150 years of Welsh rugby – but, more than just a game?

March 23rd, 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the first recorded game of rugby union in Wales which took place at St David’s College, Lampeter brought there by its Vice-Principal, Rev. Dr Rowland Williams. It’s accepted widely that every Welshman has rugby written right through them like a stick of rock. Indeed, Wales teamthe then Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive Roger Lewis said in an interview, “Rugby reaches out in so many ways and is so much more than just a game – it’s the glue that holds communities together.”. He could never have imagined how that would resonate with Welsh people. Welsh international Gareth Edwards, voted by international rugby players as the greatest player of all time, put it even more dramatically, “Rugby is part of the DNA of Welshman and woman across the globe. It is at the heart of our very essence, defining us as individuals and as a nation.”

Stirring images of iconic Welsh singers like Bryn Terfel, Kathrine Jenkins, Aled Jones, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and Shân Cothi leading the crowd in Mae hen wlad fy nhadau at the Millennium Stadium might make an observer wonder why anyone would doubt that rugby was more than just a game. However, beyond the 80 minutes of passionate play and the subsequent period of bragging rights or drowning of sorrows, a case to question this assertion can be made. Looking under the skin of the role of rugby in Wales, it is quickly evident that the vast majority of Welsh people neither participate in rugby nor follow it beyond the international matches, particularly the matches between Wales and England, Ireland or New Zealand.

82The questions then arise: how, when and why did rugby assume an iconic identity for Wales. Fixing an exact date and place when anything became an iconic image of a country seems an unlikely circumstance, but a noted historian of rugby, Gareth Williams, fixes the date on which rugby assumed that role in the hearts and minds of Welshmen firmly as 16 December 1905 at Cardiff Arms Park. That was the day when Wales beat a hitherto undefeated New Zealand All Blacks team by three points to nil. Although a small margin of victory, it had to be seen in the context of New Zealand scoring 800 points and conceding only 27 against the other British teams on their UK tour that year.

 

It was certainly a golden age for Welsh rugby – winning the triple crown six times in 12 years between 1900 and 1911 was a magnificent achievement for a tiny nation and an opportunity for pride, both for Welshmen in the old country or those dispersed throughout the world. Wales was making a major impact in rugby, to use a boxing analogy, “punching well above her weight”.  At the time of the victory against New Zealand, Wales was at its zenith industrially with Welsh steel in the construction of much of Europe’s shipping, and its coal firing the boilers of those ships. Historian John Davies linked rugby closely with the industrialisation of Wales and reinforced it as a “powerful symbol of the nation’s identity.” He suggested sport, but not necessarily rugby, had become the new religion of the Welsh people rather than Christianity and Gareth Williams suggested that the ebb and flow of Welsh rugby’s fortunes coincided with similar cycles in the Welsh economy and in the confidence in Wales as a nation. Whilst there is clearly a case for sport in general and rugby in particular, being akin to a religion for some, a case might be made for the National Health Service taking the place of Christianity as the most cherished value. Similarly, whilst the economic situation has been poor in Wales in recent years, Wales rugby has done quite well.

Comparison with Christianity is important because the Nonconformist chapels ultimately contributed a significant role in its growth. They placed a seal on the iconic role of rugby in Wales with their late-in-arriving but nevertheless positive affirmation and endorsement. Although an Anglican College, St David’s at Lampeter, had led the introduction of rugby to Wales, the Nonconformist chapels were initially vociferous in opposition, associating the game with intemperance, blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking. The religious revival of 1904 led to a marked decline in the sport in Wales and the (at least, temporary) closure of many clubs. However, the dramatic victory of 1905 made a rapid reversal of this process which led Gareth Williams to state that, “[Rugby] would now play the role that religion had once enjoyed as a popular mass activity.”

Eventually, the ministers and deacons began to take a pragmatic view and reluctantly began to be more positive. Some even constructed sermons from the discipline that the teams showed in playing successful games. A century ago the Chapel still held significant sway in the communities of Wales and so the removal of disapproval and then affirmation of the game gave tacit permission both to be participants and to spectators of rugby.

