Rugby’s Six Nations is not good for a Welsh Heart!

Cardiff Streets Wales vs England 2015-5It’s Sunday morning and the dust has finally settled after a Saturday to end all Saturday’s.  In fact, now I understand why it is known as ‘Super Saturday’.  Yesterday, I sat and watched three amazing games of rugby union and can only ponder at the potential of the sport if every game was played in the same way.  There was passion, skill, strength, guts and huge helpings of excitement.  It could even rival that ’round ball’ game.

Up until yesterday there was a general feeling that rugby union was becoming boring, dominated by collapsing scrums, defence, penalties and pedantic referees.  Rugby fans bemoaned that the game no longer possessed players of the quality and skill of Gareth Edwards, Jeremy Guscott, Shane Williams, Brian O’Driscoll and Serge Blanco.  The media highlighted structured games plans and dictatorial coaches who only wanted their teams to play in one style.  How wrong could they all be?

The preceding four weekends of test matches had seen Ireland, England and Wales dominate the championship, each securing three wins.  The atmosphere in Cardiff on that Friday was electric and there was a buzz of anticipation.  The streets of Cardiff were full of red and white with scarfs, hats and flags everywhere you looked.  On that opening night in Cardiff, England cast aside memories of 2 years ago and, with a dominant second half performance, deservedly beat Wales.  I was photographing at the Legends Hospitality event in the Parc Thistle in Cardiff, with Steve Fenwick and JPR Williams in attendance, and left in stunned shock at the manner of our defeat and how badly we had underperformed in that second half.  The media leapt on the defeat, citing ‘Warren Ball’ and a lack of ‘Plan B’ as being the reasons for the defeat when, in truth, it was simply that England performed better than Wales on the day.

In the eyes of the English press, I do believe that after that opening day victory they thought that the championship was England’s, but Ireland had other ideas.  Out in Dublin they displayed why they were the Six Nations champions and masterly executed a plan to deservedly beat the English.

With a Grand Slam in their sights, Ireland arrived at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to play Wales.  Since the opening match Wales had improved, beating Scotland and France and there appeared to be a renewed belief in the team.  Again, I was covering the Legends Hospitality event in the Parc Thistle in Cardiff for Legends Hospitality, and before the match we listened to wise words and funny tales from Garin Jenkins and Kingsley Jones.  We had to match them up front, was the general opinion, and Wales ended up doing that and much much more.  In one of the most incredible defensive performances of all time, Wales beat Ireland.  Records tumbled with the most tackles ever being made in a Six Nations test match (289) and with Luke Charteris, a second row forward, making 46 of them.  What was more incredible in my eyes was the fact that Wales looked so comfortable in defence, organising and reorganising as wave after wave of green shirts assaulted the Welsh line.  Shaun Edwards, you are a master of your trade.

So onto the final weekend with the three strongest rugby union teams in the Six Nations each playing potentially weaker opposition with points difference likely to determine the championship winner.  Wales had to beat Italy by an unthinkable margin in Rome, Ireland had to rack up the points against Scotland in Murrayfield and England would then be left to get out the calculator to work out how many points they would need to beat France by at Twickenham.  Even the most imaginative script writer in Hollywood could not have dreamt up what actually unfolded.

At 12:30, Wales and Italy kicked off in Rome with Wales just edging a tense 1st half.  I was watching the game with my Dad and son in his house, whilst being fed by my Mam.  What happened in the 2nd half defied belief.  With power, skill and speed they annihilated the Italians 61-20.  Tries were being scored at will, some started from their own try line.  This was pure magic and the unimaginable was suddenly appearing possible.  However, the Italians scored a last minute try and converted it from the touchline and I looked at my Dad and we both wondered if that would cost us the championship.  However, we still had a very strong points different.  I was quietly confident.

Ireland and Scotland were up next and this was the one I feared.  Scotland had been really poor and were without a single win.  My fears proved founded as Ireland totally took them apart, winning 40-10 and destroying Welsh hopes.  My dream had been destroyed.  My heart broken by the men in green.  Ireland was now in command of the championship and England would have to do something truly extrodinary to win the tournament.

