How Welsh rugby union must be hurting and aching like hell. Sport loves to inflict pain and disappointment in equal measure but this was rather like a ferocious blow to the middle of the stomach. It was almost as if somebody had broken the ribcage of Welsh rugby. Welsh rugby is bloodied, bewildered and beaten to a pulp. Surely there must be a paramedic on hand to stitch up the wounds.
On a far distant field in New Zealand, a fiercely proud Wales were beaten by one agonising, frustrating and tantalising point by France. It was almost unbearable to watch but Welshmen and women across the sprawling valleys and long forgotten mines will be crying and sobbing almost uncontrollably into their lagers. How could Wales have come any closer to reaching a Rugby World Cup final? Had the English put a wicked curse on their British neighbours. Surely not.
For this was a roaring, rousing and rumbustious Welsh performance against a French team who looked flaky, dull and functional. Perhaps the French were just relieved to have got as far as they had in the competition. Normally French rugby likes to spread its wings, dashing, darting and throwing the ball around with arrogant abandon. They flaunt their ball-handling skills with flair and a striking beauty. Serge Blanco would not have approved of this current French team. French rugby had vanished.
But at Eden Park Welsh rugby took centre stage and did everything and anything to pull its team over the finishing line and, magically into a World Cup Final. The fates though were not on Wales side. You know what its like. You wake up in the morning, knock over the alarm clock and then drop the toaster on your foot. It was one of those days for Welsh rugby when something was destined to go tragically wrong.
The Welsh though are a nation, who by their very nature are both emotional, musical and melodious but the fighting spirit was still there. Back at the Millennium Stadium hundreds and thousands were gathered to belt out some of the finest pieces of Welsh song ever heard. Wales would have full blooded support and backing from their worshipping fans.
Before a big Five Nations game at the old Cardiff Arms Park the crowd would open up their lungs and sing themselves happily to bed. They were the traditional chants that fathers and grandfathers had passed down to their children. Here and now at Eden Park those voices would provide their red shirted darlings with the biggest choir of all.
Back in the 1970s of course Welsh rugby was in an altogether different place. Their free flowing, jinking and jiving rugby pushed all the right buttons. They were a joyful, harmonious and always united team who loved to play with their opponents. They were high stepping, hip wiggling and permanently exciting. A team made in heaven. Their rugby set new standards and shoved back the boundaries.
At the heart of the Welsh rugby merry-go-round were players such as the assured father figure Phil Bennett, the wondrously unpredictable Gareth Edwards, swerving and weaving through defences whenever the opportunity arose, an impish smile on his face. Then there was the good doctor JPR Williams who always administered the right kind of medicine. Who could possibly have forgotten Mervyn Davies, committed, courageous and yet composed when the going got rough.
Now though Wales had a new bounce and spring in its step. After years in the doldrums Welsh rugby has finally woken up again and wiped the sleep out of its eyes. Scrum halves, flankers, locks and prop forwards are beginning to knit together and gel as a cohesive unit. The lights are back on in Cardiff and the rugby is bubbling like champagne.
George North is the kind of player that Bennett and Edwards would have purred over, Leigh Halfpenny is a player of bullish fire and brimstone, Shane Williams and James Hook burrowed into rucks with positive intentions. Jonathan Davies played rather like his rugby namesake from another decade, dodging and ducking tackles and then galloping around with gale force gusto.
And then there was the heart breaking sending off of Sam Warburton. It was time to turn down the volume and bow the head. The game was never the same again. Penalties were marginally missed, important opportunities were hopelessly blown. The ship was slowly sinking and France plodded and staggered to a victory that few felt they’d deserved.