Mind Games: National glories of test rugby under threat

2013-11-18 10:00

With the next Rugby World Cup due in London, England are moving to establish the notion of Twickenham as an impregnable fortress.

The process has already started and when Chris Robshaw’s team sits before matches in the changing rooms at “HQ”, as the English refer to their home ground, they are surrounded by reminders of past glories.

In each player’s cubicle, the names of notable former internationals are attached to the wall to stir memories of great deeds and inspire determination for the impending match.

As the England players line up in the tunnel, they will be confronted by the words: “Hundreds before you. Thousands around you. Millions behind you.”

The England dressing rooms have undergone alterations under coach Stuart Lancaster and it was his idea to remind current players of those who wore the white jersey with its rose emblem before them to not only motivate them but drive home the message that as each match might be their last, they should also strive to make it their best.

Noble thoughts and the London correspondent of The Scotsman (the only English paper I could find on my recent trip to Turkey) got one of the England players to speak movingly about what the Twickenham experience meant.

“The changing rooms are in your face – bright, white and shiny,” said the Northampton Saints hooker.

“But when you look closely the history is there and it’s pretty special. One wall has decade after decade of who played that year and their test cap number.

That is special. My name is on there and you look right back at the start and see the first-ever England players who are on there.

“There is a peg where I sit with my name on it and then there is a list of the great hookers to have played there. It makes you connect with the shirt and makes you realise?...?that you’re part of something. This is Twickenham, this is our home ground, we are going to control what happens here?…”

All good stuff but the only problem is the Northampton Saints hooker is none other than Dylan Hartley who is, in fact, a New Zealander who qualifies to play for England through his English mother.

He went to school in Rotorua and although he won an England Under-21 cap, there is something questionable about his “Englishness”.

To top it all, Hartley is everything but a saint: he is a player with an extremely questionable disciplinary record.

He is infamous for his lack of control and has been banned for eye-gouging, biting, abusing a match official and punching, the latter incident costing him selection to the British and Irish Lions.

Players from the numerically strong southern regions of the globe as well as the Pacific Islands are seeking opportunities elsewhere but it just does not ring true when it comes to national fervour.

England also have Manu Tuilagi and Mako Vunipola in their ranks, and all the other Home Unions have players who have earned their eligibility by distant birth rights or naturalisation.

If the International Rugby Board is not careful, the great institution that is international rugby – the singing of anthems, raising of flags, shedding of patriotic tears and clasping of hearts – may be rendered a farce, a charade and commemorations that don’t mean much to anyone involved.

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