Monday 24 October 2016

Revealed: The rugby nation that hates England the most, and it's not Ireland

Published 24/02/2016 | 09:52

President Mary McAleese walks on the grass to meet the Irish team after England refused to adhere to protocol in their 2003 Six Nations meeting at Lansdowne Road. The decision by Martin Johnson gave England a lift and put them on the road to securing the Grand Slam crown.
President Mary McAleese walks on the grass to meet the Irish team after England refused to adhere to protocol in their 2003 Six Nations meeting at Lansdowne Road. The decision by Martin Johnson gave England a lift and put them on the road to securing the Grand Slam crown.

Eddie Jones has claimed that England are "hated", saying that "because of the history that is involved with England and the surrounding countries there’s that long-seated hatred. You can feel that.” But who dislikes the English the most intensely - and why?

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9. Italy

Perhaps the only Six Nations rival with whom there is not some deep seated nationalistic rivalry. The ferocity with which Italy compete against England is rooted more in a desire to avoid the wooden spoon each year than any grudge against a former colonial oppressor. Italy might even cheer England on against a Southern Hemisphere team. No? Oh, ok then.

Flashpoint? From a draw in front of Mussolini to Mario Balotelli’s header in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, England and Italy have had some memorable encounters - at least in football. In rugby, it's all a little one-sided.

8. South Africa

Another rivalry between England and a former colony, another which has been played out on the battlefield in days gone by. Rugby encounters between South Africa and England are frequently very bloody although the Boks' traditional superiority means a win over Australia or New Zealand is probably more prized.

Flashpoint? The Anglo-Boer wars of the late 19th century were a low point in relations. The British also fought wars against the native population of South Africa; the Battle of Rourke's Drift was immortalised in the film Zulu starring Michael Caine.

7. Argentina

The political tumult sparked by the Falklands War of 1982 has leaked into the sporting sphere, with meetings between the two nations in football, at least, acquiring a nakedly aggressive edge. Rugby matches tend to be more civilised, in the absence of a figure like Diego Maradona to light the blue and white touch paper.

Flashpoint? There were warnings issued by the British and Commonwealth Office ahead of England's tour to Argentina in 2013, centring on suggestions that matches would be targeted by protestors. In the end, the games were played out peacefully.

6. New Zealand

The Kiwis' historical dominance over England means there is, at least, no jealousy driving their desire to get one over on the Motherland.

But how they enjoy seeing England lose. England fans are arrogant, patronising and bizarrely over-confident, while the players are one-dimensional robots. ‘White orcs on steroids’ was how one Kiwi paper described England back in 2003 when England, for once, had a better team.

Flashpoint? Jonah Lomu's single-handed destruction of England at the 1995 World Cup left deep scars for English fans. For New Zealanders it only confirmed their belief that their teams are bigger, faster, and more skilful than England's - but having confirmed this, their self-respect will never again allow to lose to such a one-dimensional rabble.

5. France

From William the Conqueror to Napoleon, England and France have been knocking seven bells out of each other for centuries. The 20th century saw a so-called Entente Cordiale spring up between the two nations, although not so much on the sporting field.

It is true that the rivalry now is perhaps not as raw as between the England and the other Home Nations, but the Frogs still love nothing more than to give Les Rosbifs a good thrashing.

Flashpoint? Agincourt? Trafalgar? Waterloo? Most of the matches during the Brian Moore era? Take your pick. "The only memories I have of England and the English are unpleasant ones," said France number eight Imanol Harinordoquy once. "They are so chauvinistic and arrogant!"

4. Ireland

Centuries of political upheaval underpin a sporting rivalry that has turned nasty on occasion, although it is generally better natured these days. Still, there is little doubt who Irish fans would back in a contest between England and, well, anyone else in the world.

Flashpoint? Martin Johnson's refusal to budge his men in the 2003 grand slam decider in Dublin famously forced president Mary McAleese to dirty her shoes rather than stick to the red carpet. England went on to win handsomely. The act was celebrated by English fans as a piece of gamesmanship and defiance, but it did not go down at all well in Ireland.

3. Australia

Far fiercer than the rivalry between England and New Zealand, the one between England and Australia has occasionally spilled into nastiness - mostly in cricket it has to be said. Bodyline caused a full-blown diplomatic incident.

Most of the time the rugby rivalry is limited to classic 'bantz' - Australians are Convicts and Shackle Draggers, the English are Arrogant Whingeing 'Poms' etc. But there is always a bit of feeling behind the words - at least on the Australian side. "It doesn't matter whether it's cricket, rugby union, rugby league - we all hate England.” John O'Neill, former Australia Rugby Union CEO, once said.

Flashpoint? England sending her criminals over to help colonise Australia and then looking down its nose at the young country as a bunch of unreconstructed hoods.

2. Scotland

May have narrowly avoided a vote for 'yes' in the recent independence referendum, but there is no love lost when it comes to the sporting arena. Scotland fans bellow out Flower of Scotland with extra gusto when the Auld Enemy come a calling. Their struggles, at least during the professional era, to send Proud Edward's Army homewards tae think again has perhaps only increased the fervour.

Flashpoint? The teams' meeting in 1990 - when the Murrayfield crowd belted out 'Flower of Scotland' for the first time as Scotland beat their rivals to claim a Grand Slam - saw the rivalry reach new heights.

1. Wales

The Stereophonics' song 'As Long As We Beat the English' neatly sums up Welsh sentiment when it comes to sporting rivalry with their big brother, and the country's passion for rugby means the stakes are raised to delirious levels.

The obsession has frequently been said to hold Wales back in their contests with England - not least by former coach Graham Henry, who felt the whole thing was distracting - although it did not seem to do the men in red much harm during the World Cup last autumn.

Flashpoint? Former captain Phil Bennett was part of the great Wales team that frequently took England to the cleaners in the 1970s. Clearly team talks were not an issue.

"Look at what these bastards have done to Wales," he once said. "They've taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our houses and live in them for a fortnight every 12 months. And what have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We've been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English - and we're playing them this afternoon."

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