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Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Irish Indifference and the Construction of Englishness by the Irish Rugby Media


Irish Indifference and the Construction of Englishness by the Irish Rugby Media

This dissertation is a study on attitudes in the Irish sporting press towards rugby internationals against England. It inspects the inconsistencies that exist in the media when reporting on the English team as opposed to games against other nations. Stereotypes are adhered to, with a number of negative traits being linked to the English team and Englishness itself.
Through discourse analysis it reveals particular socio-psychological characteristics of rugby correspondents from the state’s two biggest publications, and measures the change in attitudes towards the fixture and the English themselves over the past twenty years. These patterns are discussed and highlighted clearly.
The years involved in this study span 20 years but capture three different Irelands; one on the cusp of economic prosperity but suffering as a result of long-standing political tension, another wealthy Ireland where peace is stable and a final Ireland have exited a damaging economic depression, although peace is now a norm.

1. Introduction

International sport can often place a firm emphasis on particular facets of culture and ideologies. Often, “the broad theme of the media coverage is as simple as ‘us against them’” (Nicholson: 2007, p101).
As a result of the country’s political history, and also geographical proximity, The Republic of Ireland’s premier sporting rival is England. While in recent decades the tension between both nations has quelled due to significant political progress, meetings against the Republic’s former autocrats continually stand out from the fixture list, to Irish eyes at least.
The three years studied in this paper have been chosen for a couple of reasons. Firstly with ten years between each tournament studies it allows patterns or trends rising from the Irish reportage to be identified and critically assessed. Secondly, the Ireland of their times are all significantly different. In 1994 the Irish economy had recovered from the economic depression and had stabilised to the extent that it was on the cusp of an unprecedented boom (Layte & O'Connell: 2001, p29). Tension in the North of Ireland was still rife, with IRA bombings and paramilitary shootings frequently taking the lives of innocent citizens on the island (Elliot: 2007, p215). In 2004 the country was surfing the crest of a wave economically; the Celtic Tiger had created a modern, affluent Ireland at the beginning of the decade, with The Economist considering it to have the highest quality of life in the world (Bartlett: 2010, p537). Northern Ireland was now self-governed and politically stable following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 (Neuheiser & Wolff: 2004, p xiv). Finally in 2014 The Republic of Ireland was recovering from a severe recession following the global economic crash, while peace was now firmly established in Northern Ireland.
This study intends on evaluating the Irish print media’s coverage of matches between Ireland and England; mainly inspecting whether the reportage attempts to “assert national identities” (Nicholson: 2007, p101) and create a divide between the countries by commenting on perceived stereotypes.
There is an array of literature available covering the integral relationship between sport and culture and society. The foundation of this paper is Rowe, McKay and Miller’s theory of a sport, nationalism and media troika, or the point where countries’ elite athletes and teams, media, and national audiences all intersect (Pedersen: 2013, p398). By being included in the troika, the media are considered to have the capability of shaping, destroying or debating a nation’s cultural identity through their coverage of sporting events. My study will assess the role of the media within Irish circles and inspect whether they adopt an anti-English rhetoric is order to create excitement ahead of fixtures between Ireland and England in the Six Nations. First however, it is essential to assess the existing literature on contextual issues, including Irish national identity, anti-Englishness in Irish identity, and the role sport plays in creating national identities.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Irish National Identity

Ireland had been a colony of the British Commonwealth until growing political unrest led to the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922. As a result of the country’s history particular Irish or Gaelic traits and characteristics were oppressed as the British attempted to re-shape Ireland into a willing and loyal supporter of the throne through processes like plantations; creating large and distinct communities of citizens of British and protestant, identity (Ellis: 2007, p316). It wasn’t until the 18th century that Irish identity began to develop strong national characteristics, with McNally arguing “the most important of these being anti-Englishness” (Alderson, Becket, Brewster & Crossman: 2002, p33). At the same time this form of Irish identity was beginning to come to the fore David Hayden states that Irish protestants “ceased to regard themselves simply as the English in Ireland and developed a sense of ‘Irishness’ (Alderson, Becket, Brewster & Crossman: 2002, p33)”. This protestant patriotism quickly acquired the sense of anti-Englishness McNally discussed and arguably became a strong driver of the nationalist side in the struggle for Irish independence in the following nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From the middle of the 18th century patriotism in the country, according to Sean Connolly “had a specifically Irish meaning, as the defence of local or national interests against English interference” (Connolly: 1992, p92), however traces of this dated idea of nationalism arguably still remain in the present day.
In truth, post-colonial Ireland is distinctly different to other former dominions of the British Commonwealth. Luke Gibbons lists out Thomas McEvilley’s somewhat simplistic but nevertheless illustrative four stages of culture formation following post-colonialism:
“McEvilley identifies first, the idyllic pre-colonial period, the subject of much subsequent nationalist nostalgia; second, the ordeal of conquest, of alienation, oppression and internal colonisation; third, the nationalist reversal 'which not only denigrates the identity of the coloniser, but also redirects . . . attention to the recovery and reconstitution of [a] once scorned and perhaps abandoned identity'; and fourth, the stage ushered in by the generation born after the departure of the colonising forces, which is less concerned with opposition to the colonial legacy--a situation which arose in India and Africa 'about 25 years after the withdrawal of colonialist armies and governments” (Gibbons: 1996, p172-3).
Unlike sub-continental countries like India and Pakistan however, Ireland retains a close geographical proximity to their former coloniser. This integral difference is multiplied further considering the legal presence of the United Kingdom on the same island as the Republic in Northern Ireland. Gibbons goes on to agree with the cultural theorist Anne McClintock when she states that Ireland “may, at a pinch, be 'post-colonial', but for the inhabitants of British-occupied Northern Ireland, there may be nothing 'post' about colonialism at all” (Gibbons: 1996, p179). Gibbons acknowledges that it is impossible for Ireland to significantly remove enough evidence of their colonial history due to not only their geographical location, but also their acquired culture (language, etc.) (Gibbons: 1996, p179-80). “For this reason, there is no prospect of restoring a pristine, pre-colonial identity” In Ireland (Gibbons: 1996, p180).
With huge advances in technology, a booming economy, and mass media, the distance between Ireland and other developed states has diminished, with cultural trends capable of drifting on to Irish shores far more easily than the past. Professor Tom Inglis of the School of Sociology in University College Dublin believes Ireland has approached its status as a 21st Century state with a sense of trepidation. Inglis states that “the more Irish culture has become global, the stronger the importance of maintaining Irish difference has become” (Inglis: 2010, p42). Inglis continues, declaring that “the greater the level of contact with other people, the greater (the Irish) the need to develop a different sense of identity and belonging” (Inglis: 2010, p42). This resulted, amongst other things, in a significant increase in the population seeing the Irish language as essential to Irish identity, jumping from 75% in 1975 to 89% in 2004. With Ireland resorting to it’s past to differentiate itself from others, is it possible for other Irish traits to re-appear, or, perhaps more appropriately, intensify. Will indifference towards others or former foes increase in order to emphasise the uniqueness the Irish seem desperate to highlight. Perhaps the ideal arena for this trait to re-appear would be sport, which Orwell described as “war minus the shooting” (Free, Hughson & Inglis: 2005, p124).

