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.