Proud to be…er, Welsh

Proud to be…er, Welsh

The Lions are back, but who is supporting the British rugby team?

The Lions are back, but who is supporting the British rugby team?

Welshman Leigh Halfpenny scored all the Lions' points in the Melbourne test
Welshman Leigh Halfpenny scored all the Lions’ points in the Melbourne test

It’s great to see the British & Irish Lions touring again…

Unable to get to Melbourne for the latest test on Saturday, I, like all patriotic Englishmen, found the nearest Irish bar and sat down to watch a group of Welshmen play Australia. Because that’s what this year’s Lions tour feels like – not the a team of ‘British & Irish Lions’ so much as ‘Welsh & Irish Lions’, such is the weight of the team.

Not that there’s any problem with this of course. Wales and Ireland have excellent rugby teams and their players thoroughly deserve the Lions pick more than England’s or Scotland’s. But it does make for a rather interesting supporting dynamic. In the pub on Saturday, and I image among the travelling support in Australia, the vast majority of people were English. And with the exception of some middle aged women at a Tom Jones concert, English people don’t often cheer for Welshmen.

In fact, in sporting terms, very few people actually support ‘Britain’ at all. The UK’s three main sports – football, rugby and cricket – are divided by nation, and while events like the Olympics and Andy Murray playing at Wimbledon will lead to a temporary spike in the sale of Union Jack face paint, the theory goes that few people get overly excited about a combined British team.

But somehow despite all the intra-Isles rivalries, the concept of the British & Irish Lions actually works. And for 80 minutes on Saturday, Englishmen, Irishmen, Welshmen and Scots joined forces, cheering on the multinational team through a match of nail-biting drama. And in the proud tradition of all four nations, they lost.

But maybe the UK can learn a bit from this tour; that British people will support a British team, and that perhaps a joint identity isn’t such a bad thing after all. And maybe, just maybe, we can start beating Australia a bit more often.

Mark Elliott
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Mark Elliott
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