2.2 Sport and Cultural Dissemination

Support for a national team or athlete representing a country is undoubtedly an example of a true indicator of national identity (Porter & Smith: 2013, p88). Sport possesses the ability and power to create unity and draw passion from Anderson’s ‘imagined communities’. It is for these reasons that countless governments and regimes have placed an almost dangerous importance on athlete’s or national teams at major international sporting events. Benito Mussolini brought the World Cup to Italy in 1934, Berlin hosted the Olympics in 1936, Argentina’s success as the host nation in the World Cup of 1978 was aided by advantageous scheduling (and possibly threats to opponents from the military dictatorship), while even earlier in 2014 Vladimir Putin was an ever present at the Sochi Winter Olympics while Russia was annexing Crimea across the Black Sea. One of the first acts of the Baltic neighbours Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was to establish Olympic committees; further proof that sporting success, even participation, is seen as an important element of nation building and the maintenance of consensus in countries (Bernstein, Blain: 2003, p14).
In Ireland the Gaelic Athletic Association has eternally been an integral cultural and social institution in the form of a sporting organisation. While not necessarily representing Ireland on the international stage it is a source of immense pride for Irish people and communities since its inception. The scholar Irial Glynn links the GAA and the people of Ireland by claiming “the history of the GAA is a people’s history. In an organisation of volunteers, the thoughts of ordinary members and supporters should be recorded along with those of champions and high-level officials” (Glynn, 2012). Originally established as a means to defend Irish culture during colonial times, the GAA transformed into a highly political, even radical republican association, after a Irish Republican Brotherhood ‘coup’ (Garvin: 1981, p66), before finally returning to (primarily) a cultural and sporting institution. It now claims (probably correctly) to be “Ireland’s largest sporting, cultural and community organisation” (Ulster Council GAA, 2010), with over one million members in Ireland and amongst the Irish diaspora across the globe. While not the only example, it highlights how Ireland places sporting participation, and indeed prowess, as a necessary component of its national identity.

2.3 The Media’s Role

Sport’s media is arguably “the major disseminator of cultural meanings within contemporary society” (Nauright & Parrish: 2012, p35). Across all forms of media; print, broadcast and online, “representations of sport are often associated with a parallel construction of demographic identities”, while the language used often re-emphasises national differences (Albertazzi & Cobley: 2013, p520), disregarding any political progress which followed tension decades or centuries ago. Sports journalists are often prone to exulting an air of celebratory nationalism during sporting occasions with historical enemies, for example during a World Cup semi-final against West Germany in 1990 ITV’s English commentator proclaimed  that “it is this sort of night that draws us all (the English) together” (Brants, Hermes & van Zoonen: 1998, p154). Offering a twist on the famous Samuel Johnson phrase, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, the authors put forward the idea that in sports reporting, the “conceptions of national identity are the first refuge of the journalistic scoundrels” (Brants, Hermes & van Zoonen: 1998, p154). The scholar Benedict Anderson argues that in any ‘imagined community’, like Ireland, a natural sense of togetherness is created through the media despite everybody in the community not knowing every person they share their state with. This is particularly relevant to sports media “because of the interface between media narratives and images of teams competing in international sporting events” (Pedersen: 2013, p400).
According to Norbert Elias sport “continues to constitute an area of social activity in which overt emotional engagement remains publicly acceptable” (Galily & Ben-Porat: 2013, p146), this emotionality mentioned includes nationalism. As sport and national identities are intrinsically linked, ancient and sometimes gladiatorial vocabulary surrounds various sporting events. After Israel defeated the Danish national team in a European Championship qualifier in 1999 the Israeli media portrayed the result as a David (the future King of Israel) over Goliath victory (Galily & Ben-Porat: 2013, p148). Not only are national identities accepted, but they are constructed and glorified by the media, with athletes and teams transforming into “our symbolic warriors defending the honor of our schools, towns or nation” (Creedon: 1994, p4). During the encounter between Ireland and England in Euro 1988 the RTE commentator George Hamilton, aside from appearing to display a degree of national inferiority, constantly referred to the Irish team as ‘we’. Blain, Boyle and O’Donnell highlight the various instances where a clearly ecstatic Hamilton allows his national pride obstruct his task of narrating the game. “We are concerned… we can thank our lucky stars… we come away with the ball… the victory we all dreamed of” (Blain, Boyle & O’Donnell: 1993, p44). At the same time, he also directly contradicts himself, calling the Irish goalscorer Ray Houghton “the little Scot” before rhetorically asking “Can you believe it? We are one-nil up!” (Blain, Boyle & O’Donnell: 1993, p44)
In the past the media have accepted and constructed that, to the Irish at least, the primary grudge match in international competition is Ireland versus England. For example in the European Championship of 1988, despite failing to advance beyond the first round of the competition, the media celebrated the idea that the tournament had been a resounding success for the Irish team purely because they had defeated England in their opening game. On the back of much positive news reporting, the team attained icon status, with over 200,000 people welcoming them back to Dublin on their return (Mendlowitz: 2007, p170).
Aside from disregarding neutrality in favour of their own nations’ interests, commentators at major sporting events regularly construct national identities of other countries. Billings, Butterworth and Turman conclude that “there is a fine line between fostering national unity and cultivating an attitude that either stereotypes or denigrates other identities” (Billings, Butterworth & Turman: 2011, p139). German football is often associated with rigidity; the national team displays ‘highly disciplined football’, military precision (Blain, Boyle & O’Donnell: 1993, p68-71). Latin countries sprinkle tournaments with flair, Asian teams like Korea are disciplined and possess a tireless work ethic. The successful Cameroon team who shocked Maradona’s Argentina in Italia ’90 was described as ‘irrational’, “as befits children below the age of reason” (Blain, Boyle & O’Donnell: 1993, p72-3). International media at major sporting events can not only empower their own national identity, but also smear that of their opponents.
While the public may occasionally fail to notice loaded terms regarding national identity during matches and competitions, the athletes are fully aware of the media’s ability to exaggerate up conflict. In order to prevent or at least limit the hype generated they often avoid potentially provocative remarks, preferring to speak in empty, mundane clichés. In an interview ahead of a soccer fixture the English born Irish football international Andrew O’Brien “perhaps being mindful of the Irish newspapers readership”, felt the need to emphasise the fact that whilst playing for the English under-21 team he didn’t join in in singing God Save The Queen (Porter & Smith: 2003, p98). Needless to say the fact that England were the other nation involved was the reason O’Brien felt the need to stress his experience in the English underage set-up was meaningless; he was there in body but not spirit.
While a lack of scholarly evidence exists on the Irish press’ role and treatment towards England, works abroad suggest the Scottish media annually build up competition between the national rugby team and their English counterparts. The former Scottish coach Ian McGeechan has taken the unprecedented step of limiting the press’ access to his players in the past due to their “nationalistic drum beating” (Watson: 2003, p151). The footballer Trevor Steven criticised the national press’ approach towards Scotland-England games, defining it as “let’s take it from the whole context of what England and Scotland have been about over the centuries. It’s never taken for what it is, it’s a match” (Watson: 2003, p151). The author Fernando Solis sees the overt anti-Englishness in the Scottish press “as a result of market competitiveness” and “an attempt by the Scottish papers to ‘outscot’ one another” (Solis: 2003, p20). While the English are treated with contempt, Scotland’s ‘Celtic cousins’ of Wales and Ireland receive a far easier time from the press, with their sporting rivalry allowed to simmer rather than being transformed into an occasions where old battles would be fought on the pitch.
Since the return of Ireland’s 1988 team mentioned earlier, tensions towards England have subsided considerably as a result of the people’s determination to move past forms of violence to obtain their political beliefs. However despite all that has happened, the fact “that the sports media still operate regressively in a number of domains is unarguable” (Albertazzi & Cobley: 2013, p520). This dissertation will evaluate how the relationship between the two countries is articulated in modern Ireland’s sports journalism, and also whether it diminishes in the absence of direct competition between Ireland and England.

