The Six Nations approaches it's climactic weekend, and it's got me thinking. What makes it so special, what makes it so brilliant and so bloody gut wrenching? It's a bit like house matches at school, they were often more intense and violent than games against other schools. Why?
Because you were against people that you knew, and knew well and you either liked or disliked them, both gave it an edge. The Six Nations has the same feel, it is played against 'neighbours' and the best bit about it is that this feeling includes the fans too. We all have mates who are Welsh, Irish, Scottish, Italian and even French... even I do, not that I admit it in public!
So the games we either play in, or sit watching, have the incredible importance of bragging rights, for a whole year!!! Now that is pressure. And that is what makes it so gripping for fans, knowing that a whole year of humour and bragging is being decided in those precious 80 minutes.
As a player, the feelings are not too dissimilar, as I hated the idea that players could walk off that pitch, looking you straight in the eye having beaten you! Unbearable. And then of course there was the added problem of being English... and trust me in the Six Nations that causes quite a problem, in fact come to think of it, it causes quite a problem against all countries...
Why is that? Why are the English so universally disliked in the Six Nations, and why are we the team all the others want to beat? Well there we go, I think we have the answer right there; the sheer arrogance of believing that we are the team all the other countries want to beat the most. Sorted! But we are...
Is it history? I remember reading a Scottish broadsheet paper that compared me to Edward Longshanks. For god's sake! I have never been compared to anything 'long' in my life. I love the passion of the Welsh, the Scots, the Irish, the pretence at nonchalance by the French, but the English are not allowed to be passionate. It is taken as arrogance, although granted we do 'do' arrogance very naturally...
Before I played the Grand Slam deciding game against Scotland in 1995, a Scottish journalist interviewed me at the Cafe Royal. He was very polite, biting his tongue for most of the interview when he obviously really disliked me (and you couldn't blame him) until his last question: "So Will, how do you take to the fact that the whole of Scotland hate you?" I paused, and looked him in the eye and replied, "That's okay."
He was surprised, "Really?"
"Sure", I said, "because I ******* hate you more!"
He dropped his pen "you cannot say that!"
"Why?", I asked, "you can hate me, but I can't hate you back?"
"Exactly!", he said.
And in that moment you get the Six Nations. We English have to understand the passion the other countries have, we have to respect it and be hugely wary of it. But at the same time, we should be passionate too, we have to be to stand any chance of winning.
But for us fans, not the players, we have to ensure that humour is always apparent in the passion. That for me is what is truly special, that we can be passionate, at times childishly so. But that when it comes to the crunch, we have to have humour and the realisation that although it does not feel it right there, right at that moment of losing or winning, it is just a bloody game! But a great one and a really great tournament.
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