Christianity still features, possibly only for historical reasons, in rugby. The stands still ring out with hymns like Cym Rhondda and Calon Lân alongside the dark lyrics of Delilah today. Interestingly, rugby matches in south Wales where Welsh language is not widely used are still occasions when songs like Sospan Fach and Calon Lân may be heard in sometimes shaky Welsh. Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) may take some comfort!

Max BoyceMax Boyce, ex-miner from the Valleys and popular comedian and folk singer wrote a number of songs that captured the intrinsic Welshness of rugby. A more reflective song, “Ten Thousand Instant Christians” juxtaposes the almost religious fervour and devotion of rugby fans in an ironic contrast with the closed and boarded former Chapels echoing with the hymns of yesterday.

When He sees the Hope and Anchor
Where we sang before the game
Where ‘Cwm Rhondda’ and ‘Delilah’
First sounded both the same
The bar was filled with singing
Hymns came on a tray
Saturday was Sunday
I wonder what He’ll say

A more upbeat song of Max Boyce’s which inevitably features at every international Welsh rugby game is “Hymns and Arias”, a nod to the combination of sacred and secular singing at matches. Possibly its enduring success is because it is an account of a coach trip from south Wales to Twickenham to watch Wales play the great enemy, England. Of course, Wales won and so the somewhat worse-for-wear Welshmen were able to join in the rousing chorus:

And we were singing hymns and arias,
‘Land of my Fathers’, ‘Ar hyd y nos’

Contained within that good-natured snipe against the English is a deeper issue. The long-standing rivalry between the nations is read by some as enmity and mention is made of real or perceived injustice to Wales from Edward I, through exploitative pit, steelworks and quarry owners, to the ‘Welsh Not’ placard that children heard speaking Welsh in some schools were forced to wear in the late 19th century. Others will say that the enmity lasts for the duration of the match with peace being declared in the bar after the game. South Wales rock group Stereophics even brought out a song in 1999 with the title, “As long as we beat the English, (we don’t care).”

Gareth Edwards
Gareth Edwards

Welsh rugby gives Welsh men and women an opportunity for pride, particularly in individual players who have excelled. There can be no better example than Gareth Edwards, voted the greatest player of all time by his peers in a 2003 poll in Rugby Magazine and by former England rugby captain Will Carling as “the greatest player ever.” That pride was rekindled when Shane Williams collected the 2008 BBC Wales Sports Personality Of The Year Award and Leigh Halfpenny in 2013 and Dan Biggar in 2015. .

National Eisteddfod organiser Hywel Edwards controversially suggested that rugby shirts might be a more appropriate Welsh national costume for girls than Lady Llandovery’s tall hats, shawls and aprons, or boys dressed as colliers for St David’s Day celebrations. He said, “Images of children in lace aprons and collier’s clothes beamed around the world on St David’s Day created an image of Wales as a backward country stuck in the past”.

However, active participation in the game of rugby in Wales is not high. Compare Wales with New Zealand, a similar size nation.

  Wales  New Zealand 
 Population      3 million      4 million
 Male rugby players 70,000 142,000
 Female rugby players   2,000 6,000

Source: Sports Council Wales

Similarly, home attendance at Welsh regional rugby matches averages between 5, 000 and 10,000, whereas home attendance in 2014/15 at Cardiff City FC was 14,600 and Swansea City 20,600, English Premiership average attendance 36,000 and Manchester United FC 75,000. Sports Council Wales reported that rugby came ninth in a list of participation sports in Wales, whereas football was third.

A YouGov/Daily Telegraph poll in 2005 looked at the proportion of sports fans in Wales/Midlands taking an interest in a number of sports. Football came top at 68% and rugby was mentioned by only 48% – less than half the respondents.

Despite these low proportions, Welsh people demonstrated their commitment to their national team with a quarter of the population watching rugby on TV – a higher proportion than in any other country. A 2009 Wales v England international was watched by 55% of Welsh viewers but only 18% of English viewers.

