Now her exams are over, Tarnia Russell takes time to reflect on this year’s Varsity match: her first, but definitely not her last!
By Tarnia Russell
Now in my second year of university, I had deeply regretted missing last year’s triumphant Varsity; instead having to hear about the amazing atmosphere and brilliant evening from my friends. 2011 had been a good year for Swansea’s Rugby Squad as we defended our champion title with grace and ease. This year, the 16th annual Welsh Varsity took us back to the internationally-renowned Millennium Stadium to defend the cup. Winning ten times out of fifteen since 1997 we hoped to add another victory to our growing list, and I wanted to be there to witness it.
Naturally on the back of our success last year, spirits were up – some more than others. It was a shame to see the greenery of Fulton lawn strewn with cans, bottles and cardboard crates with “Fosters” scrawled on the side, but this is standard practise when it comes to Rugby matches in Wales – especially, it seems, the University ones. It certainly seemed like Cardiff was overrun with Swansea students: all wearing their Varsity t-shirts. More students than ever came to the match year, with a whopping attendance of 15622 crammed into the Millennium Stadium.
It was a heady atmosphere that caused many poor residents and visitors of Cardiff to stop and stare at hoards of students roaming en mass. As Sammy Siddique reported last year, the town centre was filled with boyish chants about the opposing teams. A group of red and rowdy Cardiff girls paraded near Queen Street shouting “This is your capital!” to any Swansea student they spotted. But it was all in good fun; many students opted to shop rather than simply drink all day. There were a few embarrassing moments where I did want to take my Swansea T-shirt off, like when we witnessed a drunken Swansea boy urinating on the very-public Cardiff Castle in broad daylight. I felt he let our side down a little.
The gates opened at 6.30pm and we were eager to get inside, get our drinks, food and be ready to cheer as loudly as possible. Swansea clearly won on enthusiasm, like the rolling hills of Wales itself, the colour green could be seen stretching across the majority of the stadium as Swansea supporters settled into their seats. Big foam fingers and jangling jester hats made it feel just like the national matches I have previously attended. The commentator drew in much pantomime, asking each side to boo or cheer as loud as possible.
As we stamped our feet and shouted “Swansea!” with an accompanying fist pump, I thought to myself that even once I’ve left university I’d return just to support the Swansea side. It was a genuinely fun night out. The squad warmed up on the pitch and the audience was treated to a performance from a Welsh male voice choir. Their dulcet and powerful lungs rang out songs such as ‘Deliah’ and folk-favourite ‘Sospan Fach’ for the (namely) Welsh members of the crowd to sing along to.
Finally, at 7.30pm – kick off. Unfortunately, that is where the evening fell down a little. Our team, although obviously trying hard, seemed to lack the quick-ball Cardiff was managing to employ. They were unsuccessful in their tackles and allowed Cardiff to gain a lot of ground very quickly into the beginning of the first half. Cardiff won the first try after 19 minutes of play time and steadily kicked our Swansea arses after this initial attack. By half time, we were clinging to our 6 points whilst Cardiff stormed ahead with 15.
During the half-time break the cheerleaders performed their routines. I have to admit I was proud of our Swansea Sirens. Many in the crowd complained of Cardiff’s Snake-charmers using the same routine as last year. Meanwhile our Sirens, using insanely flexible moves, managed to whip the crowd into a screaming frenzy. They had everyone dancing (including me) to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and the mood amongst Swansea supporters certainly picked up.
Yet, as the second half progressed and Cardiff gained more and more points against us. The crowd began to become restless. Mexican waves and large volleyballs were spread across the stands, and, tired of fighting against Cardiff all day; a few Swansea students began to fight each other within the crowd. At 77 minutes Cardiff scored another try, the total being now 13 to Swansea and 33 points to Cardiff. Disappointed, many Swansea supporters began to trail out of the stadium – not bothering to watch the final 3 minutes of the match, but many more stayed to at least cheer on the team.
But despite our loss, the heavy rain and some terrible organisation of the returning coaches, the atmosphere wasn’t entirely lost. “Swansea!” was still chanted on the coaches and many insisted on finishing their night at Odyssey full of university pride. I will definitely go next year and win or lose, and cheer our teams on!