I love Wales and I love being Welsh.
On a scenery level you will struggle to find a more stunning country, there’s history everywhere, and on a people level there are some brilliant villages, towns and cities across the length and breadth of Wales. There’s also Newport, but you can’t have everything.
Being Welsh is about hard work, family and community, at times being fairly self-deprecating, to the point of self-defeating, but that underdog status suits us down to the ground, and while we can be villagist to such an extreme level there’s no country that comes together at a time of national pride like we do. I couldn’t care less about darts or taekwondo, but I’m a massive Gerwyn Price and Jade Jones fan.
More than anything though, Welsh, for me is, welcoming. Growing up in Cardiff one of the main aspects that makes the capital one of the best cities around is how brilliantly multi-cultural it is. Stemming from the old Tiger Bay days, there are nationalities galore who, no matter where they were born, share the common ground of being a Cardiffian, and Welsh.
This is replicated on a smaller scale right across Wales, with an open appreciation and acceptance of people who come from all corners of the world to make a better life for themselves in this country and contribute to the local community. The country is richer for having these people living and working here.
Rugby is no different in this respect, and actually it is the perfect example as men have come from right across the world to play rugby in Wales, adopting the village, town or city of their club as their home, and Welsh as their nationality alongside their place of birth.
The history of Welsh rugby is stacked with stories of players who have arrived in Wales to play rugby, become cult heroes at their club and in their local community, and even gone on to become Welsh legends as they’ve pulled the red jersey on, representing it with distinction, then going on to stay in their adopted country for the rest of their lives.
Willis Halaholo is a fine example of that, having arrived with his family in 2016 and over the intervening four years has embraced living in Cardiff and Welsh culture generally, becoming part of the local church community and settling down in the capital with two of his daughters born in Wales.
He’s regularly on social media posting videos of his children speaking Welsh or picking up a Kairdiff twang to their accent, and at the Arms Park he has become a real fan favourite both on the field and off it where he can often be found mixing with supporters after a game.
Halaholo’s story is well documented now, but it’s one of hard work earning him an opportunity to come to Wales and provide for his family. When he takes the field at Murrayfield this afternoon he will represent his family, his New Zealand heritage, his Tongan heritage and, most of all, he will represent his home, Wales.
Being Welsh is a state of mind more than a place of birth, and I can’t think of a better Welshman I’d rather be playing for the national team than Willis Halaholo. Go well the hot stepper!