With the Six Nations rugby well under way, and with Wales beating England at the weekend (sorry had to mention that), I am often left to ponder the strange hold this sport has over so many people. I can't quite define what it is about rugby, that seems to route itself into the Welsh psyche so forcefully; an intricate web of randomness, that seems to signify so much to our identity.
No, I can't really fathom it out. But I can explore what it means to me.
Last week a video appeared doing the rounds on rugby message boards and emails, someone had compiled footage of great Welsh rugby tries and moments through the ages and put it to music. Some of the tries I had only ever seen once before, or possibly never. Others I remembered only too well indeed. Watching this internet video made me feel incredibly emotional. Yes, I was being a big girls' blouse, and began blubbering into my keyboard.
Rugby can be a beautiful game - flowing moves, darting runs, amidst hard knocks and bloody tough hits. This contrast of physicality and then sudden speed and free movement, it's a bizarre and yet remarkable contrast to the sport. Yes, rugby can be awful, dire spectacles, but at the same time, to me, a high scoring match can be just dull as a forward-battled mud-feast. And that's what I love about rugby. The contrasts - the big, the small, the knocks, the running, the kicking, the passing, the hard fought battles of attrition on some days, the free flowing try-a-plenty on another.
But watching the footage of matches gone by, I was taken back to my childhood. There was Scott Quinnell scoring a great solo try against France, and I was instantly taken back: 1994, my Nan's house, watching the match in her small dining room. I can feel the carpet on my feet, I can taste the lemonade on my lips, I can smell my Nan's cooking, I can hear my Nan squealing in excitement and the sound of her slippers jumping up and down on the floor. I can remember the moment so vividly, I can still feel that tingle of joy, the warmth of my Nan's enthusiasm. It's as if she is back again, alive and bloody loving it, living the moment. It's a bizarre and yet heart warming experience.
There's Kevin Morgan's try against Ireland: 2005, I'm taken back to watching the match on a big screen at a Cardiff rugby club with my dad, I can't hear myself think there's such noise, I'm in complete and utter disbelief that Wales are about to win a Grand Slam, something I never thought I'd ever see. There was such joy, I can only liken it to winning the lottery. No really. And I've never seen my dad so...happy. He's surrounded by all his best friends, guys who he has known for most of his life, friends he met through playing rugby. To see everyone else so happy just makes you feel so euphoric. Who needs mind-altering drugs with highs like that?
Of course, some of the tries were from an era before I was born. The so-called golden age of Welsh rugby, the 1960s and 70s. A time held in such high regard by someone like me born in the 80s and who only ever knew a plethora of losses, false dawns and heavy defeats, it seems to contain mythical properties. The losses and sheer disappointments I grew up with, have instilled in me an inherent pessimism in Welsh rugby that I can rarely shake. The lows were so low they were sponsored by British Coal (before the Tories disbanded it that is). And yet you always had that little glimmer of hope burning, you could never truly turn your back.
There is one particular try, scored by Keith Jarrett against England in 1967...the black and white footage isn't clear, but as Keith catches the ball inside his own half and streaks up the touchline for an incredible score in the corner, for a split second there is the grainy, shadowy figure of my grandfather sitting on the touchline. I have watched this try time and time again to catch a ghostly glimpse of the grandfather I never knew, who used to be a steward at the old Arms Park.
And I think this is why rugby means so much to me. Rugby is a passion of my father, and his father before him. It's a link to my past, a connection to times gone by that I either lived through or even didn't. Loved ones no longer here are somehow back with me again. In some strange way, I feel closer to the grandfather I never knew when there is a big rugby match on, than any other time in my life. This is why rugby will always mean so much, and will always play such a role in my life, no matter what I am doing or where I am. This is why you can never walk away, (even when we will fall inevitably dire again).
When the final whistle went at the Millennium Stadium last Saturday, I could so clearly hear my Nan cheering happily and proclaiming her wish to crack open the whisky bottle and to dance the night away in celebration of Wales' win, it was as if she was there. She was there.