What explains these inconsistencies? Welsh rugby was, and still is a classless game where its players were historically as likely to be consultant surgeons or GPs as they were to have been from the pits or the steelworks. That ‘level playing field’ has contributed to Wales’s embracing the game to her heart.

Kenneth Morgan asserts that “Rugby was, and remains, an attractive aspect of the national identity of Wales,” but points out that nationalists feel preoccupation with rugby diverts people from the greater priority of national independence. That reservation by nationalists does reflect some other issues. The heartland of nationalism, north and west Wales is largely rural, other than some medium size towns on the north Wales coast. They are also areas with the greatest concentration of Welsh language and a very different focus of sport: walking, climbing, mountain biking use and sea-based pursuits. There’s no historic tradition of rugby in these areas and many football fans in north Wales look to the great football clubs of north-west England which are easily accessible. The large Guinness Pro12 clubs are all based in south Wales: Cardiff, Newport, Llanelli and Swansea.

If culture, geography, language and sports interest were the sole factors that determine the role of rugby as an icon of Wales, then one could make a stronger case for rugby being ‘more than a game’ predominantly in south Wales. The huge crowds on the terraces, at least of international matches, are united in their commitment to their national team, becoming a huge corporate sixteenth player.

Rugby (in reality, international rugby) brings people together with a mixture of nostalgia, pride in a nation’s achievement, a reflection of Welsh values and a history of great success in an environment where the Welsh language features in a non-divisive way and it can genuinely be described as ‘more than a game’.

1,818 comments on “150 years of Welsh rugby – but, more than just a game?

  1. My wife and i felt absolutely contented that Raymond managed to deal with his survey through the entire precious recommendations he acquired through your web page. It’s not at all simplistic to simply happen to be releasing secrets that other folks have been making money from. And we understand we now have the writer to appreciate for that. The main illustrations you’ve made, the easy site navigation, the relationships you can assist to engender – it is all exceptional, and it is assisting our son and our family reckon that that content is pleasurable, and that is really fundamental. Thank you for the whole thing!

  2. I needed to create you this very little word to finally give thanks once again on the marvelous tips you’ve featured in this article. This has been so remarkably open-handed with people like you to convey freely precisely what a lot of folks would have made available for an e-book to generate some cash for themselves, particularly considering that you could have done it in the event you wanted. Those solutions also acted to become fantastic way to fully grasp the rest have the identical dreams much like my own to learn way more concerning this condition. I know there are many more pleasant times up front for individuals who looked at your blog post.

  3. I must show my thanks to you just for rescuing me from this instance. After browsing throughout the search engines and seeing principles which are not productive, I thought my life was well over. Being alive devoid of the answers to the issues you’ve fixed all through your entire website is a serious case, as well as ones which could have in a wrong way affected my entire career if I hadn’t discovered your web site. Your competence and kindness in taking care of a lot of things was valuable. I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t come across such a thing like this. It’s possible to at this time relish my future. Thanks for your time so much for the specialized and amazing help. I will not be reluctant to refer your web blog to anyone who requires support on this topic.

  4. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  5. I’m just commenting to let you be aware of what a brilliant discovery my girl enjoyed checking your blog. She mastered numerous details, most notably how it is like to possess a wonderful coaching mood to let the others very easily completely grasp a number of extremely tough subject areas. You undoubtedly exceeded visitors’ expectations. Thank you for showing the necessary, healthy, revealing as well as cool guidance on that topic to Emily.

  6. I have to show my thanks to you for bailing me out of such a situation. As a result of exploring through the world wide web and finding principles that were not helpful, I assumed my entire life was well over. Existing minus the solutions to the difficulties you’ve resolved by means of your main posting is a critical case, as well as the kind which could have negatively affected my entire career if I hadn’t encountered your web site. Your own personal training and kindness in playing with everything was important. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I hadn’t discovered such a subject like this. I am able to now look forward to my future. Thanks a lot very much for your reliable and result oriented help. I won’t be reluctant to suggest your web site to any person who should have tips on this subject matter.