2.4 Rugby in Ireland

In Ireland soccer, as with most places, is predominantly a working class sport (Porter & Smith: 2003, p89). The GAA meanwhile is less rigid and is not necessarily pigeon-holed into one particular class of society; both players and supporters come from a wide variety of occupations (“the GAA, where banker, priest and small farmer come together to celebrate” (Scally: 2012, p37)) and demographic backgrounds. Rugby on the other hand is even more synonymous with a particular class (the upper class) as football is with the working class. The history of the sport in Ireland is telling, with it being integrated into the country through an upper class network via a university team in Trinity College in 1854 (Allison: 1986, p102). From here it trickled down to a number of fee paying schools, and eventually grew to the scale that “the vast majority of the rugby playing population began their careers in the most prestigious fee-paying schools in Ireland, like Clongowes and Blackrock College” (Scally: 2012, p37). Class isn’t the most significant difference between Ireland and most of the other sports here however. The Irish rugby team, like cricket (a sport introduced to Ireland almost identically to rugby), competes internationally as the island of Ireland, merging Catholics and Protestants, nationalists and unionists together for competition.
For the reasons mentioned there is less Irish indifference towards the English in rugby compared to football and even the GAA (although as the GAA is a national rather than an international sporting body). The two countries have developed a friendly rivalry since the inception of European rugby’s Five/Six Nations. In 1972, with Ireland on the way to a Grand Slam, Ireland’s Celtic cousins Scotland and Wales both decided against travelling to Dublin due to a fear the tensions in Northern Ireland would spill over into the Republic (Bloody Sunday occurred in January of 1972) (Tossell: 2011, p12). The English team however did travel, receiving a standing ovation at Lansdowne Road (Tossell: 2011, p12). In 2003 George Hook, one of Ireland’s most recognisable television figures berated the Irish Rugby Football Union for not utilising Croke Park ahead of the Six Nations decider against England. It’s impossible to ignore that by referring to Croke Park as “the nation’s stadium” (Colley, 2003), Hook was (perhaps) subconsciously engaging in overly nationalistic rhetoric (Croke Park was the scene of an ambush by British paramilitaries in 1920, while rugby (as a foreign game) was banned from the stadium as a result of Article 42 at the time) (Younge: 2011, p210).

2.5 Moving Forward

As the literature studied showed during this literature review, sport is one of the great cultural identifiers. People across the globe find it extremely difficult to view athletes and teams in a way where stereotypes are completely disregarded. What this dissertation will attempt to explore is whether or not, and if so to what extent, the sports media in Ireland partakes in such activities. In order to do this I will look at the media’s treatment of rugby internationals between Ireland and England during the three years mentioned in the introduction, and also their portrayal of the English teams in the build-up, during and in the aftermath of the games. Is there a lazy, battle obsessed narrative associated with a sport like rugby, which is socially aligned with both the upper class and Ireland’s former colonial oppressors?  Is indifference created between the countries by attributing particular positive and negative traits to each nation?

3. Methodologies

Shapiro and Markoff broadly define content analysis as “any methodological measurement applied to text (or other symbolic materials) for social science purposes” (Klenke: 2008, p89). In truth this understates the complexity of content analysis as a qualitative method of research as it fails to mention not only the various forms of content analysis but also the purposes and potential results of the process. I believe Insch, Moore and Murphy’s definition; “a family of procedures for studying the contents and themes of written or transcribed texts” (Klenke: 2008, p89), is more suitable, particularly in the context of this paper. Ole Holsti considers there to be fifteen different uses of content analysis and divides each into three categories. This dissertation’s methodological framework sits in the second of these groups; “to describe and make inferences about characteristics of a communication” (Deji: 2012, p243). Uses of content analysis which fall under this sub-category include “analyse techniques of persuasion… analyse style… describe trends in communication content” and “relate characteristics of sources to messages they produce” (Deji: 2012, p244). While accessing archives for the paper it was essential to study both the language and techniques used by journalists and columnists and also to notice the trends which appeared in a broader sense across multiple texts.

The Irish Times and the Irish Independent (along with the Sunday version The Sunday Independent), two of the country’s highest selling papers, were selected to be studied for this dissertation. One reason for this decision is the perceived differences between the two both in modern times and also historically. Despite both sitting similarly on the political compass in the aftermath of the Easter Rising, the historian Fearghal McGarry writes that the two publications’ differences were highlighted with the outbreak of the Spanish civil war; where the nationalist, Catholic Independent strongly backed General Franco while The Irish Times, already “associated with Protestant and Unionist opinion” and guided by the editor RM Smyllie, opposed the fascist dictatorship (RTE, Irish Involvement in the Spanish Civil War 1936-39). The Irish Independent became “the loudest cheerleader of the pro-Franco lobby, warning that a victory for the Spanish government would lead to a ‘Soviet State’ and urged its readers to support the Nationalists ‘who stand for the ancient faith and traditions of Spain’” (RTE). Nowadays the Independent is Independent News & Media group’s primary distributor of written news while it’s major competitor is The Irish Times, owned by the Irish Times Trust.
Archives of both papers were accessible through the Proquest Irish Times archive and Irish Newspaper Archive databases available to me as a member of the University College of Cork alumni, meaning the research process was relatively trouble-free. The week before and after Ireland’s Five and Six Nations games against not only England but also Wales, Scotland, France and later Italy were focused on in order to study whether the Irish media behaves differently in relation to matches against England as opposed to the other states. In order to investigate whether particular patterns were present a gap of a decade was placed between each study year. This also had the benefit of allowing the researcher to assess how these patterns are evolving over time and speculate how they will progress over the coming years.
There are a range of different backgrounds within the selection of correspondents studied; including journalists, former players and even current players. The decision has been made not to exclude any of these contributors. While some may not be journalists in profession, they are still acting as correspondents for the two papers. This decision has been based on Norman Fairclough’s belief that any type of media output is a result of the conscious selection of it’s writer (Fairclough: 1995, p103-4).
A qualitative content analysis approach was utilised during the formation of this paper. Discourse analysis allows the researcher to go beyond linguistics and discover socio-psychological findings in journalist’s writings (Wetherell, Taylor & Yates: 2001, p198). Semiotics were at the heart this research; drawing inferences from the coverage and language used within the articles studied. Issues of particular interest here include whether stereotypes (or even just certain traits not necessarily intrinsically linked to a state) are closely tied to individuals or countries to promote indifference (Hall: 1997, p257). The usage of pronouns will be noted to assess whether an “‘us’ versus ‘them’” narrative is created or indeed indulged in the media in the build-up and aftermath of the sporting encounters.
Unfortunately there were some shortcomings to the usage of content analysis through the two databases mentioned. Proquest’s Irish Times archive does not present a digital version of publications for papers beyond 2012. While it does offer users the text from various articles, it is impossible to distinguish whether or not a photograph has been used in conjunction with the piece, or even the content’s position on the page. In order to assess all the content fairly it was decided to ignore visuals like pictures throughout the research as it could not be consistent throughout the paper. This would have enhanced the study, with clearer evidence (or indeed a lack) of story or page framing available. However having listed these faults it is important to state that they are minor problems and in no way relegate this study from it’s status as a comprehensive study into how the Irish media approaches rugby internationals against our neighbours.

