I hope that, after a suitably hefty 6Nations weekend feed of Haggis and Guinness followed by bread & butter pudding, you were able to roll over the other side of the Atlantic and sample some of the NFL’s finest of Kansas City burnt ends (the sweet & chewy bits that come off the ends of proper brisket), some cheesy corn and maybe just a bite or two of some Philly cheesesteaks to compensate for that pish the Seppos call beer.
What a weekend of footy that was.
Regarding the 6Nations and getting the English v Italian test (mess?) out of the way first, while it may not’ve been the most convincing of displays (by a longgggg way), the Steve Borthwick era English Roses got the job done and snagged their first win. And while I’m not sure if the win was still Eddie Jones’ fault or not, I thought the standout highlight for the Kingsmen was that their midfield looked significantly better.
As for the Azzurri Pizza Pushers, they went down in despair after having the game in arms’ reach and there for the taking. But, woe betide he who remembers not that in the last twelve months, the Pasta Pimps have now beaten the Welsh Jones, knifed us and pushed both France and England right to their limits. So the easy-beats of Europe the Azzurri are no more (although I doubt that comforts Dave Rennie any).
As for the Welsh Jones v the Scots Haggis, the Scots continued their cosmopolitan renaissance by taking their first 2-for-2 start in the 6Nations since Moses played for the Jerusalem under 6s (1996 actually). And while the Jones played with guts, they also bumbled and fumbled about quite predictably. What struck me most though, was the ability of the Scots (or twas it the ineptitude of the Jones?) to stop the Welsh lads from getting anything achieved in attack. And while folk wax lyrical about Frogman Antoine Dupont and his almost-made reverse tackle (who was, coincidently, born in the same year that Scotland last went 2-for-2), for mine it’s Wee Finn ‘Jack’ Russell who both played a deadset belter, but also reaffirmed himself as the danger man to watch for not just the 6Nations, but the Bill later this year. Jack the Jock has serious game.
For the Jones from the Welsh valleys, not even the axing of national treasures Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn ‘Fiddle me Bits’ Jones was enough to shake/scare/force some life or creativity into their play. While I have always liked Warren Gatland (and thought him a better hooker than Fitzpatrick for what it’s worth), I fear his resurrection may end almost as quick as that carpenter’s apprentice from Nazareth also did unless something sparks soon.
Which leads us to the Irish Paddies v the French Frogs. Now it’s a shame that such a ‘screamer’ of a game – that everybody knew would be a screamer of a game – had to be played so early in the tournament. But it was. And that was that.
But Oh What A Game It Was. It was bloody magnificent. I won’t go into detail, for I shan’t do it justice. But do yourself a favour and go watch a replay on Stan or something instead.
As I said to some other chaps, after weeks of coaches being sacked, tackle height hyperbole, players getting arrested, corporate gob-spinning and some fairly ordinary displays of executive leadership, to just sit back and watch a game of such exuberance, flair and outstanding execution was just magnifique. For me, the pinnacle of the match was the offload from Irish No8 Daisy Doris at about the 70th minute mark that created the Ringrose try. Seriously, for skill and poise under contact and fatigue, it was beyond sublime.
But one thing that did strike me about the weekend that was, was one of the cultural differences that sets our game apart from the other big footy code kicking about our TV screens (real footy, not soccer) – NFL. Now I’m not knocking the Seppos or the NFL Final. I mean, much like two of the three matches from the weekend just passed, there were at least two Aussies running about in that game as well. So naturally it was an affair of unmitigated skill and all class.
But someone, please explain that Yanky anthem to me. I mean not the song itself, but the manner of the performing. To me, the situation is somewhat comical because Chris Stapleton has a great voice and he’s not a bad guitar player either. But for the life of me, I do not understand the Seppos never-ending-need for each and every successive performance of the Star Spangled Banner to get longer and do more vocal spiralling, to just then get longer, and so allow space for more vocal spiralling, until we all forget just where the bloody song is up to. And then? We do some more spiralling.