  7. Thanks so much for providing individuals with an extremely nice chance to read critical reviews from this blog. It’s always so kind and also stuffed with a good time for me and my office fellow workers to search your site really 3 times a week to see the latest guides you will have. And lastly, I am certainly pleased concerning the amazing suggestions you serve. Selected two ideas in this post are undoubtedly the finest I have had.

  8. I as well as my pals happened to be analyzing the best advice located on your web blog while unexpectedly came up with a terrible feeling I never thanked the web site owner for those tips. My guys were certainly thrilled to learn all of them and have now quite simply been taking advantage of them. Appreciate your genuinely really considerate and then for getting variety of great ideas millions of individuals are really desperate to be aware of. My very own sincere apologies for not expressing appreciation to you sooner.

  9. I am only writing to let you be aware of what a awesome discovery my wife’s daughter experienced browsing your site. She discovered many issues, which include what it’s like to have an incredible teaching character to let the others without difficulty gain knowledge of a number of tricky topics. You truly did more than people’s desires. I appreciate you for supplying these precious, safe, edifying and in addition unique tips about this topic to Evelyn.

  10. Thank you so much for giving everyone remarkably splendid chance to check tips from this site. It is often so beneficial plus full of fun for me personally and my office mates to search your blog at least thrice weekly to find out the newest guidance you have. And lastly, I’m always satisfied for the eye-popping inspiring ideas you give. Some 4 areas on this page are clearly the simplest we’ve had.

  11. Good post. I study something more difficult on totally different blogs everyday. It is going to at all times be stimulating to learn content material from different writers and observe somewhat something from their store. I’d desire to use some with the content material on my blog whether you don’t mind. Natually I’ll offer you a hyperlink on your net blog. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Thank you so much for providing individuals with an extraordinarily special chance to check tips from this site. It’s usually very awesome and jam-packed with fun for me and my office peers to search the blog more than three times per week to study the fresh stuff you have. And indeed, we’re usually happy with your wonderful techniques you give. Certain 2 tips in this posting are truly the most beneficial we have all had.

  13. My spouse and i felt quite relieved that Chris managed to finish off his researching out of the ideas he had in your web pages. It’s not at all simplistic to simply find yourself making a gift of ideas which people today have been selling. And we also keep in mind we’ve got the website owner to thank for this. The entire illustrations you’ve made, the straightforward blog menu, the friendships your site aid to foster – it’s mostly excellent, and it’s really making our son and us reckon that this content is satisfying, and that is really important. Thank you for all!

  14. My wife and i felt quite delighted when Louis managed to carry out his studies out of the precious recommendations he came across from your own web page. It’s not at all simplistic to simply choose to be offering hints which usually some others have been selling. We acknowledge we now have the website owner to be grateful to for that. The main illustrations you made, the easy blog navigation, the relationships you give support to instill – it’s got many exceptional, and it’s really aiding our son in addition to the family reckon that that subject is brilliant, which is tremendously indispensable. Many thanks for the whole lot!

  15. I simply had to thank you very much once more. I am not sure the things I might have created in the absence of these solutions provided by you about that problem. It had been a very difficult condition in my circumstances, but taking note of a new skilled form you treated it made me to cry with joy. Now i am thankful for the guidance and even wish you really know what an amazing job you have been accomplishing instructing people today using your site. I’m certain you have never got to know any of us.

  16. I just wanted to develop a message so as to thank you for these superb tips you are posting at this site. My prolonged internet lookup has finally been recognized with professional know-how to write about with my good friends. I would assume that many of us visitors are unquestionably endowed to exist in a remarkable place with many wonderful people with interesting guidelines. I feel quite happy to have encountered your entire web page and look forward to some more thrilling times reading here. Thanks once again for a lot of things.

  17. I think other website proprietors should take this website as an model, very clean and wonderful user friendly style and design, let alone the content. You’re an expert in this topic!

  18. Thank you so much for providing individuals with an extremely pleasant opportunity to read articles and blog posts from this website. It is usually so sweet and also stuffed with amusement for me personally and my office peers to visit your web site the equivalent of 3 times per week to find out the new secrets you will have. And indeed, we are usually contented concerning the amazing techniques you serve. Selected 2 facts in this post are honestly the most efficient I’ve ever had.

