters is worth examining in more detail.

But distance alone, a sense of estrangement from the top players, is no excuse for what online loons and utter w***ers did to Liam Williams.

When Wales lost, if Badger had a cat, he’d have been tempted to punt it into the middle of next week. There are things you think of and never do. Words you want to use in the heat of the moment, but which are better left unsaid.

But Badger is confident of one thing: Liam Williams is an excellent rugby player who’s played well throughout the Six Nations. He is a member of a team that dug deep to get success.

Those who abuse players like Liam Williams and reporters like Simon Thomas are probably better sticking to regular self-abuse than watching rugby.

They really haven’t a #[email protected]&%*! clue.