After defeating England in a historic victory at Twickenham last Saturday, the Wales rugby union assistant coach Shaun Edwards thought that offering a few quiet prayers of thanksgiving at Mass the next morning would be the decent thing to do.
But he was surprised to find that the frenzy of the terraces had spread all the way to the pulpit of his local Church of All Hallows in Miskin, South Wales.
He watched from the pews as parish priest Fr Allan Davies-Hale punched the air in ecstatic celebration of the 28-25 win that put the Wales side firmly on course for the World Cup quarter finals.
Edwards said he had “never seen anything like it”.
“The priest came out and put his hands up in the air to celebrate,” Edwards told the Wigan Observer. “That is when you know you are making a difference to the nation.”
Edwards is a Catholic whose uncle, Fr John Johnson, is the sub-dean of Wigan and the parish priest of St John’s and St Mary’s, two busy churches in the town centre.
The former Great Britain rugby league international attended St John Fisher Catholic High School in Wigan and then nearby St John Rigby Catholic Sixth Form College but left at the age of 17 when he signed as a professional for Wigan rugby league club, now known as the Wigan Warriors.
But he was still an altar server when he was playing as the captain of Wigan at the age of 21 – and building a reputation as one of the toughest and most tenacious players in the game.
Edwards was this week reluctant to name his local priest in public but his identity was later leaked to the Daily Telegraph, which tracked him down.
Fr Davies-Hale told the newspaper: “I’m not as big a rugby fanatic as some of the other priests – to be honest, like most, I just watch when it’s a big game.
“But Saturday was something special and I just felt I had to reflect the mood of a congregation packed with happy Welsh fans.
“That’s why I waved my arms in the air. We are actually a very cosmopolitan area, with a cross-section of nationalities who attend and I would not usually be so parochial. But the win created so much positive energy it was impossible to ignore. We were all still on high from the night before.”
He continued: “I didn’t know Shaun was in the congregation until later on in the service, and I definitely didn’t expect it would get into the national press.
“It was bit of a shock, yes. I’m not one for a big fuss but if it gets more people to come to Mass then it can only be a good thing. I have seen Shaun there before but have never had the chance to talk with him, because Sunday’s my busy day. But he is a friend of our Canon Daly, who is an Irishman and I know would regularly give Shaun tips on how to coach. I’m not that qualified and they seem to be doing a good job anyway.”
The priest described the euphoria that was gripping Wales as “amazing”, adding: “It’s hard to escape – not that you’d want to. We have the rugby ball crashing into the Cardiff Castle wall and if we do qualify for the knockout stages the atmosphere will go through the roof.
“It was not just that we won but the way we won. It’s true, in my services I do often use the image of the rugby team as the image of our faith in Christianity. How it requires practice, hard work and dedication and, more than anything, belief. That’s what it was all about on Saturday and I sat there with my family, so thrilled and so excited.”
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