  19. Thank you for your entire efforts on this web site. Kim delights in setting aside time for internet research and it’s really easy to see why. All of us know all regarding the lively ways you deliver sensible tips and hints via the blog and strongly encourage response from people on this issue while our child has been learning a lot. Take advantage of the rest of the year. You are performing a first class job.

  20. I not to mention my friends happened to be looking through the good tactics from your site and then instantly I had a horrible feeling I never expressed respect to the web site owner for those techniques. My young boys are already as a result warmed to learn all of them and have in effect unquestionably been making the most of those things. I appreciate you for simply being really kind as well as for using this sort of awesome issues most people are really desirous to be aware of. My sincere apologies for not saying thanks to you earlier.

  21. I am just commenting to let you be aware of what a wonderful experience my friend’s daughter obtained browsing the blog. She figured out a lot of details, with the inclusion of what it’s like to possess a very effective coaching character to let most people effortlessly learn certain advanced subject areas. You really surpassed our expectations. I appreciate you for offering the effective, dependable, explanatory and cool tips on this topic to Emily.

  22. I wanted to put you that little bit of observation so as to give many thanks as before for your fantastic opinions you have shared on this site. This has been quite open-handed with you giving freely all many people could have advertised as an e book in making some cash for themselves, most notably since you could have tried it in the event you decided. These creative ideas additionally served to become easy way to understand that many people have the identical keenness much like my own to grasp very much more around this issue. I know there are thousands of more enjoyable moments ahead for folks who scan through your website.

  23. I actually wanted to develop a quick comment to express gratitude to you for these awesome techniques you are showing at this site. My incredibly long internet investigation has at the end of the day been rewarded with pleasant details to go over with my family members. I would suppose that most of us visitors actually are very much blessed to be in a great place with many special professionals with very helpful solutions. I feel truly grateful to have used your webpage and look forward to so many more excellent moments reading here. Thank you again for a lot of things.

  24. My husband and i were absolutely peaceful that John managed to finish up his research through the precious recommendations he discovered through the blog. It’s not at all simplistic to simply choose to be freely giving concepts men and women may have been trying to sell. We really do know we’ve got the writer to be grateful to because of that. The main explanations you have made, the simple website navigation, the relationships your site make it easier to engender – it is mostly excellent, and it’s really aiding our son and the family know that that topic is exciting, which is especially mandatory. Thank you for all!

  25. My wife and i felt really more than happy that Emmanuel could carry out his basic research from your precious recommendations he gained out of your site. It is now and again perplexing to just happen to be giving for free methods that other people might have been selling. We figure out we have got the writer to appreciate because of that. The type of explanations you’ve made, the simple web site navigation, the relationships you can assist to promote – it’s got most fabulous, and it is aiding our son in addition to our family do think the matter is brilliant, which is certainly very indispensable. Thank you for the whole lot!

  26. I simply needed to thank you very much again. I’m not certain what I would’ve undertaken without the entire tips documented by you over that industry. Certainly was an absolute challenging difficulty in my view, nevertheless understanding this skilled mode you solved the issue made me to weep for fulfillment. I’m just happier for the support and even hope that you really know what a powerful job you’re accomplishing teaching most people via your web blog. Most probably you haven’t met all of us.

  27. I wanted to compose you that tiny note just to say thanks a lot as before about the amazing solutions you’ve featured on this website. It has been simply wonderfully generous with you to allow publicly exactly what a number of people could possibly have sold for an e book to earn some dough for their own end, most notably given that you could have tried it in case you wanted. Those solutions also acted to be the good way to be certain that other people have the same desire like mine to know a good deal more when considering this matter. I’m sure there are many more enjoyable occasions ahead for those who discover your blog.

  28. I must express my passion for your kindness giving support to individuals that really need assistance with the niche. Your personal commitment to getting the message across appeared to be amazingly helpful and has always helped individuals like me to reach their goals. Your entire warm and helpful guidelines entails a lot to me and additionally to my office colleagues. Regards; from all of us.