I had left my Dad’s by this time and was back home watching England play France.  I expected England to win, but only just.  France was due a big game after having a poor championship.  I turned on the TV with France 15-10 up and thought that England’s chances were over.  How wrong could I have been?  In one of the most amazing performances I have seen, England ran France ragged, scoring try after try, but the French refused to give in.  Out of nowhere they kept coming back, scoring tries and denting the English hopes.  Ultimately, England just could not score the points they needed and the Six Nations championship was once again green.

On that incredible last day records had tumbled.  A record win for Wales in Italy, a record win for Ireland in Scotland and a record win for England against France.  After the Wales victory I honestly thought that we would secure the title and we ended up finishing 3rd.  The quality of the three top teams means that we truly have potential World Cup winners and the Southern Hemisphere sides would have watched the games with wide open eyes and nervous stomachs.

Yesterday was one of the best adverts for the game of rugby union that I have ever seen and I just hope that all three sides can perform at these incredible levels in the Autumn World Cup.

Congratulations Ireland but I salute you, Wales and England!

The Crowds in Cardiff When Wales Played the All Blacks

Crowds in Cardiff for Wales vs All Blacks-7932-2There is something truly magical about the city of Cardiff when Wales are playing a rugby union test match.  You can almost taste the buzz of excitement and anticipation.  The streets are full of colour, with supporters wearing bright red jerseys and red scarves around their necks.  The dragon on the Welsh flag flutters on every street corner as street traders try to sell their stock of scarves, hats and flags.  People suddenly find themselves compelled to purchase ridiculous hats in the shape of a daffodil or dragon.  There is a tremendous feeling of national pride and even people who don’t speak a word of Welsh find themselves singing Sosban Fach or Calon Lan with tears in their eyes.  Beer flows like rain sodden rivers and we are thankful that Cardiff’s most famous brewery, SA Brain, is busy brewing just minutes away from the city centre.

One reason why there is such an amazing atmosphere in Cardiff is because the stadium, the magnificent Millennium Stadium, is in the heart of the city.  Most international stadiums are located outside of any major city, but the Millennium Stadium proudly sits on the banks of the River Taff.  Many players have openly stated that this is their favourite stadium as the atmosphere and noise if like anywhere else.

Crowds in Cardiff for Wales vs All Blacks-7965-2One of the most treasured test matches is when Wales play New Zealand, otherwise known as the All Blacks.  On match day, God must be inundated with prayers from Welsh fans asking for that miracle.  As of 2014, it has been 61 years since Wales beat the All Blacks, an embarrassingly long time.  And in recent years, every time the All Blacks arrive, there is always a just a glimmer of hope.  But each time this glimmer has quickly been distinguished by the formidable All Blacks.

 

Early this month (November 2014), I was in Cardiff covering a pre-match hospitality event, but took some time to photograph the atmosphere at the bottom of St Mary’s Street.  With my Canon 1000D and a 70-300mm lens I discreetly leaned against lampposts and shop doorways and watched the world go by.  This selection (and there are more on my website) was taken in the free 30 minutes I had before going onto the hospitality event and over 4 hours before kick off.  By then Cardiff was bouncing!  And by 7pm the inevitable had happened.  The All Blacks had won again!

Prematch Lights in Cardiff

Light Show at the Millennium Stadium IMG_6021SMThe players of the Wales and France rugby union sides were just about to walk out onto the Millennium Stadium turf. The noise was deafening, the atmosphere charged. Fans continued to stream in, precariously carrying trays of beer up the steep steps of the upper tier of the magnificent stadium. Red, white and blue was the colour of the day. The songs had been sung, with the usual gusto and mumbling of the words that we didn’t know, and we were all waiting in anticipation. To have any chance of winning the Six Nations for a record third time, Wales had to win. In stark contrast, France had already won two games and had dreams of a Grand Slam. The lights went out, the streams of bright lights danced and the players entered the cauldron. How they must have felt. Amazing sporting theatre, with Wales ultimately proving too strong for the crushed French.