Look, I get that vocal spiralling is rooted in the whole Southern gospel singing meets jazz meets blues thing. But this never-ending, over-the-top perpetual infatuation with it? Well in the immortal words of Jimmy the Lips (The Commitments): “It’s got no soul. It is sound for the sake of sound. It has no meaning – It’s musical wanking, Brother.” I mean that song took damn near as long to sing as the whole highlights reel from the entire 60min game (that took 4hrs to play). It got so bad that the coverage kept flicking back to one guy who couldn’t stop crying because it was taking so long. And his pain was palpable. Their government even sent fighter planes to check out if it wasn’t another Chinese hot air attack.
Now I can’t put it here for copyright reasons. And I love the sites Master Administrator Sully’s work too much to do that to him. But allegedly, maybe, just perhaps you may see what I’m talking about if you perhaps copied and pasted this into your nearest address bar, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFKXJ091Ed4
And I can’t but help compare that to the anthems you hear at the 6Nations.
The first I’ll acknowledge is the
Filth English. What is interesting, not just with the English but with a number of fellow 6Nations participants, is that technically the English don’t actually have a national anthem. But we all know they belt out “God Save The Queen King” until they forget the words and go to the highly complex lyrical gymnastics of “Swing Low” instead.
First published in 1744 and apparently rooted in an old Scots carol called “Remember O Thou Man” (really? Bloody turncoat Scots again), ‘God Save…whoever’ was allegedly originally composed as a rabble-rouser song for the good folk of London during the Jacobite rebellion and had a second line of ‘God save great George our King’. For a while there it then poodled along, alongside Rule Britannia and even Jerusalem, as semi-official songs of state until George IV’s coronation in 1821, where it seized musical centre stage and from that point on, without royal decree or Act of Parliament, God Save The King acquired quasi-status of the favoured ‘national anthem’.
My favourite bit of it is how it takes all of 45 seconds from Go to Whoa. It’s efficient at least.
In stark contrast to the ‘let’s get on with it’ bombastic, brutal simplicity of the English, the Italians belt out “Il Canto degli Italiani”.
With the 2nd longest introduction of any rugby nation’s anthem (at a full 25 seconds, it is beaten only by Argentina), and with a mid song musical solo to boot, the origins of the ‘Fratelli d’Italia’ (‘Brothers of Italy’) song were apparently quite popular in various forms throughout the 1700s and early 1800s. However, it made its ‘official’ debut, in current form, on 10 December 1847 at some sort of celebration/demonstration held in the Genoese district of Oregina. Literally it is ‘The Song of the Italians’ but is known more commonly among Italians as “Inno di Mameli” (“Mameli’s Hymn”). And since the mid 1850’s it fell in and out of favour, depending on the government of the day, until after WWII when it arose to popularity again and pretty much cemented its spot.
Interestingly though, in 2017 a legislative bill was passed in the Italian parliament to make it the acknowledged and formal Italian national anthem.
As for Les Frogs, we all know they love their “La Marseillaise”. Written in 1792, originally it was called “Chant de Guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin” (War Song for the Army of the Rhine) and was written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in Strasbourg to win a local competition for a rousing battle song. From there it surged in popularity and was officially adopted as the song of Le Republic in 1795 but with the name changed to La Marseillaise because it was a hit with volunteer soldiers marching from Marseille to Paris to fight for their new country.
Allegedly Napoleon despised the song, banned its use and replaced it with “Veillons au salut de l’Empire,” (Let us See to the Salvation of the Empire). And then, with the return of the monarchy, naturally it didn’t rate much of a mention for quite some time (the threat of execution will do that I guess). However in 1879 it was reinstated and has remained so since, despite some of its lyrical (racist) controversies (eg “let impure blood water our furrows”).
The Scots sing “Flower of Scotland” as we all know. But strangely in a land with so much heritage and history, they have only really sung it for 30 odd years. The song was only written in the mid 1960s by a 3 piece Scots revivalist/folk group known as The Corries and came to early prominence (allegedly) when a Scots winger by the name of Billy Steele encouraged his team mates to sing it on the British Lions tour of South Africa in 1974.
