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Friday, March 5, 2010

Scarlet Fever

I rounded off my week in Llanelli by taking in the Scarlets vs Ulster match at the new Parc y Scarlets stadium. Llanelli isn't exactly a town that's known for moving swiftly with the times: until quite recently, a wall alongside what used to be the main road from Swansea was adorned with a prominent graffito that read 'U.S. Hands Of Vietnam', simultaneously a tribute to the radicalism and illiteracy of the artist and to the apathy of a local council that couldn't be bothered to clean it off for nearly forty years. Not surprisingly, therefore, many 'locals' bemoan the passing of the historic Stradey Park ground and heap opprobrium on the club and the council for the allegedly questionable ways in which they steamrollered through the move to the new ground. There was undoubtedly a huge element of hubris in the ground's construction, as demonstrated by the decision not to sell the naming rights and a ludicrously over-optimistic set of predicted attendances (tonight, for example, the ground was less than half full, with the two end stands not opened at all; but 'less than half full' in this stadium would have virtually filled Stradey, so everything's relative).

All of this is typical of the Scarlets, a club which has always regarded itself as superior to the others in Wales: an attitude summed up by the late, great Ray Gravell's favourite motto, 'West Is Best'. Hence the club's flat refusal to merge with anyone else when the regional system was created and its projection of itself (rightly) as the most Welsh of all the regions. The prophets of doom - and Llanelli probably churns out more of them than any other town of equivalent size in the western world - have looked upon this season's poor results relative to the cost of the ground and muttered darkly that they told us so, that a region too strapped for cash to attract many big name players is doomed to fail, that the tickets are too expensive, that the crowds will never come back. Perhaps they'll be proved right. But tonight I saw a young Scarlets team destroy mighty Ulster 25-8 by playing fast, open, exciting rugby, just like that played by the great team containing the likes of Phil Bennett, J J Williams and 'Grav' himself that I watched so often in the 1970s. Two players who particularly impressed me bear names that would never have featured on a Scarlets team sheet of that era: Tavis Knoyle, a combative 20 year old scrum half who deservedly won the man of the match award, and Joe Ajuwa, a raw but exciting Nigerian wing. What's more, and although this will be heresy among the 'old guard', the more enclosed Parc y Scarlets has a far better atmosphere than the open, windy Stradey ever did - a better acoustic, a real echo, and consequently far more singing. Mind you, quite what my grandfathers, who were both prominent Scarlets clubmen in their times, would have made of the advent of cheerleaders is another matter...

1 comment:

  1. I am so enjoying these blogs. I learn something interesting and worthwhile from everyone. More please.