The Welsh national anthem is always sung with such fervour that the question arises: does the pre-match national anthem have an impact on a rugby team’s performance?
National Anthem as a signifier of the winner
It’s a very inexact science, of course, and just a bit of a lark, but we at forwardandback.com over the years have noticed that how well the national anthem is sung before the match often provides a reliable gauge as to who will win the match.
And we don’t mean just the singing by the players but also by the assigned guest singer and especially the crowd.
When the notes are hit well, when the singing is done with the right amount of gusto, these are a sign that the stars are aligned for the team.
But if the singing is poor, or the effort is desultory, then it can be a reflection that the other parts of the machine is not functioning all that well.
Of course, no amount of good singing can help any team if they’re not well prepared or good enough.
But when two evenly matched teams face up, how well they go in the buildup can make a difference.
If this were not true, why would the Kiwis keep doing the haka, if not for the psychological lift it gives them?
Here are two examples of what we mean.
In March 2013, England travelled to Wales in the teams’ final Six Nations match that year. England were gunning for GrandSlam, having won their previous four matches, while Wales could win the title if they beat England.
England were the slight favourites as they had enjoyed a strong unbeaten season so far, including defeating the visiting All Blacks the previous December.
But Wales were at home, and the crowd at the Millennium Stadium can often work like an extra player.
As it proved that year, not least in the anthems.
The rendition of the English national anthem, God Save The Queen, was not a poor effort.
In fact, it was very good especially for an away match.
In any other circumstances, that was almost a match-winning performance.
You can see in the video that even fiery fullback Mike Brown was moved to tears by the emotion of the moment.
But then came the Welsh national anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Old Land Of My Fathers).
It was one of the most stirring renditions I have ever heard, as it came complete with multiple-part harmonies and with almost every player in full voice (aside from the customarily mute Toby Faletau).
There was that rare perfect harmony and sync between players, the music and the crowd, right up to a quite magnificent climax.
Even when we watched it live back then, we knew which way this game was going to go and so it proved.
It was an almost a perfect, lyrical manifestation of when everybody felt the coming of a great victory by their team. One they could feel in their bones.
Wales beat England 30-3, their biggest ever win over England.
On the other hand, a poorly sung national anthem …
Especially one the players cannot sing along to, can have a disastrous effect.
In 2009, world champions South Africa went to Toulouse on Friday the 13th to take on hosts France.
France had a strong team then that had a lot to prove.
They had exited the 2007 World Cup, held in France, in an upset by England in the semifinals. So the French were out to show the South African World Cup winners that they would have been worthy champions too. (That French team later went on to make the 2011 final, where they lost 8-7 to hosts New Zealand.)
But this was a strong Springbok team too. The team that came to Toulouse was mostly the 2007 Rugby World Cup champions winning team.
But they didn’t account for the national anthem, or especially the guest singer that had been organised to sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (both the French authorities and the South African embassy passed the buck on who actually signed off on the singer).
Ras Dumisani is a South African musician originally from Durban who had been living and performing in France since 1992. As you will see from the video, his genre is obviously reggae – a music form not typically associated with the grandiosity of national anthems.
The result was “interesting” and could even have been good had Dumisani, accompanied by his “Rasta” mates, chosen the right key, sang in tune or knew the right lyrics. For the Springboks’ state of mind just before kickoff, it was an unmitigated disaster.
You can see most of the players looking confused and befuddled throughout the anthem, with superstar wing legend Bryan Habana and young flanker Heinrich Brussow barely able to contain themselves.
And the looks on the faces of the players when it ended, as they turned to look at Dumisani, could have killed.
The commentator’s final comment said it all: “This is a highly experienced South African team but not many of them would have ever experienced their anthem being sung quite like that.“
The French sang their La Marseillaise immediately after, a song that is rousing even when sung in the bathroom.
The result? France 20, South Africa 13.
It’s an interesting theory that the outcome of the game is so heavily reliant on the performance of the national anthem. I’ve read a bunch of books about how believing in ones self can cause a change in a person physically. Like the old saying, whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right. I imagine it’s a similar concept here, where hearing a great rendition of there national anthem boosts moral that keeps adrenaline up long enough to create momentum.
Nah I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “theory”. It was just an an observation over many years and a bit of light-hearted fun.
But as coincidences go, we think it’s a good one.
We also think that, just as the All Blacks take a lot of time to get their haka properly coordinated, teams that make the effort to know the words to their national anthem and make an effort to sing on the day (and if the singer and the crowd are also in sync), will find that the pieces may just fit that little bit better when the contest begins.
And you are right, of course. “When you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”
Waoh,great post and a really interesting one,it surprises me how you were able to make this observations. I know also pretty well that the manner and enthusiasm which accord the national anthem when is being sung help in determining the morale which will at times guide the team to victory. On many occasions I have seen players get emotional. So the match between Wales and England ended 30-3? That’s a whole lot of margin.
We were able to make the observation because we’ve watched lots of live rugby, and do enjoy the whole buildup including the anthems.
And I do think there is much to be learnt by the body language of teams before matches; and how they sing their national anthem is a part of that.
Yea, 30-3 was Wales biggest ever win over England; I think.
This is an interesting if unprovable theory you have posted about! I do think there may be some ancillary connections in that the gusto with which the Welsh national anthem is sung by the team may indicate their level of game readiness. I do not watch these sort of matches much so I cannot say if you are right or wrong.