More photos can be seen on my website – http://paulfearsphoto.co.uk/index.php?cat=photographs&id=16&album=Sports-Events&sub_album=Wales-vs-France,-Millennium-Stadium,-Cardiff,-21st-March-2014

 

The Wales Millennium Stadium

Wales Millennium Stadium IMG_1358WSMIn March 2009, I had the opportunity to see the Wales rugby union team’s final training session before they played Ireland in the Six Nations. The session was held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and is called ‘The Captain’s Run’. It is supposedly the one time that the captain of the side dictates when the session will finish. My sons, Greg and Tom, and I had been invited by the young person’s hospice, Ty Hafan, which is based in Sulley, South Glamorgan. It was an amazing day and we had the opportunity to meet many of the Welsh players, who were all fantastic. In amongst taking photos of the players with my sons, I managed to capture a few images of the inside of the stadium. It truly is a magnificent stadium.

More photographs of the Wales Millennium Stadium can be seen by clicking on the link.

http://paulfearsphoto.co.uk/index.php?cat=photographs&id=16&album=Architecture&sub_album=Wales-Millennium-Stadium,-Cardiff

Welsh International Shirts Ready for Action

I took this photograph and several others whilst on a recent tour of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, South Wales. The number 4 shirt is worn by the Swansea defender Ashley Williams, whilst in the background is the shirt of the world’s most expensive footballer, Gareth Bale. The photograph was originally taken in colour and then the background was changed to black and white to emphasise the red shirts.  I used a Canon 5D with a shallow focal length to blur the background. For more photographs click on the following link – Welsh Football Shirt SM

http://paulfearsphoto.co.uk/index.php?cat=photographs&id=16&album=Sports-Events

http://paulfearsphoto.co.uk/index.php?cat=photographs&id=16&album=Sports-Events&sub_album=Changing-Room-Atmosphere

 

Getting Prepared – The Wales Millennium Stadium

 
Getting Prepared – The Wales Millennium Stadium

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The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, South Wales preparing for the forthcoming Six Nations rugby union tournament between Wales, England, France, Ireland, Italy and Scotland. The stadium is widely regarded as one of if not the best sports stadium in the world. When the roof is closed, it is the largest indoor sporting arena in Europe and the second largest in the world. And it is in Wales! The bright yellowish lights on the pitch are providing the necessary heat and light for the grass. On match day, the atmosphere inside the stadium is truly incredible. For more sports photographs go to:  http://paulfearsphoto.co.uk/index.php?cat=photographs&id=16&album=Sports-Events

Happy Travellers

Happy Travellers

Paul Fears has received a ‘Highly Commended’ award from Urban Photographer of the Year 2013 for his photograph of British Lions supporters on a train after the famous final rugby union test victory against Australia in Sydney on July 6th, 2013.

The CRBE Urban Photographer of the Year competition is an annual global competition that in it’s third year. In 2013, images were submitted by photographers from 118 countries globally and had the highest number of entries since the competition began. The brief was ‘Cities at Work’ and pushed the boundaries of photography in urban environments. Each photographer was asked to confirm the time the photograph was taken and the best images taken in each hour of the day were selected to feature in a A4 sized, landscape orientated book published by CBRE at the end of 2013. Paul is one of only ten British photographers featured in the book, with other contributions from photographers in countries including Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Malta, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Turkey and the USA.

Paul Fears, based in Church Village near Pontypridd, happened to be in Sydney on a work assignment. Being a lifetime rugby supporter and photographer, he took the opportunity to travel to the ANZ Stadium in the Olympic Park on the outskirts of Sydney and take photographs of the general atmosphere before and after the famous test match, which the British Lions won 41-16. After the game, between 11pm and 12 midnight, Paul returned to Sydney by train and continued to take photographs of the euphoric British Lions supporters. His photograph ‘Happy Travellers’ was taken as he stepped down from one level to another inside a train taking supporters back into Sydney.

Paul said, “What struck me as incredible about this scene was the sheer number of British Lions supporters packed onto the train. They were all wearing bright red shirts, hats and scarves and there was only the occasional Australian gold shirt to be seen. I was candidly taking shots of fans on the train and captured this image by surreptitiously holding the camera at waist height as I climbed down the stairs from the upper deck of the train. I was really pleased with the end result. I used my Canon 1000D and a standard 18-55mm lens.”

Additional photographs taken on the day can be seen by clicking on the following link – http://paulfearsphoto.co.uk/index.php?cat=photographs&id=16&album=Sports-Events&sub_album=The-Final-British-Lions-vs-Australia-Test-(Sydney,-July-2013)