Six Nations 2015: It was a case of 'Cwm on Feel the Noise' for the England team this week

It will have been highly encouraging to the Welsh fans to know how seriously their noise is being taken

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The Independent Online

We proceed with trepidation from the outset, knowing this column must be sent to the printers before the big match in Cardiff last night, yet will be published afterwards, and it’s possible any scepticism over England’s eccentric preparations – of running through their training drills with the sound of the Bard of Glynneath bursting through their eardrums from point-blank range – will have been misplaced.

Fly-half George Ford probably wasn’t supposed to make public the fact that England were so frightened by the noise in Cardiff two years ago that this time round they have had booming loudspeakers installed pitchside at training, but the whole brilliant truth was only to emerge days later. Such was coach Stuart Lancaster’s attention to detail, it was specifically over the sound of Max Boyce’s “Hymns and Arias” reverberating at full blast that Ford and the rest were challenged to bellow their instructions to each other.

Lancaster will hope that the experience has prepared his men for the white heat of the contest, but rugby players are a unique breed, and we cannot help but wonder if a folksy ditty about inadvertently drinking a Welshman’s piss and being conned by a transvestite hooker in a Soho doorway out of a prized photo of Barry John will assist his players only in rekindling those magical memories of epic first-team initiation ceremony nights down the student union.

As such, we keep our fingers crossed and hope that in the end England came out of the tunnel last night meaning business and not with a flurry of lit bog roll hanging out of their backsides, their freshly shaved pubes stuck where their eyebrows once were, downing pints of one another’s sick.

On the other hand, if the strategy did indeed pay off, the implications for other sporting endeavours are profound.

Visitors to the deathly bowl that is Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium can now expect to spend an acclimatising week running about in noise-cancelling headphones in the gardens of a Trappist monastery.

Serbia’s return Euro 2016 qualifier in Albania is not too far away, and their coach might be wise to hold his training camp somewhere on the Isis-controlled Iraq-Syria border, dressed up as cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad.

The nation’s leading idiots can also expect to find gainful employment in the weeks leading up to Wimbledon, standing in the corner of practice courts randomly shouting “Come on, Tim!” when the players least expect it.

And, given more recent events, they might wish to have a particularly vituperative young woman on hand to turn the otherwise quiet air blue with some choice personal abuse as they swap ends.

We can only assume, too, that Scot Alex Marshall’s narrow victory in this year’s World Indoor Bowls at Great Yarmouth can be ascribed to having psychologically internalised the possibility of Barry from EastEnders suddenly appearing before the final to belt out Labi Siffre covers over the PA, as he inexplicably did with such sumptuous power in 2014 – even if, in the end, we were tragically deprived of a repeat performance.


Max Boyce himself has claimed that the former Springboks captain Avril Malan once told him: “You can prepare for  just about everything in rugby, but not 80,000-odd Welshmen singing at the top of their voices.”

The decibel level has been likened to that a jet engine passing at the height of 50 feet, something which, given the positioning of England’s Twickenham home on the most intense section of the Heathrow flight path, one might think they are used to.

More significantly, it will have been highly encouraging to the Welsh fans to know how seriously their noise is being taken, especially given that the impact any sporting crowd is permitted to have seems to be entirely controlled not by the crowd themselves, but by the long-standing culture of the sport.

The rage with which tennis players and golfers react to the tiniest sound should always be taken in the context of their dart-throwing contemporaries, whose act of unquestionably equal concentration takes place against the sonic backdrop of 5,000 cataclysmically drunk people in fancy dress wailing banalities and chucking lager at one another, all but impervious to the sporting contest they have paid to see.

“It’s what they like, and they pay the bills, let them do what they want,” the Dutch darting wunderkind Michael van Gerwen happened to tell me last month. “People like to have a night out. They like to enjoy the evening. When you’re confident and playing well you don’t really care about the noise. You just enjoy what you do. It doesn’t really bother you.”

Enjoy what you do. Quite right. Dare we suggest England should be aiming merely to enjoy their rugby? But if they also have a taste for listening to Max Boyce at full blast, so be it. Their next away match is in Dublin in three weeks. Plenty of time for a bit of “Fields of Athenry”.