Six Nations Still Leaves a Huge Stud Mark on Our National Pitch; Welsh Rugby Continues to Have the Power to Bind the Modern Nation Together after Growing out of an Alliance of the Working Classes and the Social Elite, Believe Hugh Mackay and Dewi Knight

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 25, 2010 | Go to article overview

Six Nations Still Leaves a Huge Stud Mark on Our National Pitch; Welsh Rugby Continues to Have the Power to Bind the Modern Nation Together after Growing out of an Alliance of the Working Classes and the Social Elite, Believe Hugh Mackay and Dewi Knight


Byline: Hugh Mackay ; Dewi Knight

WHETHER it be over a pint of Brains, in the staff canteen, or over the garden fence, you're likely to be one of the thousands in recent weeks to have passed around opinions on James Hook's best position, sounded the sirens on the failure of the blitz defence or pointed an accusatory finger at regional rugby for the lack of player strength in depth.

With the average share of the television viewing audience more than 60% when Wales play, the Six Nations leaves a prodigious stud mark on the nation's cultural, social and sporting calendar. A new course and book from the Open University on Contemporary Wales looks at the core aspects of difference and connection in today's Wales.

By examining rugby we can make sense of much about contemporary national life. It is a particularly strong example of the phenomenon of sport providing the image of the nation, being the main thing that unites people in Wales.

In the industrial era, communities grew up around their chapels, the union, the pit or quarry and, especially in South Wales, the rugby club. A difference of a few miles or whether at the foot or head of the valley ensured loyalty to the local team - and rivalry with another.

In the North, however, there has been less engagement with rugby. Football is more prevalent and popular, with considerable support for teams across the border, such as Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United.

These teams are also popular in the South, but often alongside a local rugby loyalty. Recently, however, rugby regionalisation has enhanced identification with the national team, with top-level rugby clubs and players no longer representing communities in the way that they used to.

This community representation was often discussed, promoted and understood as an element of rugby as a classless game in Wales (in contrast with England).

In reality, Welsh rugby grew out of an alliance between the working classes and the elite classes. Its origins lie in the public schools of Llandovery College and Christ College Brecon, but nonetheless rugby has been a significant way in which social classes have connected.

However the balance is changing in some respects, especially in who attends international matches.

The Millennium Stadium on match days is now more of a place of the establishment; the march of the "prawn sandwich brigade" is not just an English Premier League phenomenon, which may disappoint that man of Munster, Roy Keane.

While this can be understood as part of the reorganisation of the game, its commercialisation and professionalisation, it means restricted possibilities for ordinary people to support the national team at the Millennium Stadium.

Increasingly participation by supporters, popular engagement with international matches, has come in the form of watching matches on television in pubs.

Tens of thousands of people flood into Cardiff on international days to contribute to, and experience, the atmosphere.

This new form of participation, ironically perhaps, is enabled by the same mass medium that plays such a pivotal role in the commercialisation of the game. …

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Six Nations Still Leaves a Huge Stud Mark on Our National Pitch; Welsh Rugby Continues to Have the Power to Bind the Modern Nation Together after Growing out of an Alliance of the Working Classes and the Social Elite, Believe Hugh Mackay and Dewi Knight
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