I’ve been fortunate to watch the Springboks at Twickenham, Murrayfield and the Aviva Stadium but I’d never seen the boys at the Millennium Stadium and I was so excited when this year’s schedule was released to see we would be playing Wales.
Cardiff is an easy 3.5 hours bus ride away and judging by the accents and conversations on board as we headed out of Victoria; it seemed the whole bus was heading through for the game!
Incredibly, and unusually, the stadium is slap-bang in the centre of town and this location definitely adds to the excitement on match day as everyone is concentrated in one area. It was very special walking around town and seeing all the flags, painted faces and jerseys and there were heaps of Saffas around. The bars were certainly teaming and I seemed rather popular in my onesie to both sets of fans!
Perhaps the fantastic atmosphere was best summed up by a Welshman I enjoyed a few beers with before the game when he commented that Cardiff on match day is like Paris in the spring!
After a few beers around town, we headed into the stadium (not more than a five minute walk) and whilst watching the players warm up, the atmosphere continued to build – this is the one place on earth outside of New Zealand and South Africa where rugby is a number one sporting priority of the population, and you felt that being passion and excitement as kick-off drew closer.
The Welsh anthem is certainly one of the more spine-tingling anthems around and I had goose-bumps as Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (‘Land of my Fathers’) was sung by a full Welsh choir and some 65,000 people. (The anthem actually lacks official or legal status but is always played at rugby games).
(Interestingly, Wales actually gave the tradition of singing the anthem before a rugby game to the world. In 1905, Wales were at home to the All Blacks and Thomas Williams, one of the Welsh Rugby Union committee, decided that the Welsh team should sing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in response to the intimidating battle cry of the Haka. The story goes that the New Zealand captain later wrote that he had never experienced anything like it in his life).
Although it was a clear day, the roof was closed and only added to this atmosphere as it captured and retained the noise (and thankfully the body heat of the 67,000 people too – it was very pleasant temperature wise) and I hope this video conveys a small part of that: http://youtu.be/sHQp9-_rXF8
The Boks have a proud record against the Welsh, having lost only once in 26 matches (with one draw) and that would record would remain intact as the Boks won a tough game 24-15 with Fourie du Preez marshalling the troops brilliantly from the base of the scrum.
With the passionate support of the majority of the stadium, the Boks needed to start strongly and they did just that – racing to a 17-6 lead after 20 minutes on the back of Bryan Habana’s unbelievable break and Bismarck du Plessis’s brute strength.
Wales responded strongly and with Leigh Halfpenny in his usual unmissable state, they continued to peg away at the Boks, even pulling back the score to within two points before some brilliance from the old stalwarts Jacques Fourie and Fourie du Preez sealed the game with a third try.
Like the majority of folks, we spilled into the bars after the game and the party, and my terrible singing of both Welsh and Saffa songs, went on long into the night!
And in case you’re thinking it was a sports-only weekend, we woke up on Sunday to beautiful sunshine and headed out to the Brecon Beacons where we climbed Pen Y Fan, South Wales’ highest ‘mountain’. It was phenomenal to be out hiking again and what better to end off what was a wonderful weekend than by enjoying Welsh cakes, a traditional tea-time treat, with a beautiful view of the Welsh countryside.