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Six Nations: Any which way but win

It’s the Six Nations you see and, where rugby’s concerned, the Celts take a savage pleasure in watching the English Rose flattened. So, says Allan Massie, support for the Red Dragon will be everywhere in these isles today

When England play Wales at Twickenham this afternoon, a lot of us who are not English will be supporting the Welsh. Scots and Irish alike, we will be hoping to see the Red Dragon maul the English Rose — even if, in other circumstances it would take a lot to make us root for Wales.

It's England, you see. We take — not all of us, but a good many — a savage pleasure in seeing the England rugby team come a cropper. This was more understandable a few years ago when England had the best team in the northern hemisphere, and certain English journalists were calling for the England-France match always to be staged on the final day of the Six Nations because — don't you know — it was sure to be the game which would decide where the title went.

We don't hear so much of that now (though by chance this year it will be the final game of the tournament). We don't hear so much of it |because, to be frank, since England won the World Cup in 2003, which is now quite a long time ago, they haven't really been very good.

Ireland have won a Grand Slam and Triple Crowns, Wales likewise, and even though the Scots have been in the doldrums they’ve beaten them twice at Murrayfield. So there has been no great need to take them down a peg or two. And yet the animus persists. “Anyone but England” we mutter.

What makes it odder is that in other sports we don't behave like this. Admittedly many football fans are pretty noisily, even rabidly, anti-English — and I daresay some of them will be wearing |Algerian shirts to show solidarity when England play Algeria in this summer's World Cup in South Africa. This is a sort of hangover from the days when the Scotland match against the Auld Enemy at Wembley or Hampden Park was the big international game of the season, beside which nothing else mattered.

But I doubt if there is the same hostility to the England football team in Ireland and Wales as there still is in Scotland. even though the Home international championship was discontinued years ago.

Certainly, for much of my life the fortunes of the England Test XI have mattered as much to me, or almost as much, as those of the Scotland rugby XV. In my youth I was as concerned that Len Hutton should score centuries and Fred Truman take wickets as that Ken Scotland should kick goals and Arthur Smith score tries.

Even today I am almost as keen to see Ian Bell and Jimmy Anderson shine as I am to see Chris Paterson and Mike Blair do so; and I would guess that most Irish cricket fans think like this, |especially in Ulster. (I even wonder if Martin McGuinness, who is, I believe, a cricket enthusiast, backs England in an Ashes |series? Perhaps he does; it would be nice to think so.)

Likewise, I was just as keen that the Englishman Tim Henman should win Wimbledon as I am now to see the Scot Andy |Murray do so. Moreover, in other engagements like the Olympic Games and the Davis Cup we are all British, cheering on the Union flag, just as in the Ryder Cup we are now all Europeans. It matters little there who takes points off the Americans, whether it's Colin Montgomerie or Nick Faldo — or indeed Seve Ballasteros, or Bernhard Langer — in the past, |or the Englishman Lee Westwood or Ulster's new wunderkind Rory |McIlroy now.

Any anti-English prejudices are comfortably binned.

Yet that prejudice does exist, undeniably, and surfaces, as I say, most noticeably in the Six Nations championship, even though we are happy to lay it aside when English, Irish, Scots and Welsh players come together to wear |the red shirt of the British and Irish Lions. Decidedly rum, you may say.

More than a century ago, a French political scientist, Emile Boutry, found things equally rum. He was “intrigued to find that |the so-called United Kingdom consisted of four nations in a state of permanent irritation with each other”. Irritation, one might add, and rivalry.

Perhaps it's natural enough. It describes the way many families live. Family quarrels may be |intense precisely because the members of the family have so much in common that differences and disagreements between them become sharper and sometimes acrimonious.

For, whether we like it or not, the peoples of these islands are indeed a family, bound together by consanguinity and history. Most of us who call ourselves Irish, Scots or Welsh, have not only English friends but very often English relatives. For many, nationality

Belfast Telegraph