  29. I wish to convey my admiration for your kindness for men and women who must have help on this content. Your very own dedication to passing the message all-around was remarkably beneficial and has in every case allowed employees just like me to achieve their aims. Your new invaluable guideline means a great deal to me and still more to my fellow workers. With thanks; from all of us.

  30. I am also writing to let you understand of the impressive encounter our princess enjoyed going through your web page. She realized plenty of pieces, which included what it is like to have an amazing helping spirit to get a number of people completely thoroughly grasp specified extremely tough subject areas. You undoubtedly did more than visitors’ expected results. Thank you for providing such powerful, trusted, edifying as well as cool thoughts on this topic to Jane.

  31. I happen to be writing to make you be aware of of the brilliant encounter my friend’s princess encountered using yuor web blog. She even learned lots of things, not to mention what it is like to possess an excellent giving nature to get most people easily thoroughly grasp certain problematic matters. You actually surpassed our own expectations. I appreciate you for churning out these powerful, dependable, edifying not to mention fun guidance on this topic to Julie.

  32. My spouse and i got quite comfortable Chris could deal with his web research from the ideas he came across from your web page. It’s not at all simplistic to simply happen to be offering key points which usually most people could have been selling. We know we now have the blog owner to thank for this. The most important illustrations you made, the straightforward site menu, the friendships your site make it possible to promote – it is everything overwhelming, and it’s really letting our son in addition to the family imagine that that subject matter is pleasurable, which is exceedingly important. Thank you for everything!

  33. I want to get across my passion for your generosity for folks that should have help on this particular study. Your personal commitment to passing the solution all through had become pretty practical and have without exception encouraged others much like me to get to their endeavors. Your new interesting instruction can mean a lot to me and somewhat more to my office workers. Many thanks; from everyone of us.

  34. I actually wanted to write a quick note to appreciate you for these precious techniques you are showing here. My extended internet research has finally been paid with sensible ideas to go over with my family. I ‘d state that that we readers are very much endowed to be in a notable network with many wonderful individuals with insightful methods. I feel pretty lucky to have come across the web pages and look forward to many more awesome minutes reading here. Thanks a lot once more for all the details.

  35. I wanted to compose a quick comment so as to say thanks to you for some of the nice ways you are writing on this website. My prolonged internet investigation has now been compensated with high-quality content to share with my family and friends. I would claim that many of us readers are very much blessed to dwell in a magnificent community with very many awesome people with good hints. I feel quite privileged to have encountered your entire web site and look forward to really more amazing moments reading here. Thanks once again for everything.

  36. I think this is one of the most vital info for me. And i’m glad reading your article. But should remark on some general things, The website style is great, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

  37. My husband and i ended up being quite comfortable when Jordan could complete his reports by way of the ideas he discovered from your own weblog. It is now and again perplexing to just choose to be freely giving solutions that many people have been selling. And we all do understand we have got the website owner to give thanks to for that. The explanations you made, the easy blog navigation, the friendships you can assist to create – it is everything superb, and it is making our son in addition to the family believe that this topic is awesome, which is exceedingly indispensable. Thank you for the whole thing!

  38. My spouse and i felt satisfied Chris could finish up his investigations through your precious recommendations he acquired from your own site. It is now and again perplexing just to choose to be freely giving tips which often men and women might have been trying to sell. And we all know we have the writer to give thanks to for this. The specific illustrations you’ve made, the straightforward website navigation, the friendships your site assist to engender – it is everything extraordinary, and it is letting our son in addition to us imagine that the situation is fun, which is certainly especially pressing. Many thanks for the whole lot!

  39. Thanks a lot for giving everyone an exceptionally splendid opportunity to read critical reviews from this blog. It really is so pleasing plus full of a great time for me and my office peers to search the blog at minimum 3 times in a week to study the newest tips you have got. Of course, I am just certainly fascinated considering the gorgeous tricks you serve. Certain two facts on this page are particularly the most beneficial we have all ever had.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *