There are many reasons why the Six Nations is the best rugby tournament in the world. Sadly, ‘rugby’ is rarely one of those reasons. But for a few weeks every spring, we get licence to throw offensive stereotypes and insults at a bunch of people who are essentially the same as us with little chance of repercussions.
The long running and possibly no longer relevant grudges help stoke the fires and spice up largely unimportant games such as the ‘all-important battle for fourth’. Here’s your guide to some of the key grudges that make the Six Nations such an enjoyable spectacle.
#1 Everybody hates England
The English are to blame for just about everything.
You’re country’s a bit crap? Well, an Englishman once visited, so it’s probably his fault.
They’re so arrogant. Wouldn’t you be if you produced such greats as Shakespeare, Newton and Dale Winton?
Jedward? Surely there’s a way we can pin their popularity on them too.
Everyone seems to have a reason to dislike the English, some based on factually inaccurate Hollywood movies more than others. There are long-running historical reasons and quite a few more modern reasons to justify your displeasure towards the nation that gave the world Piers Morgan. Cromwell was a dick, ‘you keep banging on about how you saved us in World War Part Deux’, Charlotte Church’s chat show was axed criminally prematurely – they’re all valid reasons for harbouring a chip on the shoulder towards Blighty.
Everyone feels slighted by England to some degree, but at some point we’ll have to let it go. If we maintained grudges across millennia, we’d all be running around the streets trying to find that Tyrannosaurus Rex that ate our great-great-great (x30) grandmother so we could give him a good shoeing. ‘Come here, dino – we’ll learn you granny’s not an hors d’oeuvre!’
Still though, at least the Six Nations gives us a chance to rake up old ground and possibly a few skeletons. ‘This one’s for the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh’ some kilt-wearing will probably shout as Ruadhri Jackson nails an inconsequential penalty to make it 35-3 at Twickenham on Saturday.
#2 England and France hate each other
When France and England meet in the sporting arena, it’s about more than just sport. It’s a clash of philosophies – sporting and otherwise. The flamboyant, liberal and adventurous approach the French pretentious like to think they represent takes on the hard-working, pragmatic and more conservative style the English beat their heavily tattooed chests about. The tidy ambiguity of ‘cocks versus bulldogs’ sums it up concisely.
Cross channel rivalries don’t come more love/hate than the one generated by Les Rosbifs and the Frogs. At times the rivalries seems to be inflamed by non-sporting issues, but on other occasions it’s painted more as a jovial ‘we’re rugby’s wacky odd couple’ deal. They’re ‘on again, off again’ more than Jordan’s knickers, but almost invariably, it leads to some cracking matches. Underlying it all seems to be a begrudging respect for each other. It’s so begrudging in fact, they never talk about it. Deep down, the Les Bleus wouldn’t mind being a bit more English at times and the Sweet Chariot would like some of that unpredictable swagger. They can’t admit that however, so it gets expressed with tetchy rugby matches. Hooray!
#3 Everyone loves to beat France
‘Look at them over there. With their nonchalant superiority, fine food and relaxed attitude towards personal hygiene’. For every team in the Six Nations, the desire to beat France is high, even though down through the years they’ve done little to upset people other than unleash a few pungent cheeses on us.
There’s always a strong desire to beat France. Some of it is down to wanting to take them down a smug peg or two and some of it is down to the fact beating them is tough, even if they are at one of their lower ebbs of Gallic moodiness. They are always a useful yardstick to measure yourself by so if you can beat them it means something – mainly that you can beat the fourth or fifth best team in the world if they’re having an off day.
French teams often come across as superior and arrogant and there’s a good reason for that – they are. That said, for the most part, they tend to back up their outrageous self-belief with victories and even if they’re not in the best of form, they can still pull a quality performance out of the bag. They’re always dangerous. As dangerous as trying an unidentified cheese on a whim.
#4 Celtic cousins are relatively hostile
Ireland, Scotland and Wales are united in their love of beating England, but don’t let the facade of the ‘Celtic Brotherhood‘ fool you. Despite agreeing on the ‘we don’t like the English front’, they’re also fans of tearing into each other when the times comes. It’s all sing-songs and ‘I can light my farts better than you’ in the pubs after the match, but the matches between the Celts can get rather feisty.
Partly fuelled by Warren Gatland’s bruised ego after being cast aside by Ireland and partly fuelled by some epic high stakes clashes in recent years, Wales and Ireland have got narky with each other more frequently that they used to.
Regardless of their respective chances of winning some silverware, the meeting of Ireland and Scotland is always one to look forward too, particularly if you happen to own a pub in Dublin or Edinburgh. It’s been getting narkier over the years and it’s highlighted by the Scots fondness for putting it up to the Irish, even when they’ve nothing to play for. Despite generally fighting to stave off the wooden spoon, they’ve generally found something extra when they face the ‘not so auld enemy’.
It’s a similar story for Scotland and Wales. They’ve a lot in common, Wales have been the better team for much of the Six Nations era and they both love a party, but that doesn’t mean they don’t give it everything to beat the hell out of each other at every given opportunity.
#5 No-one really has any beef with Italy. Yet
Italy have grown from their infancy in the Six Nations to their toddlerhood and a mark of that development is the narkiness they have started to generate. Once the borderline illegality of their high quality forward play was treated in the same way you might treat a loveable town drunk. ‘Yes, he pissed on my shoe, but he’s not doing any real harm,’ was the kind of carefree attitude a lot of other nations had towards the Azzurri.
But that changed once they started becoming something of a threat. What had been seen as understandable rule-bending necessary for the emerging nation has been cast more and more as cynical cheating. Now they’re picking up wins with regularity and pushing their more established rivals ever closer to mildly embarrassing defeats, the love-in is coming to an end. That’s a good thing – both for Italy and people who like making pasta-based puns about Italians.