Six Nations 2014: England v Wales - Old enemy still the scalp every Welshman wants
Success may have diluted national hysteria, but there’s no doubt who we most love to beat, admits Matt Lloyd in Cardiff
Saturday 08 March 2014
I guess you could blame Kelly Jones, the lead singer of the Stereophonics, for the annual bout of hysteria that breaks out when England play Wales at rugby.
It was his neat little ditty “As Long As We Beat the English (we don’t care)” that summed up the national psyche for this annual gathering of the clans.
That was ahead of the 1999 clash at Wembley when Wales, yet again, revelled in their role as England’s Grand Slam nemesis, seizing any opportunity to chide their neighbours and glorying in English failure.
Rightly or wrongly, England are still perceived as the school-yard bullies. So who better to give a bloody nose?
Professionalism may have divorced the players’ emotions from the fervour among their supporters, but for every bland platitude from a player or coach, England remains the scalp everyone this side of Offah’s Dyke wants.
England and Wales have been going at it hammer and tongs since 1881 and tomorrow’s match will be the 125th in the series. For many, the rivalry runs deeper than sport.
Welsh success has diluted the hysteria. For years, all that mattered was beating England and to hell with the rest of the tournament. Now we have a Grand Slam to win, titles to defend and World Cups to target.
There was a time when Welsh captains would invoke the injustices of the past, talk about rape and pillage to leave their players’ eyes bulging out of their heads before kick-off.
“Look what those bastards have done to Wales,” Phil Bennett famously began before the 1977 clash.
“They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing.
“We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon.”
Nowadays those comments are like something from Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” sketch compared to the placid notes of Sam Warburton.
He rightly played down the hate campaign, inadvertently sparked by Test novice Jack Nowell, by claiming this weekend was “just another” game. But ask the man on the street in Llandaff, Llanelli or Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and they will tell you they support two teams: Wales and whoever is playing England.
Warburton thought he had chosen his words wisely, but his claim to be British, given both his parents are English, only served to kick up a political storm.
He put Nowell back in his box but gave the Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards an opportunity to try to score some political points by questioning Warburton’s “Welshness”. In the end, it turned into a bit of an own goal for the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP.
For some it seemed the hype had gone into over-drive. For those who are a bit longer in the tooth, it was business as usual in the week building up to one of the heavyweight rugby clashes in the world game.
Beating England may no longer be the be-all and end-all for Wales – but we enjoy winning all the same.
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