4. Results

4.1 1994 Five Nations

4.1.1 The Irish Times

Ireland’s endured a poor Five Nations campaign in 1994, particularly considering the fact they had ended the previous campaign strongly with two victories against Wales and England. The competition began with a heavy defeat in Paris before another disappointing loss to Wales. After bouncing back with a second successive victory against England, away from home no less, the season fizzled out with a feeble draw at home to a winless Scottish side. During the tournament Irish rugby legend and the former national team captain Willie John McBride acted as a columnist for The Irish Times, offering expert analysis and opinions before and after each of Ireland’s games. Having studied McBride’s articles throughout the Five Nations there is evidence to suggest he places more of an emphasis on the games against England as he does Wales, Scotland and France. While considerable portions of his columns do focus on matters on the pitch like tactical deficiencies, there are inconsistencies between how he covers the English matches and those with the rest of the competitors.
McBride uses Ireland’s defeat against Wales as a rallying call ahead of the English encounter, while he also inflates the importance of the England game, still a fortnight away, following the most recent loss. In his post-match piece after the Wales game he is already anticipating the next match, stating that “the fire that we saw against England last season has been dampened down and it is vital to stoke it up again for the forthcoming visit to Twickenham” (McBride, Feb 7th 1994). Not only is McBride hyping up the match, he also thinks back to the victory over England in the previous season; viewing it as a pinnacle or milestone in the (or at least the present) national team’s history. Another defeat would see Ireland “in grave danger of slipping into depression. We must take prompt action to ensure this doesn't happen” (McBride, Feb 7th 1994).
McBride’s preview ahead of the England game is extremely negative and loaded with fear and trepidation. Resigned to defeat he admits “I'm afraid I'd be more than happy to settle for a similar margin of defeat this afternoon”, referring back to a 9-3 defeat in London from his own playing days (McBride, Feb 19th 1994). Ahead of the clash with France at the beginning of the tournament the columnist again could not find any reason to believe Ireland would be successful, declaring he would “be happy enough to see us get it out of the way with the minimum of damage… if we manage to hold them to a six or 10-point win, I will be well satisfied” (McBride, Jan 15th 1994). While he can approach the France game comfortable with his defeatist attitude he laments the same feeling when confronted with an England game. “The more I think about this afternoon, the more I hate the idea of being so negative about Ireland's prospects… I fear that we're in for a torrid afternoon” (McBride, Feb 19th 1994). It could be argued that the use of we here serves to create not only a national bond, but indifference between Irish readers and the day’s opponents. McBride attaches more importance to the England game than any other, stating “nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see them stuff England off the field, as they did last season” (McBride, Feb 19th 1994.
There is more evidence of this following the Irish victory. The performance is lauded; Ireland had defeated “the masters of Twickenham” (McBride, Feb 21st 1994). “There is no greater feeling in rugby in these islands, than to walk out of Twickenham with your head in the air and a smile on your face after an Irish win” (McBride, Feb 21st 1994). The use of “these islands” here is particularly telling. McBride creates an affiliation between Ireland and the other states from the British and Irish isles competing in the competition; Wales and Scotland. To him, these states share a similar aversion to England and value a victory over them more than any other achievement. His delight is unashamed and resounding. It also becomes explicit, leaving nothing merely implied. “The sight of the English licking their wounds adds that extra bit of relish to the mood” (McBride, Feb 21st 1994). The wounds mentioned refer to the English hopes for the title which have been severely reduced following the defeat. If Ireland cannot win the competition the next best result is an England defeat.
McBride finds it easy to draw a line between what he views as Celtic nations like Scotland and Wales and England. His coverage of the game at Twickenham is distinctive to that of the other countries competing. Ahead of the Scotland game he declares “through the years, I have felt a greater affinity with Scotland than with any other rugby nation. It could have something to do with shared Celtic origins” (McBride, Mar 5th 1994). The drastic difference in coverage cannot be explained merely as something to do with origins.
McBride’s post-match pieces focus purely on the Irish team’s successes and failures, with no mention of the Welsh, Scottish or French game plan or strengths. He does however pass judgement on the English team, claiming “their most crucial weakness was a lack of leadership from (Will) Carling. He has admitted that he lost control "at times"” (McBride, Feb 21st 1994). Before the game McBride interpreted Carling’s comments that praised Ireland’s forwards and kicking as a slight on the team’s ability to play sophisticated rugby. The Irishman criticises Carling following the game, possibly retaliating after the England captain’s perceived derogatory remarks during the week (McBride, Feb 19th 1994). “He went on to say that he couldn't be expected to make; all the decisions, particularly for his senior players. I find it difficult to comprehend that sort of reasoning. Having filled the role for Ireland and the Lions I have never had any doubt but that a captain's duty is to lead on the field. End of story… Carling must carry the can” (McBride, Feb 21st 1994). The fact that McBride disrupts his previous pattern of solely focusing on Ireland, almost going out of the way to mention Carling, perhaps suggests the Englishman’s comments aggravated him more than a comment from a player from the other participating countries (For example Wales’ Neil Jenkins defines the Irish side the exact same way as Carling but is not mentioned by McBride whatsoever, never mind castigated). He ignores more obvious, influential facts like the England kicker Jon Callard missing four scoring opportunities to give England the win in favour of placing the blame at Carling’s feet.
A pattern evident through McBride’s columns is how he often makes reference to previous games against England, even in games against the Five Nation’s other three sides. Ahead of the meeting with France in Paris McBride believes “our pack will need to play as well as they did against England if we are to hold out any hope of success” (McBride, Jan 15th 1994). Again, McBride is referring to the defeat of England in 1993, a performance he believes Ireland should aim to reproduce every game.
While he does mention tactical failures and particular players’ inefficiencies when dissecting games against Scotland, Wales and France, McBride believes passion plays as big a part as talent when it comes to deciding games against England. He draws inspiration from Scotland’s game against England when pondering how Ireland can defeat them. The only way Ireland can succeed is if they “try and achieve their (Scotland) level of commitment”, even if “we don't have Scotland's skill” (McBride, Feb 19th 1994). We are left in no doubt that Ireland won because of “the spirit of the players on the day… There was passion in their play” (McBride, Feb 21st 1994). The result of Ireland’s games against the other nations is dependent on their playing style, tactical set up and quality; however to win the England game the squad must be fueled on pride stemming from an intrinsic dislike of England.
McBride is heavily influenced by the games against England. He constantly mentions historical games and victories against them and also alters what appear to be stubborn opinions on the back of the 1994 victory, before returning to his previously held beliefs after the team’s failure to beat Scotland. The previously derided back-row are described as “absolutely brilliant… such an effective unit” (McBride, Feb 21st 1994). After the Scotland encounter the following week however the same group of players in the back-row are again considered to be sub-standard. “It is equally clear that our back-row doesn't really have a future” they were “exposed as a makeshift unit” (McBride, Mar 7th 1994).
Elsewhere in The Irish Times rugby correspondents gave accounts that, while far lighter in personal pronouns like we, possessed inconsistencies in how England were covered compared with the other nations. In his match report Edmund van Esbeck commended the Irish victory as a performance of the ages, an unlikely success over an opponent previously thought to be undefeatable. “Memories are made of this. The recollection of Twickenham 1994 will remain forever vivid for those who had the privilege… to witness an indelible entry being written into our rugby annals” (Van Esbeck, Feb 21st 1994). The tone of disbelief is completely different to van Esbeck’s match preview where he stated England should not be feared, citing their struggles against Scotland in their previous game and Ireland’s dominant victory just twelve months prior to Twickenham (Van Esbeck, Feb 19th 1994. Like McBride he refuses to acknowledge the four missed kicks for England and states “that Ireland deserved to win is beyond the realm of doubt and reasonable argument” (Van Esbeck, Feb 21st 1994).
The headlines throughout the tournament are far from favourable to the English. The paper revels not only in England’s defeat but also in calling England boring. Even an impressive victory over the French away from home is painted merely as a dour event lacking any form of entertainment. After the game at the Parc de Prices the paper decided to use the headline “England glad to be boring but winning” (Bale, Mar 7th 1994). In the article the victory is secondary. “The morose rigour of their rugby wins no friends and does nothing to influence anyone that rugby can be a thing of pleasure and fancy” (Bale, Mar 7th 1994). The headline after Ireland’s victory, “Ireland scorn the prophets”, is an attack at the English, perceived as arrogant (Van Esbeck, Feb 21st 1994).
The notion of English arrogance is again entertained in the match quotes section following the game. Chief rugby correspondent van Esbeck writes that “arrogance is a full blood brother to complacency… England, it seems to me, would want to get on the learning curve right now”, before accusing the English camp of making “contentious” and “patronising” statements (Van Exbeck, Feb 22nd 1994) .Van Esbeck writes of the English press: “many of whom had built up his (Will Carling) team to a level of expectation that did not embrace even the remote possibility of defeat” (Van Exbeck, Feb 22nd 1994). What is particularly telling here is that van Esbeck isn’t referring to the national team; he is attaching this arrogance with the national press and wider English public. He tells of how the English manager Geoff Cooke angrily dismisses a question (“what kind of question is that”?), before retorting in print that the question was “perfectly reasonable… after all the unthinkable had happened, had not fortress Twickenham fallen to the green invader” (Van Exbeck, Feb 21st 1994). Van Esbeck’s justification of the question could be seen as a journalist defending the honour of his contemporary; however it could also be interpreted as an Irishman taking advantage of his country’s victory and rubbing salt into the wounds of the English. The inclusion of his opinion here was unnecessary in a section supposedly used to provide readers with quotes from the two camps in the aftermath of the game.

