What is it about the Six Nations Championships that gets rugby fans champing at the bit for this annual festival of muscle and passion to begin?
It would be easy to talk about the patriotism that this particular event draws from otherwise even-handed sports fans. But actually, when it comes to these nations—or at least the original five—it is far more deep-rooted than mere patriotism!
The rivalries are some of the most deeply-rooted in sport. Well, they all have historical grudges against the English, at any rate! A Welsh friend will even support the Australians against the English—now that’s deep-rooted! It’s only against the French that the Home nations may line up with the English and even that is a close call.
So passions run deep—the rivers still streaming down the centuries from Bannockburn, Boyne, and the Welsh uprisings. And this passion finds voice even before a ball has been passed.
Rousing does not do the singing justice. The Welsh in full voice anywhere has a spine-tingling effect, but in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, it makes the heart soar.
The Scots’ rendition of Flower of Scotland at Murrayfield on the opening weekend, topped even the Welsh—dispensing with any instrumental backing to let the pure joy of national pride ring out.
With God Save the Queen, the English are on the back foot before they start. It might be a land of hope, but glory?
Now, I’m not a through-and-through rugby fan but I like this tournament. And I infinitely prefer this game to football. The preference must date back to my college days when I was first going out with my husband.
A PE student, he was a basketball player who played rugby as his second sport. He also shared a house with Welsh rugby players. Then at my first job, at a university, one of the first students to walk through my door was a Scotland international wing—tall, dark, and handsome. I’ve had a soft spot for the Scottish team to this day.
So, it has continued. My husband switched to rugby as his main recreational sport and it is now his passion. The university, at which I still work, continued to attract rugby stars (one graduate was the England flanker in the 2003 World Cup).
Our new neighbour plays. My daughter’s man is a fan, too. So, the Six Nations is our annual opportunity to stand up and be counted amidst the wall-to-wall coverage of multi-million pound transfers, sacked coaches, and hundreds of televised matches that is football.
Of course what we red-rose-wearers really want is to recapture that glory year of 2003 and the most celebrated drop goal in rugby history. I’m not one for emotional outbursts at the TV screen (unless it’s Djokovic being soundly thrashed by Federer), but Wilkinson’s kick in the dying seconds of the final against Australia had me jumping around the room screaming with joy. Fortunately, only my daughter was there to see it!
Sadly, with the current injury count, a less-than-convincing manager, and the latest changes to the bench for England’s trouncing in Wales next weekend, it seems unlikely we’ll be celebrating a great deal in a few weeks’ time.
Thus far, it’s been love of country, love of rugby men, and love of winning. But I do like watching the game too!
There are few things sweeter than a ball swung effortlessly from one side of the pitch to the other—sometimes skimming pairs of hands and at other times being temporarily gathered in before being unleashed again.
The combination of speed, agility, and strength that is required to make this look effortless is remarkable in itself, but the split-second timing and teamwork to pull it off is another thing altogether.
Rugby has a fineness of control that only hand-to-hand passing can achieve; football can’t hope to match it. But then, rugby players can kick too, often with 300 pounds of opponent bearing down on them. There’s even a certain beauty to a perfectly executed tackle.
The whole sport has a raw energy verging on brutality but interspersed with those bursts of flat-out running, passing, chasing, and leaping to the touch-down. So much variety, such tactical interaction, so energy-sapping, yet at the same time, energising, it makes football look two-dimensional.
Bearing all that in mind, who would have thought such sportsmen could turn their hand to ballroom? That’s the cherry on the cake to a dance fanatic!
Matt Dawson’s competitiveness and focus ensured that he made it almost to the winner’s podium of Strictly Come Dancing and surprised many people in the process. But when Austin Healey took to the floor, jaws hit the ground.
A rugby player with the strength and poise of Gene Kelly? With wicked twinkling eyes? Cradling his adored tiny daughters in those huge arms? Every woman was in the palm of his hand, as were some of the male judges!
And there’s the magic formula, summed up in one player in one circumstance.
There was a similar moment when, as the Flower of Scotland played last Saturday, a camera rested on a trembling bottom lip on the rugged face of a great giant of a man who was about to go and throw his weight around, literally!
Rugby requires the whole gamut of physical attributes—tough and strong, fast and nimble, safe hands and accurate feet. The nature of this championship, though, also seems to summon up the strongest of passions and commitment.
Whether or not this comes from an ingrained desire to take revenge on the oldest of adversaries, it’s a winning combination.