The song itself refers to the victory of the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce, over Edward II of England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. But whether for political or time-related sensitivities, current performances leave aside the second verse wherein the singer laments the land now lost to those they previously fought. The Scots are (of course) happy in the United Kingdom after all.
Almost unbelievably, it wasn’t sung as a pre-game Scots anthem until the 1990 5Nations championship (as it was in pre-Italy days), and then gradually came to replace “Scotland the Brave” over the following 20yrs as yet another example of an unofficial national anthem.
And for those wondering about the interjections, ‘And stood against him’ is chased by “‘Gainst who?” and ‘Proud Edward’s Army’ is chased by “Bastards”.
Now the Irish situation is a bit delicate and needs explaining. See, with the six counties of the north still being formally part of the United Kingdom and the other 26 counties, 3 cities and 2 city-counties making up the Republic, songs can be a bloody dicey subject in the Isle of Eire. I guess that’s to be expected in a country which forced their independence from the British with a war that was only fought in the last century (immediately followed-up by a fully-fledged civil war among themselves and not forgetting what’s happened since).
And it’s a subject taken especially seriously in rugby because rugby is the only major sport that Ireland plays as a single country. That’s right. In every other major game, representation is of either Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland (I mean no hard feeling to Irish cricket or butchery in that).
Anyway, and trying really hard not to offend anyone, at the end of it all, the Irish lads now sing two anthems; “Amhrán na bhFiann” (The Soldier’s Song) followed by “Ireland’s Call” at tests played within the Republic. Amhrán na bhFiann is officially the Irish Republic’s national anthem. It was composed by Peader Kearney and Patrick Heeney in 1909, was widely accepted as the Sinn Fein anthem during the Irish War of Independence (from/against Britain) and it’s fair to say it is a song that is pretty loaded with republican themes and so tends to rub the northern Unionists up the wrong way. Thus in 1995, Phil Coulter’s “Ireland’s Call” was added to the mix in the name of bipartisan harmony. To be clear, Amhrán na bhFiann is only played if it’s a full test being played within the Republic itself. Anywhere else and it’s only “Ireland’s Call” to be played.
Now the clip I’m going to post is interesting. It is from Ireland v England at Croke Park (Dublin) in 2007. That was a hugely significant match as, without going too far down a dangerous road, during the War of Independence, British auxiliary forces had opened fire on Irish civilians in Croke Park attending a Gaelic Football match on 21 November 1920 and killed somewhere between 14-20 civilians (accounts vary) in what became known as the original ‘Bloody Sunday’. And that 2007 game was the first time the English had been allowed back to Croke Park since. There’s too much history behind those songs, on that day, at that place, for me to do them justice here. But it’s a grand thing to watch, especially the 3rd song of “Ireland’s Call” just in themselves, let alone when you consider the political/social context swirling about it.
By the way, Ireland won the match 43-13.
And finally, while I may lay no proveable, legitimate claim to a single Welsh bone in my body, I at least do acknowledge the only national anthem that can bring a tear to my own eye, “Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” (Old Land of My Fathers). Apparently it was written in January 1856 in Pontypridd, Glamorgan by one Evan James with the tune composed by his son, James (James James? Really?). And it turned into a bit of a hit in the local church. It was then (apparently) also very well received after a public performance at a local fete in the same year. And thus was included in a popular publication called “Gems of Welsh Melody” from where its use took off.
And many know the story of the Welsh rugby player Teddy Morgan who led the crowd singing the song back at the All Blacks as a response to their Haka in 1905, and in doing so beginning the tradition of pre-game anthem singing.
For me, it’s the Welsh who take the cake. Even as a fairly dour middle-aged bloke of the Australian variety, the power, the delicacy and the deep soulfulness of Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau hardly ever fails to squeeze an unbidden tear from my eye. It’s truly beautiful. And when given full voice in the Millenium Stadium, it is something almost inexplicable to behold.
So anyway, there you have it. There’s a bit of a wander about the national anthems of the 6Nations tournament.
Have I got it right? What did I get wrong? Straighten me out in the comments below.