4.1.2 The Irish Independent and Sunday Independent

The Irish Independent coverage of the tournament isn’t influenced by the England game as heavily as The Irish Times articles. Even after the win all columnists mention that problems remain in the Irish team and attach more importance to a poor England display than McBride and van Esbeck. Unlike McBride former international Fergus Slattery still sees many faults in the Irish squad after Twickenham, saying: “the explosion of Irish joy on Saturday does not conceal the need for change(s)” (Slattery, Feb 21st 1994). The byline however did claim that Ireland’s season had been “salvaged by great victory”, suggesting a win against England put right a lot of wrongs within the campaign. The idea of England’s arrogance, not merely restricted to the rugby side, is entertained much more frequently in the Independent. This is largely down to the fact that Ireland are seen by the English to have a limited game plan, something the writers constantly refer to when discussing the Irish team. Welsh arrogance on the other hand is only mentioned once in the build-up and aftermath of the Ireland Wales game, with the manager Bob Norster considered to have “a typical Welsh arrogance” after recent success by columnist Colm Smith. None of the other journalists mention this whatsoever, while England are constantly painted as overly confident.
In the Sunday Independent David Walsh speaks of Twickenham stewards sitting in disbelief after Ireland had been victorious, stating that “the incredulity wasn’t going away” (Walsh, Feb 20th, 1994). Walsh, like van Esbeck, is attaching the wider English public to arrogance. Not only is the team haughty, those that support it are too. Before the game Kieran Rooney had suggested England had an inflated view of their own credentials, stating that “the English team are not the team they think they are”, before scorning the England manager’s public comments on members of his squad (Rooney, Feb 19th 1994). “Although manager Geoff Cooke has been busy telling everyone how good replacement Steve Ojomoh is…”(Rooney, Feb 19th 1994). Rooney’s skepticism is obvious and he appears irritated at how confident the English appear. While these attributes annoy him coming from the opponent’s camp, he neglects them, favours them even, when they appear in Ireland’s. He backs the introduction of an Irish player on the grounds that “he is a very confident character” (Rooney, Feb 19th 1994).
The presence of confident characters in the Ireland camp cannot be denied, and there is evidence to suggest they are guilty of making disparaging remarks about their opponents as well, although the country’s media fail to be offended by this as they are when the English players engage in it. Sean Diffley interviews Ireland debutant Maurice Field after the game in Twickenham and fails to comment on his derogatory assessment of the England team. “The English backs were surprisingly disappointing. They never really put us under real pressure and they were remarkably weak under the high ball” (Diffley, Feb 20th 1994). Field’s remarks are far from mundane when studying the comments made by various players throughout the tournament; the norm would appear to be praising your own team’s strengths as opposed to highlight your opponent’s weaknesses.
During the tournament Vincent Hogan regularly provides context to the quotes emanating from the opposition camps. While other columnists from both papers display their irritation Hogan views them with a neutrality other journalists studied lack. “We have gone 12 years without scoring a try in Paris, twenty two years without a win. The team looks wooden and seems to mistrust impulse… Aesthetically, we have rarely had beautiful rugby teams” (Hogan, Feb 19th 1994). Hogan continues to make these points on the eve of the England match, justifying the management’s comments. “However much it pains, we must accept that Cooke’s view threads a certain course of reason... Two years have passed since an Irish back last scored a Championship try. The current team is cast in traditionally prosaic mould” (Hogan, Feb 19th 1994). The articles are littered with statistics proving Ireland lack attacking verve, are one-dimensional and one of the easiest teams in the tournament to prepare for.
Intriguingly, after Ireland’s victory Hogan completely changes his tune. “The old bullishness had seeped visibly” from Cooke, “the previously smug general(‘s)” face. The coach Dick Best ‘moans’ and ‘sneers’ “somewhat pitifully” about the outcome (Hogan, Feb 20th 1994). Perhaps the reason for the drastic change in Hogan’s attitude towards the English camp is within logic; previously he had been judging them from afar compared to now where has directly dealt with them. However, having previously decided against joining in on making these type of comments another possible outcome is Hogan is merely kicking England when they are down. On the other hand “the Irish, predictably, offered a boisterous, good humoured alternative” (Hogan, Feb 20th 1994). National characteristics have been attributed to both Ireland and England. The English, as is so often the case through the year’s reportage, are seen as arrogant but the Irish are painted in much nicer light; charming and cheerful. The inclusion of the word ‘predictably’ in the above statement cements a national stereotype Hogan had previously steered clear of making before the victory.