I DO watch the NFL and NBA games a lot, and I have not really noticed the level of gusto that the players sing with as the National Anthem is played. I will now have a closer look, a perfect opportunity to test the theory is coming up with the playoffs happening now in the NFL.
My guess is that there will be a connection. The testosterone levels will be elevated for both teams for all matches, but the ones that are feeling it the most may have the voices and chops to sing louder, better, and with more heart. I will report back with a follow-on comment after the weekend games to let you know how it comes out!
heh yep, totally an unprovable lark!
And indeed one that hints at the notion that if the last thing they do together (i.e. singing the national anthem) before the match is in sync, then they will likely play in sync as well. If they are not focused or are distracted, then that will surely indicate they’re not in sync, as the second video showed (the South African national anthem).
I’m not sure this observation will apply in the case of NFL and NBA though, as these are national games and not international. All the teams and the crowds in those comps are singing the same song!
But regardless, we’re keen to hear your report after the games. Perhaps you may report back with an alternative notion that’ll overturn this one.
Enjoy the playoffs!
Indeed the national anthem is a big motivation to any national team involved in sport as i see it, seen the passion of the players on television and the passion of the country men and women as they sing along with the stadium filled with deep emotions and energy, This shows the strong connection with the players and the spectatators and can result to a positive result.
Exactly. I see it all the time in sports.
And with the Welsh supporters always assuring us of a resounding rendition of the Welsh national anthem, I’m of a mind to back them as dark horses in the World Cup. It has been known that such crowd motivation can add wings and zest to players.
What an interesting concept and I think that you are absolutely correct.
When a team is representing their country, listening to the anthem is usually an uplighting moment for the team and their supporters in the crowd.
Have you ever noticed how the Americans always place their hand on their heart? Although they don’t compete in Rugby at the same level, they certainly participate in other sports.
We Aussies, head down, some of us are guilty of not knowing all the words to our national anthem… shame… But I’m sure our Wallabies do.
One of the best rendition of the Australian national anthem I’ve heard at a rugby match was sung by Hugh Jackman, before he became a huge Hollywood star.
You can see Hugh Jackman singing Advance Australia Fair. Listen out to his last note where it seemed he had the lungs of a blue whale, man! The players and spectators all seemed to know the words to the national anthem on that occasion.
I never thought about how listening to a national anthem for your country before any type of sporting event could affect the play of an individual and a team. You are probably right! A poorly sung anthem isn’t going to get me amped up, that’s for sure. Have you ever personally experienced your national anthem raising you up? Thanks for sharing, definitely something to think about!
The effect we’re larking about here kinda depends on how the national anthem is treated on the occasion, I reckon.
It’s a big deal in international rugby union matches. So before the start of a game, it becomes a rousing part of the occasion; not just for the players but for the spectators as well. It’s like a gathering of armed forces before the battle begins – where both the players and the spectators are pulled in to be united under their respective banners.
And I’ve personally experienced intense feelings of patriotism arising for my team, despite the fact they’re not even of my country! I’ve felt Welsh patriotism, French, South African, Argentinian … that’s how powerful I’ve found some national anthem moments in sports (not just rugby).
Having said that, contrastingly in football (soccer), for example, the national anthem is just a part of the occasion to be gotten through. The players don’t really sing. The spectators are not engaged. So it’s a moment that really passes without much purpose; so they shouldn’t even bother to have it on the program.
National anthems are not only a tradition but they should be considered gospel. The national anthem is a symbol of liberty and trust in a country. I can never believe when some sports team gets some famous or not famous singer and they end up butchering the song.I really enjoyed reading your article. If not for the internet I never would have found it. Great workDale
Can’t fault you there.
Personally, I detest when pop celebrities sing national anthems in a pop style. It detracts from the exalted tones of what a National Anthem should be imbued with.
I found this article of yours very ironic concerning sports. I think that when a national anthem is well-scored and well-sung; it influences and boosts the team’s moral. Therefore, it makes them want to go out there and go hard against the opposing team. Personally, If I heard my national anthem being massacred; it would frustrate me and, therefore, mess up my game. Anyway, keep dropping that good content.
heh then you can identify with how the South African team probably felt about Ras Dumisani’s rendition. Although to be fair to Dumisani, if it wasn’t for the fact that what he was singing was a national anthem, he really had a rather cool and unique score arrangement. If you listened to it in isolation of the event, I actually enjoyed his version.
But I know what you mean and agree!
Very cool read here. Isn’t it amazing how something that you would feel would have no effect on a sporting match can actually give you that extra lift, or let down? As someone who’s never been the most patriotic, I do have to admit that a well sung national anthem can be moving. Do you ever notice when watching the olympics how after seeing the athletes give their all and then stand atop the pedestal with their anthem playing, you can’t help but be moved? Nice post! Thanks for this!
Totally agree! Like you, I’m not very patriotic.
But sometimes, I’ve felt very patriotic when I get caught up in the moment as a whole stadium belts out the French national anthem or the South African Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, or when a sea of Welsh supporters ascend in their harmony of Mae hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.
And I’m not even Welsh or French or South African! Which says something about the motivating power of music.
Before reading this article today I had no idea what Welsh National Anthem was. This article had everything I needed to know about The Welsh National Anthem. I learned a lot about what is Welsh National Anthem and also its origin. Thank you so much for sharing this article with us. Have a nice day.
Nah man … I doubt you could have learned much from what we’ve posted. We don’t even know what the origins of the Welsh National Anthem is.