Ahead of this weekend’s grudge match between England and Wales, Ewan Gordon discusses his personal experience of the often tribal rivalries brought out by World Rugby’s finest international tournament: the Six Nations.
Silence falls across the room. A single drop of nervous sweat beads across my face. The dog hides behind a chair, all too familiar with what is about to go down…
The cause of such tension? My distinctly Welsh Grandfather (or Tadcu for those who, like me, descend from the land of sheep, rain, and Gavin and Stacy) had just claimed that Dan Biggar was a better fly-half than Finn Russell. Across the dining room table, my proudly Scottish Dad’s face turned a peculiar shade of crimson, desperately holding in the urge to unleash an incomprehensible Scottish roar in defence of the “magical qualities of Russell’s play.”
In my family, events such as these occur every year like clockwork as the 6 Nations Championship starts, kicking off 5 rounds of rugby fixtures across the span of 7 weeks, dividing families down patriotic lines across much of the United Kingdom and Ireland on its way. As the last few weeks of rugby have passed, my habit of bringing 2 jerseys, one Welsh and one Scottish, to wear for each weekend has brought about feeble chat from my friends, and quizzical looks from those that don’t know of my Scottish and Welsh roots. Unfortunately, any hints of my familial ties are disguised by a distinctly ‘Home-Counties’ English accent.
Sport, in general, has always been a force for unity, frequently generating a sense of national “togetherness.” I can vividly recall the summer of 2012, a time that generated a sense of national pride never quite replicated since, with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee intermingled amongst London hosting the Summer Olympic Games.
Why is it, then, that we see such sub-national divisions reflected in the 6 Nations, and more broadly in rugby as a sport generally?
I believe the answer lies in the fact that the other Home Nations have never been able to compete on a level playing field with England in any other sport. It doesn’t take very complex analysis to surmise that countries with populations of 5.5 million, 3 million, and 2 million (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland respectively) will find it difficult to produce a talent pool able to compete with the 56-million-strong English population – even the unification of Ireland under one single rugby team leaves them with only 7 million to choose from.
England, perhaps as a consequence of its historic global dominance, is considered something of an all-rounder in the sports world, consistently performing admirably in football, rugby, and cricket, among others, but with no single team that stands above the rest. On the other hand, with the exceptions of certain Gaelic sports, which hold regional significance, the rugby teams of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland are the shining beacons of the nations’ sporting pride. As such, the cultural significance of rugby to these nations cannot be underestimated – whilst most sporting English children dream of footballing success, there is little that Scottish, Welsh, or Irish children would love more than to one day pull on their national jersey and beat England at rugby. Whilst England may conquer all on the football pitch, the 6 Nations is the one time of year where we have a genuine chance for glory. As the banned BBC advert once proclaimed: “England – It’s not about who you want to win, it’s about who you want to lose. United in rivalry.”
This, more than anything, highlights the nature of rugby-based patriotism in the Northern Hemisphere. There is naturally a desire to “get one over on the English,” a hope that a set of comparatively smaller nations can triumph over the giant. After all, everyone loves an underdog story.
So, whilst tensions in my family may rise to a fever pitch when Scotland and Wales take battle each year, there will always be one unifying force that brings us together: when England lose, we all smile.
Image Credits: Connor Lawless, Flickr, via Wikimedia Commons