4.2 2004 Six Nations

4.2.1 The Irish Independent and Sunday Independent

The 2004 Six Nations was an extremely positive one for Ireland. After beginning the campaign with a loss away to France the team responded by winning their remaining four games, including a six point victory over England, crowned World Champions six months previously, at Twickenham. After defeating Scotland in their final game Ireland achieved the Triple Crown (victory over the home nations), their first in 19 years. As part of The Irish Independent’s Six Nations coverage one of Ireland’s most integral players Paul O’Connell was signed to produce a column throughout the competition. O’Connell’s articles are one example of how attitudes and coverage towards the English game has altered since the 1994 encounter.
Ahead of the game in London O’Connell admits that the magnitude of the game is multiplied due to the fact that it is Ireland versus England. “It’s tough to escape (the importance of the game)… It’s hard to focus on the match given all the trappings surrounding it” (O’Connell, Mar 6th 2004). It’s clear to see that O’Connell is uncomfortable being at the heart of what he regards ‘hype’. To him however this isn’t a matter of Ireland against England, former colonial leaders; it is Ireland against the best team in the world. He opens his pre-game column with “England. Twickenham. World Champions. You could get bogged down in the enormity of it all” (O’Connell, Mar 6th 2004). Unlike McBride, a player O’Connell is often compared to, the articles contain no references to how great it would be to defeat the English; they are extremely professional without ever appearing to have been filtered, edited or stage-managed to ensure nothing controversial is included on the eve of games. In his article on the morning of the game O’Connell speaks about his admiration for the England team and debunks what he regards of ‘myths’ around them. Ten years ago the success of the English team was overshadowed in Ireland by the idea that they were boring and devoid of sophisticated play. Rather than criticise this O’Connell praises it. “England can take blows all day long but when they deliver the haymaker it usually hits the target… ‘But what about their flukey tries against Scotland?’ They weren’t (flukes). They sucked the life out of them… they know how to win” (O’Connell, Mar 6th 2004).
After the game O’Connell acknowledges and quietly bemoans the fact that the importance of the game can be exaggerated. He is aware of the hyperbole surrounding the fixture, stating “we just wanted to be left alone to get on with it but the country always gets going when it’s England” (O’Connell, Mar 8th 2004). He admits that he would like to alter the Irish mindset that can often result in the manic reaction to England games. “This Irish mindset, the underdog thing. He’s (Irish soccer player Roy Keane) trying to get away from that and we are too” (O’Connell, Mar 8th 2004). It’s an extremely rational piece; with the Munster player composed enough to criticise certain aspects of Irish rugby. Overall he provides evidence that Ireland’s attitude towards England in the media has transformed over the previous decade. “The whole England stuff wasn’t a motivating factor. We were dealing in cold facts… beating the best to become the best” (O’Connell, Mar 8th 2004).
These changes were also present across the wider coverage of the games by the paper. The Independent’s main rugby analyst Tony Ward continuously states that the English side should be admired regardless of their rivalry (sporting rivalry, ie. presence in the same competition as Ireland). “You can’t but admire the way Clive Woodward’s England goes about business” (Ward, Mar 6th 2004). Ward has no problem admitting English superiority in the sport, lauding their achievements and praising their status as the ‘trailblazers’, “setting the standards for all others… so far in front it’s scary” (Ward, Mar 6th 2004). Ward appears completely comfortable with the English team displaying their confidence, never misconstruing this as arrogance and retaliating with a negative comment. The England manager Clive Woodward’s comments on the Irish team (“experienced pack, good at the set piece” (Ward, Mar 6th 2004)) are almost identical to his predecessor yet they don’t irritate whatsoever. He describes an English player as possessing ‘swagger’ however rather than being offended by it he believes it typifies the side’s confidence, again as opposed to over-confidence. Time has allowed the match in 1994 to be examined more sensibly; he makes a brief reference to the Ireland team without any exaggeration regarding the Irish performance (“the abiding memory is of the Irish forwards” (Ward, Mar 6th 2004)).
In Ward’s post match report he does sometimes revert to some issues prevalent in the coverage in 1994. In order to present the idea that this was a gargantuan display nobody had predicted he states that “going into the match nobody – your correspondent included – gave Ireland any chance” (Ward, Mar 8th 2004). Consulting his column on the morning of the game we can see that this is incorrect. Ward considered Ireland one of the few sides who could head to London and travel with more than hope on the agenda. While believing England would win, he declared “I am confident Ireland will give it a right rattle and that being the case, don’t rule out the impossible” (Ward, Mar 6th 2004). The majority of the piece however highlights the advances made in the coverage during the last decade. England’s display is praised and their attacking play lavished with superlatives. Also, unlike 1994, Ward feels obliged to discuss the fact that a number of England’s key performers were missing; England’s missing ‘genius’ Johnny Wilkinson or inspirational leader Martin Johnson could potentially swayed the game the home side’s way (Ward, Mar 8th 2004).
The English are painted in a better light throughout the reportage; one anecdote the columnist Billy Keane writes of attaches positive traits with England. “They were nice as is the English way – unfailingly polite about Ireland” (Keane, Mar 6th 2004). Vincent Hogan also writes that “England’s grace in defeat ennobled the evening” (Hogan, Mar 8th 2004). While he objectively assesses the teams’ attitude after the game there could be no mistake as to where his allegiances lay during the game. In the section of his article discussing England’s shortcomings his happiness is conspicuous; “better still, they kept missing tackles too” (Hogan, Mar 8th 2004). For the most part his work is balanced and even the evidence of his pro-Irish status does not appear to be anything inherently anti-English. However he cannot avoid appearing as somewhat reticent when discussing England. Before the game he pondered the image he believed many associated with England. “Image is the English curse. The perception of a uniquely self-satisfied congregation. Of supremacists almost” (Hogan, Mar 6th 2004). To Hogan this idea was “probably skewed, unjust and wrapped up somewhere in our prejudices” (Hogan, Mar 8th 2004); however there is obviously a lack of conclusiveness in his words due to the presence of the word ‘probably’.

4.2.2 The Irish Times

Like The Independent and Paul O’Connell, The Irish Times acquired the services of Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll to contribute to the publication over the course of the tournament. Although the columns are significantly longer and put more of an emphasis on life within the Ireland camp his input is similar to that of his teammate. In advance of the England match O’Driscoll does not mention any possible rivalry between Ireland and England, approaching the game purely as an opportunity to defeat the best side in the world. After detailing how the players spent their spare time during the week he briefly turns his attention to the game; “today is about starting well, being aggressive from the start. We are playing the world champions at their home and it's pointless standing off them” (O’Driscoll, Mar 6th 2004). O’Driscoll is equally laconic after Ireland’s victory; there are no signs of euphoria and it appears the game is not worth reminiscing over. He commends Woodward’s graciousness in defeat, before critiquing his own performance in the game. The captain rues the fact that the Irish and English players “got very little chance to talk to the English players, as the teams weren't mixed at the tables” at the formal dinner in the aftermath of the game (O’Driscoll, Mar 20th 2004). It is obvious O’Driscoll considers the English team as his peers as opposed to rivals; there is no indifference and he considers some members of the team, like his opposing captain Lawrence Dallaglio, as friends. The team’s final game against Scotland receives more focus than the Twickenham encounter in O’Driscoll’s article; he details the danger of underestimating the Scottish and spends much of the column arguing his case, unlike the 25 words he lends to the England game. “Anyone who considers today's game a foregone conclusion might do well to re- evaluate their rugby knowledge… we certainly are not stupid or naive enough to fall into that trap. The only commodity that matters now and in the future is a victory” (O’Driscoll, Mar 27th 2004).
In contrast to the player’s attitudes, one Irish Times correspondent struggles to separate the English and their rugby team with his own preconceptions. Donal Spring’s pieces align closer to the 1994 coverage of the tournament than his peers’ ten years later. Before the game he cannot avoid discussing the supposed Ireland-England rivalry. While mentioning that the game is Ireland’s firmest test he does not elaborate by discussing the merits of the England team or mentioning their recent success. Instead however he chooses to revert to old fashioned tribal language. “We should always be judging ourselves by how we compete against the best in every sport, particularly when the best are our neighbours and ‘old enemy’” (Spring, Mar 6th 2004). This continues after the game, with Spring considering defeating the World Champions “on their own turf and spoiling their homecoming in front of their sometimes hard-to-take home crowd” as “very satisfying” (Spring, Mar 8th 2004). He doesn’t possess the same admiration for the English team as other commentators; while others praised their ability to win tight games Spring considers it “stealing a win against the run of play” (Spring, Mar 8th 2004). Another trait he shares with a lot of the 1994 coverage is his belief that Ireland’s success in the tournament is dependent on a victory against the English. “The win over England was in itself more than enough to satisfy the hungriest of Irish rugby supporters” (Spring, Mar 8th 2004). This is not a universal opinion; in fact it is unique across the two papers.
The paper’s chief rugby correspondent Gerry Thornley’s articles are much more balanced than his colleague although at times he is guilty of politicising the tie and exaggerating the impact of Ireland’s achievement. In his preview he claims that England is invariably the Big One (Thornley, Mar 6th 2014); the capital letters given  to both words leaving the reader in no doubt that there is more at stake against England than Wales, Scotland, France or Italy. The match is all the more important on this occasion given that England stand as ”the ultimate yardstick” for every other team given their status as World Champions (Thornley, Mar 6th 2014).
Thornley looks at the bigger picture after the victory; rather than dwelling on the team’s success he warns that problems remain with Irish rugby; namely a club in crisis and a lack of underage talent (Thornley, Mar 9th 2014). Providing context to the game he opens his post-match piece stating that “England were bad by their own standards” (Thornley, Mar 8th 2014). He immediately turns the page on the England game and looks forward to the potential Triple Crown on offer should Ireland defeat Scotland. This is done in a realistic fashion as opposed to a giddy expectation; he states the odds on France being defeated by Scotland (which would be required for Ireland to win the tournament outright) are extremely long (Thornley, Mar 9th 2014). He admits that Ireland remain an inferior team to a full-strength England team, however “after Ireland’s greatest win of the professional era, a little dreaming is surely allowed” (Thornley, Mar 9th 2014). Unlike 1994 England are praised for accepting the defeat with decorum when in fact their reaction was not dissimilar to the team a decade ago. Thornley dismisses the idea of an English superiority complex, stressing that the squad “could not have been more magnanimous in defeat, the English head coach visiting the Irish dressing room to say they had absolutely no complaints, the better team won” (Thornley, Mar 8th 2014).
As mentioned already however Thornley’s coverage isn’t always completely neutral. He immediately makes a link between the Irish team’s (sporting) success and politics. “Tony Blair, Clive Woodward, Prince Charles, Maggie Thatcher, David Beckham, Martin Johnson, Winston Churchill… your boys took one hell of a beating” (Thornley, Mar 8th 2014). A tongue a cheek parody of a famous tidbit of sporting commentary perhaps, but it feels unnecessary given Ireland’s performance, described by a number of correspondents as the country’s best ever, against the World Champions. He continues by declaring “beating England is sweet at the best of times”, before adding that ‘scalping’ them as the world’s best in their “Twickenham citadel” only adds to the delight (Thornley, Mar 8th 2014). This regression to the mean of the 1994 coverage is gratuitous. Thornley steers well clear of including the language of war in his pieces, and only fails to adhere to this policy when mentioning the English ground, here called a citadel and referred to twice during the tournament as ‘Fortress Twickenham’. He amplifies the impact of the game around the world, claiming Ireland will be the “toast of the world… applauded from Timaru to Timbuktoo” (Thornley, Mar 9th 2014). Not only does this embellish the match, it also implies every nation shares a universal loathing of the English; each equally delighted they have been defeated by the plucky Irish underdog. “They wouldn’t have half enjoyed it in Australia, would they?” (Thornley, Mar 9th 2014).

