The Six Nations Championship is back and the streets, pubs and conversation of Cardiff will be filled with lovers of the game over the next six weeks.
It is that time of the year when patriotism takes hold, and for the Welsh, rugby has a special sort of significance.
As the unofficial sport of the country, the game invokes a passion like no other. This is partly due to Wales’ success in the game. Indeed, Wales has a positive history in the Six Nations having won five times since its revamp in 2000. Only England, with six, has won more.
The popularity of rugby is mainly due however to the community spirit it engenders on a matchday, whatever the result.
The daffodils. 70,000 passionate Welsh people singing Tom Jones’ Delilah in unison. Watching the game down the pub with your mates. Spending time with your family.
The national anthem, sung in the Welsh language, is the pinnacle of this passion.
“Rugby matters to the Welsh because it allows us to celebrate our nationhood without having to argue about what that nationhood actually means,” explained Martin Johnes, a Welsh historian at the University of Swansea.
At a time in Wales when society is divided on many issues, the Six Nations can unite us all.
For Jamie Evans, a Plaid Cymru councilor in Neath, rugby is one of the few opportunities that allows the country to show off its passion and compete on the world stage.
“There is nothing in the world like match day in Cardiff. The sea of red in St Mary’s street, the anticipation of a win and on entering the stadium the singing of the choirs. Feeling proud when the national anthem is being sung. It’s an occasion everyone living in Wales should experience,” said Gaynor Mabbet, a retired public health lecturer at Swansea University.
It also helps fosters a pride in the nation from an early age.
Last year’s championships, however, were the first time since 2013 that the Welsh won the title after a recent period of dominance from both England and Ireland.
Piggybacking off September’s Rugby World Cup, this week’s opening fixtures was a good way for the teams to test their mettle on the competitive stage. Wales beat Italy 42-0, Ireland beat Scotland 19-12 and England lost 17-24 in Paris against France.
With Warren Gatland moving to pastures new after 12 years as head coach, recently appointed Wayne Pivac was under pressure in his first Six Nations game.
But the 42-0 victory over Italy – the first time a team has kept a clean sheet in the tournament since 1974 – has set the tone for this new era in Welsh rugby.
It is too early at this stage to gauge who is going to win this year’s tournament, but the atmosphere and passion in the capital will not fade away.
With two more home matches to be played at Cardiff’s Principality stadium, against France on the 22nd of February and Scotland on the 14th March, there will be plenty of opportunities for people to savour the experience of a match day in the capital.