I watched in bemusement as an ancient, hunched over man, dressed in top hat, tails and sporting a dragon emblazoned vest, ambled onto the centre of the pitch.
He struck a theatrical pose and produced a slender conductor’s baton from somewhere deep inside his garments.
When you break it down and consider that singing traditional hymns at an international rugby match intimidates opposition teams, it is quite bizarre. In South Africa our bus was pelted with oranges as it arrived at the ground in northern Pretoria and our warm-up was disrupted by ice throwing drunks.
In Scotland, our warm-up on the back oval at Murrayfield, next to the car park, was disrupted by a rouge Land Rover taking a short cut through our players to get the last parking space.
I was thinking, “What is this silly old bugger up to?
” When his baton-laden hand dropped and the first lines of the ancient hymn hurtled out and engulfed the terraces, I was amazed – like in very few other moments of my rugby life.
The pre-match singing of the Welsh is one of the great experiences in world sport.Unlike Ireland, Scotland or England, rugby in Wales was and is the game of the people.From the university-educated to the man digging in the coal pit, rugby gave them hope when their lives had little. The pain inflicted on the local communities because of her government’s policies was shocking to behold. Families I lived next door to had little food and had to scrap hard to feed to their families.The volume was so massive, communication was impossible. They are playing for their village, their community and the creators of song, singing in the stands. Take them out of their familiar surroundings and they struggle.At home, in the midst of song and passion, the dragon is a very different animal.