4.3 2014 Six Nations

4.3.1 The Irish Independent and Sunday Independent

2014’s tournament was a resounding success for the Irish team, attaining only their second championship in 20 years. This was achieved with four victories, including a rare win in France, while the remaining game was a loss away from home to England. The media’s coverage throughout the spring was almost unrecognisable to 1994’s, with reporting becoming even more balanced than the 2004 tournament. Examples of inconsistencies, promoting indifference and attaching certain negative traits to the English were far less frequent than the previous years studied in this paper.
One exception to this new, more neutral coverage came from The Irish Independent before the match in Twickenham, with former Leinster rugby player and current rugby journalist Trevor Hogan claimed Ireland “love to hate them (England)”. If this was the case, it certainly failed to materialise researching the coverage across the Independent and Irish Times this year; with balance the most striking aspect of the coverage compared to the other years studied. “Very often they make it easy… Sometimes, it could appear English sporting sides have an intentional desire to be disliked” (Hogan, Feb 21st 2014). Hogan cites the presence of a tapestry of “England’s Greatest Victories” in the Twickenham tunnel as an example that the English celebrate success more vociferously than anyone else. Ironically this appears to be a common trait with Ireland, who have in the past used victory over England to paper over cracks or ignore their own deficiencies.
On one occasion rugby correspondent Ruaidhri O’Connor expresses his surprise at the fact that one English coach has publicly admitted the side have not analysed any video footage from Ireland manager Joe Schmidt’s previous spell at Leinster (O’Connor, Feb 22nd 2014). Having evaluated the newspapers from other years it’s difficult not to believe they would have been agitated by this; seeing it as a slight against Ireland. Yet O’Connor makes no inference of English arrogance from this remark, merely coining it as a surprise. When writing on the England game O’Conner, like his colleagues at the Independent, never address the away stadium as ‘Fortress Twickenham’ as they did in previous campaigns; this page appears to have been turned. He does however struggle at times to avoid the use of war language, although it should be stated he is a balanced writer aside from this. He uses the term ‘battle’ when describing the team selected to play and a positional duel in his preview England game. This is repeated however ahead of the France and Wales game, meaning O’Conner treats England as equals to the other two nations; he is not attempting to incite indifference with England, just overly fond of incorporating battle language into his writing. Another example is when he labels a previous tie “the St. Patrick’s Day massacre” (O’Connor, Feb 22nd 2014).
In The Sunday Independent Neil Francis makes a more direct link between war and the two teams’ performances. “One of his (Winston Churchill) bon mots while his people were under duress during the Second World War was “keep calm and carry on”. This is precisely what England did” (Francis, February 23rd, 2014). This assumption is not appropriate in what is merely a sporting contest. The association between advice given to citizens during war and the attitude of a rugby team 70 years later is implausible. In general though the Independent avoid using war imagery, although to put this into context it never was a distinct feature of the Irish coverage, even in the less balanced 1994.
Donnchadh Boyle discusses the advances in an article before the game. Boyle originally refers to the differing attitude between how the Irish rugby team historically approached the England game compared to nowadays but by the end it reads as a more comprehensive piece; Irish-Anglo relations in general have become less hostile in recent times. “The attitude going to London has changed. It’s a long time since 15 angry Irish men landed at Twickenham hoping that blinding aggression would see them home” (Boyle, Feb 22nd 2014). Boyle digs deeper into this though and by his conclusion includes a potential change in the national psyche towards England. A “new attitude pervades the squad” resulting in a more sedate approach; “the relationship has changed” (Boyle, Feb 22nd 2014).
The most significant change in the 2014 coverage is perhaps the fact that the Ireland-England game is seen merely as another game; there is no weighted measure on it’s significance compared to the other games. It receives the same importance as the Wales match before it and the France game is seen as the biggest game of the year by a considerable margin (although this could be because it is the final game and a championship defining one). Billy Keane writes that Ireland “may have lost the battle but war can still be won” displaying the new ability of the Irish press to take the game on it’s merits as opposed to exaggerating it’s importance (Keane, Feb 24th 2014). The aforementioned O’Connor sees an Irish win, were it to manifest, only as a sign of the ongoing progress under the side’s new manager. In previous eras the Irish press never discussed improving and advancing when they defeated England; being as good as them or marginally better was deemed successful. Brendan Fanning strikes a similar tone in his post-match assessment in the Sunday Independent. A win against England would not have been enough for the campaign to be considered a success; but only “lifted the curtain on a Grand Slam challenge” (Fanning, Feb 23rd 2014). The Irish journalists now looked at the bigger picture of the tournament table rather than one-upmanship over their geographical neighbours. “Ireland got nothing, but they will be back for more against Italy and France” (Fanning, Feb 23rd 2014).
All the correspondents in The Independent accept England’s victory and do not dispute the merits of it. Tony Ward rubbishes even the thought that Ireland deserved the win more than their opponents. “The team playing the more pragmatic, lower-risk rugby won out and deservedly so” (Ward, Feb 24th 2014). Previously England teams were criticized for their style; deemed not daring enough to play elaborate rugby. Now however analysts like Ward praise them for playing ‘more effective’, ‘efficient’ rugby; and accept when it results in English success rather than mock them as boring (Ward, Feb 24th 2014). Unimaginable twenty or perhaps even ten years ago the paper’s David Kelly even asks one English coach if the Irish side’s experience can “promulgate an inferiority complex” in the English team (Kelly, Feb 22nd 2014); it’s almost as if the reporting has come full-circle.

