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18 October 2015

Wales, the All Blacks and Howard Kendall - a whole new bawl game

MY beloved Wales may be out of the Rugby World Cup, but I reckon we won almost as many new friends as did the nippy little dazzlers from Japan.
Warren Gatland’s injury-ravaged squad were on a hiding to nothing after losing key backs Lee Halfpenny and Rhys Webb in their final warm-up game against Italy. By the time they faced South Africa in Saturday’s quarter-final, they had been reduced to taking the field with two fourth-choice backs in centre Tyler Morgan and fullback Gareth Anscombe. Not to mention a brilliant fly-half in Dan Biggar whose goalkicking preparations include a passable impression of the symptoms which led to my being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
A hwyl new bawl game: Michael Caine in Zulu
That we beat England at Twickenham and ran Australia and the Springboks so close is testimony to the never-say-Dai spirit known in Wales as ‘hwyl’. If you don’t know what hwyl is, try nipping over to South Africa and asking a few descendants of the Zulu warriors who overran our (Rorke’s) Drift defence. Not that we managed to beat the South Africans in 1879, either. Must be down to having Englishman Michael Caine as our commanding officer - but not a lot of people know that.
For all Wales’s courage, at least we went out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup with our honour intact. That is more than can be said for the French, who found themselves suffocated by a black New Zealand cloud in Saturday’s second quarter-final. The 62-13 scoreline suggests that South Africa will also be blown away next weekend and that Richie McCaw’s champions will become the first nation ever to win two World Cups in succession.
Football has had its great international teams like Brazil and Germany, cricket had the era of West Indian invincibility and, more recently Australian dominance. But only in rugby union has a single nation dominated the world game throughout my lifetime. A tiny nation with a similar three-million population to Wales, not to mention around 80 million sheep.

Howard Kendall during his Blackburn Rovers days
HOWARD KENDALL achieved a lot in football. In fact, he was a legend. At 17, he became the youngest ever FA Cup finalist, later captained Everton to the Football league title in 1970, and for good measure went on to become the Toffees’ most successful manager ever. He also liked a drink, which became more and more apparent in his increasingly flushed visage at Goodison Park press conferences as the years rolled by.
I don't think he'd had a tipple the day he laid into me at Ewood Park. But I have never forgotten the rudeness of the Blackburn Rovers player-manager at that impromptu after-match press conference in the early 1980s. It was during the early days of hand-held tape recorders and this particular inquest was held in a corridor near the changing rooms with perhaps a dozen reporters milling around.
I was armed with notebook, pen and an untested tape machine. Fearing that the new gadget might not work, I quickly pressed the record button, placed my notebook on top of it, and stood jotting down Howard’s words with my other hand. I made no attempt to hide the machine, which Kendall spotted immediately.
If you’re going to use one of those things, at least have the decency not to try to hide it,’’ he rapped, clearly irritated and pointing to my notebook sandwich. It would have been bad enough had the innuendo been correct. But this was positively embarrassing.
I’ve spent the last 30 years wanting to put the record straight so if you are listening up there in God’s-Own Park, Howard, now that you know the truth, I accept your apology. However, it’s too late for you to climb up there alongside turnip head Graham Taylor and West Ham’s genial John Lyall as the most polite and approachable managers I came across during two decades of covering League football for the British tabloids. There were also bosses and players some of my colleagues preferred to avoid. Keep reading this blog and I may just tell you about them....
As for Howard Kendall, he and I did have one thing in common. My other half and I called our two daughters Hayley and Lisa – and so did Howard and his wife.