The fourth game of a series of Test matches should feel climactic, but it’s one step – and certainly one sup – too far for Robin Davey. The bloke carrying six pints who walks past just as Steff Evans goes on a run. You know who you are. Do one.
Wales against South Africa has never been a game worthy of downgrading, but this weekend’s clash at the Principality Stadium has been seriously overshadowed by other events.
The fixture itself – until recently one of the major northern-southern hemisphere clashes – has been bypassed by massive criticism of crowd behaviour inside the stadium and by whether there should be of a fourth autumn international at all.
There have been some horrific stories about drunken louts and their disgraceful behaviour once the game has started, like the former hockey international saying how her disabled relative was abused during last week’s match against the All Blacks.
She says she will never return, while others have said the same thing. An Irish listener on BBC Radio Wales, now living in Hay-on-Wye, said while he didn’t mind some language and raucous behaviour from fans, it went too far last week. No more for him, either.
Lots of fans excited by the prospect of watching Wales at one of the world’s finest stadiums – if not the finest – have their day spoiled by so-called supporters who are only there for the beer and pay little attention to the actual rugby.
How often have people complained bitterly that their enjoyment has been ruined by idiots regularly getting up, brushing past them on their way to the bar, only to return ten minutes later, missing maybe a try or two, carrying another tray of drinks?
The Welsh Rugby Union have given their usual reply this week, saying they take all such complaints with the utmost seriousness, that they operate a zero tolerance attitude towards drunks in the stadium, such ‘fans’ would not be served in that state, anyway, and stewards have every right to eject anyone causing serious concern.
But they have said this kind of thing repeatedly before, so clearly warnings are not working. So what’s the answer? There can be only one, surely: Close the bars for the duration of the game, or better still, from half-an-hour before the start.
Though kick-off times are out of the hands of the WRU, dictated by television demands, I’d go further and at least try to ensure all Wales home games start at 2pm to ensure there is little opportunity for those shockers to pour booze down their throats before the kick-off.
None of this will happen, of course. The bars will not be shut while the game is going on. Why not? Because of money. There are big bucks to be made on match day by serving drinks and fast food, so no-one is going to pass up that opportunity.
Would the game even be a sell-out if fans knew they wouldn’t be able to get a drink once they get inside the stadium or not from 30 minutes before kick-off, at least? Nobody knows the answer but unless it’s tried, no-one will.
It’s the same story when it comes to staging a fourth international during the autumn series, a match which falls outside the World Rugby window, which means that players operating outside Wales will be recalled by their clubs.
The exception is if a player is able to secure full international availability, written into his contract, as in the case of Taulupe Faletau with Bath.
But his club face a big fine by the Premiership governing body so that isn’t going to happen often in future cases, either.
The consequence of this, plus the inevitable injury list during a tough three-week period, means Wales go in against South Africa with a seriously under-strength side.
Never mind that the Springboks are at their lowest ebb, having lost to Wales on the last two occasions and suffering record defeats against New Zealand (57-0) and Ireland (38-3) this year. That misses the point.
The fact is the fourth international has become a game too far – for players who are either ruled out by injury or carry a strain or three – and for many fans who are suffering from overkill, too much of it and hard on their pockets as well.
None of the other home countries are playing this weekend. It’s only Wales who refuse to absent themselves from the international arena., whilst their regions try to get on with the Guinness Pro14.
So why can’t this tiresome fourth international be dropped from the calendar? The answer, again, is money.
The WRU make a profit of £2.5m from staging this game – obviously a sum which can’t be overlooked and one which helps feed the game from the top professional level down to the community end.
But other countries don’t seem to have these issues, so there is all manner of suspicion about where the money from this fourth international actually goes.
So, it would seem that just as the bars won’t be closed, neither will the fourth international cease to exist.
It means Wales go in against a poor Springboks unit without a host of leading players like injured Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Leon Brown, Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Jake Ball and the unavailable Owen Williams, Tomas Francis, Jamie Roberts and Rhys Priestland.
It means New Zealand-born Hadleigh Parkes, who only qualifies for Wales on the day of the game on three-year residency grounds, is plunged straight in for his debut. Nothing wrong here, outwardly. But it’s highly contentious. That, however, is another controversial story.
South Africa are also without a few, like Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Franco Mostert for much the same reasons as Wales are weakened – injuries and club requirements.
It all adds up to an international which should be one of the highlights being seriously devalued.
And, disappointingly, it will be a game watched for reasons other than the rugby, where drunks will further besmirch the reputation of the sport.