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An interesting experience at Cardiff Arms Park a week ago Saturday for Welsh international rugby player T. Mervyn Davies, otherwise known as Merve The Swerve. Charging downfield he discovered he was wearing a very small Japanese as a backpack. This was Hiroaki Shukuzawa, who later suffered the indignity of being picked up and tossed into the air by a teammate of Merve's, a steel-worker from Pontypool named Bobby Windsor. Since the Welsh forwards weighed respectively 208 and 206 pounds, and Shukuzawa can just manage 136, the incident might easily have been anticipated. The real surprise was that Shukuzawa and the other 14 members of the all- Japan rugby team were still fighting hard when the end came, and the Welsh crowd, not noted for its generous appreciation of visiting teams, gave the Japanese a standing, roaring ovation after the last of them had run off the field.
Before the game things were not quite so totally relaxed in Cardiff. True, the Japanese had not performed too well against the local sides they had already met in Wales this fall, but two years earlier they had run England very close in two games in Tokyo, and the thought of a defeat at Cardiff Arms Park, which to Welshmen is holy ground, by men whose names all sounded like makes of transistor radios was, well, unthinkable.
On the morning of an international rugby game, always played on a Saturday afternoon, Cardiff becomes a wild, wide-open city. The pubs are solid with roaring, singing crowds, jammed with red, beery faces and the red scarves and rosettes of Wales. One buys three drinks at a time to save fighting his way back to the bar constantly.
On the morning of the Japan game, though, the city was subdued. At midday it was possible even to find a seat in the bar of the Angel Hotel, unheard of on more normal days. In a few of the scruffier downtown pubs there was some singing and chanting, but only by immature youths who did not realize what was at stake. More serious thinkers were disturbed by tales they had heard of Japanese discipline and preparation. The Sunday Times had claimed that each member of the team arrived in Wales with a special songbook—including numbers like You Are My Sunshine and My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean—and that at the initial press reception the Japanese had professionally rendered a pop song called Oue-Wo-Muite-Aruko. If they had taken that kind of trouble over the trimmings, how had they trained in the four years since the game was originally planned?
And sinisterly, Cardiff was full of Japanese businessmen who must have homed in from all over Europe. They wore red favors, too—rising suns, of course, but oddly similar to the Welsh rosettes. That, for the superstitious, was an omen in itself. There was not any serious danger that they would win, of course. Was there? "I'd like to see them score," said one man expansively. "Just once, to encourage them."
"I wouldn't," said his ax-faced friend with blue, coalminer's scars on his forehead. "Nor would you if you had any wit. They're fast learners, see? Give 'em a chance and they be buying the bloody Arms Park."
In the stands before the game started, there were other signs of nervousness. Traditionally the whole crowd sings—hymns, mainly, going back to the revivalist meetings that swept Wales 100 years ago—but this time they held back. It is all right when you know your enemy—the English, Scots, Irish, French or the thrice-accursed New Zealanders. You can put feeling into it. But somehow it was not possible to focus emotion on the Japanese. They were too alien.
Small but very chunky, the Japanese, stood strictly at attention in their red-and-white hooped shirts during the playing of God Save the Queen as the Welsh crowd booed from first bar to last on the grounds that the British anthem had been given precedence over their own. And then yet another omen: the sun broke through a gray sky, picking out the rising-sun banner that floated incongruously alongside the red dragon of Wales.
Which just proves how little one can rely on omens. In the first minute of the game, magisterially and without apparent strain, John J. Williams ran half the field to touch down the first score for Wales. Then, just as soon as it could be practically managed from the restart, Roy Bergiers touched down for a second. From this point on, the only serious issue was whether the scoreboard could cope with the kind of intensive math that was being imposed on it. The score was 30-6 at halftime.
Not even a nervous Welsh crowd could entertain doubts after this; the regulars settled down to enjoy a regal exhibition, with the Welsh forwards indulging themselves in elaborate passing movements just short of the line. It was like listening to a Bach concerto and admiring the intricate, weaving skill while not involving the emotions. There was some good-natured kidding. One small group started up on a hymn from long ago, Iesu Cofiar Plant, that Welsh children used to sing at Sunday school when collections were being made to send missionaries to the Far East. "Jesus, please remember the little children of China and Japan," it goes in translation, "for they are surrounded by the Godless."