During February and March rugby stadiums across England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy will be alive with the action of the Six Nations, a prestigious annual rugby tournament that sees bitter sporting rivalries reignited on the field.
Accompanying the on-field action will be the sound of fans willing their teams on with song. Whether they’re celebrating a try or trying to raise failing spirits, their voices will sing our favourite rugby anthems. Some stem from hymns and tales of war and famine, while others have much more simpler origins – a desire to win.
Best rugby songs
What the Welsh fans will sing at the Six Nations
There’s no doubt the Welsh rugby crowd will be in fine voice come the Six Nations, singing right from the first whistle. As a musical nation it seems fitting that they appear to have more rugby songs than any other nation.
The Welsh National Anthem
First off will be the Welsh National Anthem. The Welsh will sing their hearts out to ‘Land of My Fathers’ (‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, beaming with pride when it’s played at the beginning of their matches. Composed in 1856, it first started being played at rugby matches in 1905.
Either during the match build-up or once the whistle is blown it is likely we will be treated to a rendition of Tom Jones’s hit song ‘Delilah’ at some point from the Welsh crowds. That said, there have been many pleas to remove it from the rugby scene because of its controversial lyrics, making light of domestic violence.
Hymns and Arias
Written by Welsh comedian and singer Max Boyce in 1973, Hymns and Arias celebrates a Wales victory over England at Twickenham and has since become a rugby anthem. Its most famous line, which is repeated throughout the song, is ‘And we were singing hymns and arias; “Land of my Fathers”, “Ar hyd y nos”.’
Perhaps the most famous Welsh hymn of all time, Bread of Heaven has also become as staple Welsh rugby song and is considered the country’s second national anthem (behind ‘’Land of My Fathers’).
As long as we beat the English
It doesn’t take a genius to work out when the Welsh will sing ‘As long as we beat the English’, and it is one song that’s bound to make an appearance at one particular match. Written and composed in 1999 by the Stereophonics for a BBC Sport Wales promotion ahead of the Welsh clash against England. It’s a pretty easy tune to learn as, besides the first verse which mentions the other nations, the lyrics are – rather predictably – ‘As long as we beat the English’….
What the English will sing at the Six Nations
The English fans will refuse to be outdone by the Welsh and will definitely be lifting their voices in song during the Six Nations.
God Save The Queen
The UK’s national anthem ‘God Save The Queen‘ will be played at the beginning of the England’s matches. No doubt the English fans will put their best voice forward and give us their best rendition of this familiar tune, but how many of them actually know the second verse?
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ is perhaps England’s most famous rugby song and is likely to be heard at most England matches. Quite how it became a rugby song is unclear but its days as a rugby anthem might be numbered, as its origins are rooted in slavery. The tune to ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ was written by former slave Wallace Willis in the 19th century and it is believed the lyrics refer to the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape in the southern states. Given these links to slavery, it is now thought by many to be an inappropriate song to be a rugby anthem. The sound of this song echoing around the stands might soon be assigned to history.
What the Irish will sing at the Six Nations
Unlike the other nations, Ireland has two national anthems, both of which will be played before any matches begin, and the ballad ‘The Fields of Athenry’ can also make an appearance during the game.
Amhrán na bhFiann’ (‘The Soldier’s Song’)
The lyrics for ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’, known in English as ‘The Soldier’s Song’, were written by Peadar Kearney in 1909-10 and was published in 1912. In 1926, four years after the Irish Free State was established in 1922, it was formally adopted as Ireland’s anthem.
The other national anthem is ‘Ireland’s Call’ written by Phil Coulter. The song was commissioned by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) in 1995 to unify people from all political divides, as Ulster unionists from Northern Ireland thought the ‘The Soldier’s Song’ was inappropriate.
The Fields of Athenry
This Irish ballad was written in 1979 by Pete St. John. He was said to be inspired by a sad tale about a young man getting deported to Australia after he was caught stealing some corn to feed his family during the Irish famine. ‘The Fields of Athenry ‘soon became a sporting ballad, particularly among football fans, but it is not a stranger to the rugby crowds either.
What the Scottish will sing during the Six Nations
Flowers of Scotland
‘Flowers of Scotland’ has been Scotland’s rugby anthem ever since 1974 when the Scottish rugby winger Billy Steele persuaded his team-mates to sing it on tour of South Africa. The song was composed by Roy Williamson and, like all good patriotic sporting anthems, celebrates a great victory. The words refer to the Scottish victory over England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
What the Italians will sing during the Six Nations
Italian national anthem
Given its lyrics call for Italians to rise up and fight, there’s no wonder that the Italian national anthem ‘Il Canto degli Italiani’ is the rugby song of choice for Italian fans, and one we will hear echoing around the stands in every Italian match. Described by BBC Music Magazine‘s Jeremy Pound as ‘a Verdi opera in miniature’, it is a rousing anthem that stirs the nation’s pride and has earned its place as one of the best national anthems ever.
Composed in 1847, it didn’t become Italy’s official national anthem until 2017. Like the other national anthems it will be officially played at the start of the match, although we will be treated to many more renditions during all Italy’s matches as the Italians are always in fine voice.
What the French will sing during the Six Nations
The French will sing their national anthem ‘La Marseillaise’, one of the world’s most rousing national anthems. Written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792 to inspire French troops against Austria, it was initially called ‘Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin’ (War song for the Army of the Rhine) and marches in 4/4 time with an unmistakable sense of purpose and confidence: ‘Aux armes, citoyens; Formez vos bataillons, Marchons, marchons!’ Perfect for those rugby battles coming their way…
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