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Giovanni Sgaravatti

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During my life I have had the opportunity to live in the UK twice. The first time after high school, when I spent seven months in London and now in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. In this article I want to tell you about an aspect of this land that I find particularly fascinating: its fondness for magic.

Although in our present day we push to quickly merchandise everything that is extraordinary, often reducing it to something dull, in the United Kingdom persists a beautiful and careful preservation of the Fairy-tale. Not for nothing, this is the country of kings and queens, round tables, princes and princesses, incredible landscapes, ancient rituals, stone circles, druids, magicians, lost religions, sea monsters, fairies and ghosts. Devotion to the fantastic is also very much alive in modern society and in particular in literature: from Shakespeare to Ms. Rowling, passing through Blake, Tolkien and Ms. Travers (even if half-Australian).

So, walking through the streets of Bristol you will come across fantastic Banksy masterpieces and inside museums you will find exhibits on the history of magic around the globe. On the other hand, in Cardiff you can hear legends about the red dragon, symbol of Wales.

However, in this article I do not want to write about kings and fairy tales, but about what here is a national sport: rugby. In particular, I hereby wish to narrate an incredible rugby match played in 1905 in Cardiff Arms Park, where this stadium is located right in the city centre today.

Cardiff Arms Park on the left and new Millennium Stadium (Principality Stadium) on the right

At the beginning of the last century, New Zealand decided to demonstrate to the whole world that its rugby division was no less than any other. With this aim in mind, in 1905 the New Zealand team, the terrible All Blacks, embarked on the ship Rimutaka that would navigate them to Europe, more precisely to the United Kingdom: the homeland of rugby. There, a series of meetings had been organized with  the most famous teams in the kingdom. After a month and a half of travel, the All Blacks docked in Plymouth and decided to head on foot to Newton Abbot (24km away), just to regain physical fitness. The first match took place eight days later and was won by the All Blacks by 51 points. In total, 19 games were played in England,  all dominated by the New Zealanders.

The same story was repeated in Scotland, then in Ireland and again in England, where in London they played against the English national team in front of an audience of 100,000 spectators, including the future king George V; the All Blacks won there too.

Illustration by Frank Gillett showing the England versus All Blacks Test attended by a then record crowd of at least 50,000

On December 16, 1905, the All Blacks met the Welsh national team in Cardiff, which, with its 160,000 inhabitants, had just received city status from King Edward VII. While in the locker room the very strong New Zealand players were preparing for the game, the stadium filled up like never before, reaching the maximum capacity of 47,000 people. One family out of three was there to attend a match that would have marked rugby history forever. Once all the seats in the stadium were occupied, security officers closed the entrances. Upon receiving  directions, the players finally came out of the changing rooms to a roar of shouts and applause. The two teams lined up facing each other; the tension was palpable. As soon as the All Blacks finished their powerful Maori dance, the Haka, the silence became heavy almost palpable. It was then that the captain of Wales, Teddy Morgan, began to sing the Welsh national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadaun (Land of our fathers). It was the first time that a national anthem was sung at an international game. After a moment of surprise, the teammates joined their captain and in no time the whole stadium was singing the national anthem in Welsh, a language oppressed for centuries by the crown and considered subversive.

A line-out in the All Blacks versus Wales

The game was very close, but eventually Teddy Morgan and his teammates made it and defeated the All Blacks by three points to zero. Even then, rugby was one of the most popular sports in Wales, but many believe that after that match it  became even more popular. Not only for the victory obtained, but, above all, for the magical moment that took place at the stadium. A brief moment that would go down in history and all the spectators would tell their loved ones, with a renewed sense of pride and belonging to this beautiful country which is Wales.

Giovanni Sgaravatti

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