As we build up to another Hiberno-Welsh Six Nations clash this coming weekend, it’s worth exploring just why the animosity seems to run so deep between these two nations. The mugging in the 2011 Rugby World Cup Quarter Final. Warren Gatland’s dropping of Brian O’Driscoll on the 2013 Lions Tour of Australia. Neil Taylor’s horror tackle on Seamus Coleman. Brexit. These are just some of the recent incidents in the narrative of Ireland’s simmering rivalry with the Pricipality of Wales.
In the Six Nations era, Ireland have arguably been the tournaments most consistent team. Certainly, since the year 2000, Ireland’s lows have not been nearly as low as those of Wales. In total Ireland have won 10 more games, have a healthier aggregate points difference to the tune of 422, have scored 38 more tries and have never finished bottom of the table. (Wales received the wooden spoon in 2003). The provincial professional game is the picture of stability relative to our welsh neighbours, whose regions seem to have, for most of their existence, lurched from crisis to crisis off the pitch and underperformance to underperformance on it.
So why does it feel like three titles (2009, 2014, 2015), one grand slam (2009) and four triple crowns is a poor return when compared to the Welsh haul over the same period. Four times champions since the turn of the century (2005, 2008, 2012, 2013), Wales crucially recorded three clean sweeps over that period. They have been the masters of seizing their opportunities.
Ultimately, if Irish rugby fans are to be truly honest with themselves, they may conclude that this feeling of hatred towards Wales comes down to a mixture of jealousy (at the Welsh ability to take their chances) and self-loathing, directed at Ireland’s relative inability to convert our consistency into something more than our current unfounded feeling of superiority.
The real narrative from the Six Nations era is that it is not ok that it took the Irish “golden generation” until 2009 to win a Grand Slam. And in accepting that point, the real question to be asked is how exactly a country who’s professional game has been in tatters almost from its inception still managed to replicate the grand slam haul of the famed Welsh sides of the 1970s?
We hate them because this paradox co-exists happily in the Welsh psyche. They are both weighted down by the burden of expectation, yet in the carrying of it, seem to be freed to achieve. They are equal parts pragmatic and adventurous, tough and touchy, metronomic yet balletic. We hate them because they have a rugby culture that allows them access to a gear Irish teams don’t seem to posesss. And that makes them easy to hate.