4.3.2 The Irish Times

The Irish Times coverage is also substantially different to how it was twenty years previous. Gerry Thornley’s pieces look solely at the Irish team; they are much stricter in tone compared to his writing ten years ago. This added structure does not allow for him to engage in politicising the games like he did occasionally in the past. The majority of his articles contain sourced information; comments from players or coaches from either camp or insightful statistics relevant to the game being discussed. On occasions he uses terminology more appropriate with boxing or physical confrontation; however these examples are few and far between and never drift into pure war or battle language. The England game is described in visceral terms; a “biff, bang, wallop collision” reducing the Irish team to a “battered and bruised” unit (Thornley, Feb 24th 2014).
His colleague Liam Toland often dwells on the physicality of the game, however unlike Thornley he does indulge in war or battle imagery when confronted with an Ireland England game. Throughout the tournament Toland’s columns place a huge emphasis on forward play, which is seen as the physical side of the game which decides field position. Against England he brands the area of the game “the battleground”. Early in the game an Irish player is “swallowed up by white jerseys”, while in retaliation “Ireland destroyed” an English scrum; “one all, and the battle was on” (Toland, Feb 24th 2014). When looking into all of his articles it becomes clear that Toland was inconsistent in how he addresses the breakdown. In his analysis of the Wales game this area of the game is in a paragraph sub-titled as “The Tactical Chessboard” (Toland, Feb 10th 2014). Against England forward play is feral by nature and belonging to conflict but against the Welsh it transforms into an intellectual competition. He does not completely separate the two though; the piece on the Welsh game uses power-based language too. “Walloping… absolutely smashed and chopped… Wales came to batter and bruise Ireland into submission”, while Ireland “brought a brutal physicality to their game” (Toland, Feb 10th 2014).
Even before the England game Gerry Thornley is looking towards the French game at the end of the competition as potentially one of the greatest nights of Irish rugby. Having defeated Wales Ireland had put themselves in a promising position and the championship could be won even were they to lose away to England (ultimately this happened). The headline “Paris meeting could be crucial” highlights the Irish media’s new-found ability to look beyond the short term even when England are on the horizon (Thornley, Feb 11th 2014).
When assessing the teams after the conclusion of the competition Thornley remains neutral and does not appear blinded by the Irish team’s success. Unlike the past where a disappointing year was salvaged by one win over England; winning the tournament outright does not prevent the Irish media putting affairs into context. Thornley does not rest on the Irish side’s laurels; to him they remain a “work in progress” (Thornley, Mar 17th 2014) under their new manager, suggesting he is looking to the future rather than retiring on their success. Despite finishing second in the championship he praises England and believes they should take even more promise from the campaign than the victorious Ireland squad. The English manager Stuart Lancaster is credited for “remodeling a young English side into a very efficient unit which begun to generate a feel-good factor… on and off the pitch at Twickenham” (Thornley, Mar 17th 2014).
It should be noted that there is a vast difference in the quantity or material between the two papers in 2014. While the Irish Times limits it’s rugby coverage to Thornley, Toland John O’Sullivan and occasionally Gavin Cummiskey (who focuses on the female carnation of the tournament) while The Independent has over a handful of writers, some writing more than one piece for each edition, with others writing for the Sunday version of the paper. Were the Times to broaden their coverage there may have been more inconsistencies or writers writing with a degree of bias. Having said that the result was a modern journalistic output possessing very little ‘anti-Englishness’, meaning while quantity was lower than previous years the quality (in terms of modern, neutral coverage) certainly was not lacking.

7. Conclusion

It cannot be denied that the Irish media approach games against the English rugby side in a different manner to how it conducts itself against the other European nations in the Six Nations. It often creates a vision of both Ireland and England by linking each to particular traits and promotes indifference between the two states as a result of their historical relations. However having researched years spanning three different decades it became obvious that this is currently in a state of flux; the Irish correspondents are growing more tolerant to the English team and less likely to attribute certain negative traits to the English people purely as a result of their conceptions of the national side.
One aspect of the reporting that was slightly surprising is the fact that over the course of the three case studies both publications rarely resorted to engaging in language closely associated to war or battles. Some examples did exist; Edmund van Esbeck describes Twickenham as a fortress, one that has “fallen to the green invader”, while players are ‘destroyed’ on “the battlefield” in Liam Toland’s columns twenty years later. In general however it is quite minimal, and if anything as the coverage has become more neutral over time the language of rugby journalism has turned the other way; often resembling conflict zones more so than sports fields. This is true across both papers, with Ruaidhri O’Connor in particular speaking of ‘battles’ across the pitch and branding a disappointing day in Irish rugby’s history as a ‘massacre’. In general though the Irish steer clear of this; Johnny Watterson even criticises the English for “failing to sidestep the war imagery” following their defeat to Ireland in 2004 (Watterson, Mar 8th 2014).
In truth the coverage of the sport is relatively similar throughout the years. There are slight differences; The Independent is capable of looking at the bigger picture in 1994 compared to van Esbeck and McBride in particular, and The Irish Times does not consider the English to be as arrogant as the Independent. However the coverage from one publication as a whole runs parallel to that of the other as opposed to perpendicular. For example Donal Spring is as damning of the English as Vincent Hogan; relishing ‘spoiling’ the English homecoming in front of their “hard-to-take” support.
Inconsistencies are becoming less frequent in the coverage of the games. In 1994 the English were lambasted in the Irish Independent for appearing arrogant having made remarks about the Irish style of play while Welsh arrogance was both accepted and ignored. This also occurs when Willie John McBride is irritated by Will Carling’s comments but doesn’t even mention those of Neil Jenkins two weeks before.
Originally the majority of the journalists studied had something negative to say about England. Even Vincent Hogan, who appeared to treat the England side fairer than any of his contemporaries in 1994 before the game, shifted towards a more hostile view of them afterwards. The players’ deficiencies were celebrated to an extent beyond fair reporting and the coaches’ personalities were condemned. Ireland meanwhile brought a ‘good-natured’ manner to the sport. Even when trying to defend the English in 2004 Hogan stopped short of offering a conclusive rejection. The theory that the English are inherently self-satisfied and ‘smug’ is only “probably skewed”, implying there could in fact be an element of truth to it.
By 2014 the English team is assessed as a rugby team as opposed to a moral compass. The country in general receives a fairer time and is not lazily labeled as a certain characteristic. Even by 2004 most analysts are capable of inspecting matters from a neutral point of view. Gerry Thornley praises the English in The Irish Times and ten years later Tony Ward is even more effusive in his columns, stating the English deserve to win despite playing a less exciting brand of rugby; a criticism constantly directed at England before and after their 1994 loss. The Irish media have grown comfortable with English success; applauding it as opposed to using it as a tool to scorn.
In 2004 the players who contribute to the paper refuse to engage in controversy. Both O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll appear to have a professional affinity to the English side, respecting their recent success and marveling over their ability to grind out results when not playing their best; something the press were lambasting England for ten years previously. O’Connell stresses the need to lose the country’s tendency to magnify events when the English are involved after the game and mentions how he finds the build-up to the Twickenham encounter as an uncomfortable environment. O’Driscoll is completely reluctant to contribute to the hype around the match, refusing to mention it until the very last moment of his pre-match column. The two players’ comments suggest a professional bond exists (on their side at lease) between the English and Irish rugby teams. In contrast, ten years beforehand Maurice Field criticised and in turn embarrassed the England team (this was ignored in the Irish Times and was not condemned in the Independent ignored) after their defeat.
The shift in players’ attitudes through the press is minute in comparison to Irish journalists however. In 1994 the perceived arrogance of the English team was blown out of proportion and seen as a sign that the English in general were an overly-confident nationality. David Walsh in the Sunday Independent believed that even the stewards in the Twickenham stadium were incredulous following defeat. By 2004 correspondents were often effusive in their praise of the English people. Through the prism of sport the English were portrayed as noble, while Billy Keane states ‘the English way’ is to be “unfailingly polite”. Donnchadh Boyle notes this change in an article in anticipation of the game in 2014.
The Irish media seem to be working towards a more balanced approach towards the English national team; treating them as they would any other opponent and avoiding tarnishing their name with negative traits like arrogance and smugness. An area of need is present however. Even writers who display no negative feelings towards the English, Ruaidhri O’Connor for example, resort to engaging in war language or imagery too often. This is not strictly a problem with the England fixtures however; it is equally problematic when discussing games in Paris or Cardiff throughout the tournament.
The Irish media covering rugby originally displayed signs that they possessed both a strong dislike and inferiority complex with regards to England. Pre-match pieces were written with a sense of trepidation and after the win in 1994 the press openly celebrated making the English ‘lick their wounds’. This went deeper than the England national side; the people were presented as arrogant as a result of their professional confidence while Irish confidence went without comment. Over time this gradually improved; firstly in 2004 when the English are praised as great competitors and the best side in the world despite their defeat and this advances further again in 2014. The Irish press sit in McEvilley’s fourth stage of culture formation following post-colonialism, “the stage… which is less concerned with opposition to the colonial legacy” (Gibbons: 1996, p172-3). The Irish media is in the process of modernising it’s rugby coverage, providing readers with accurate and balanced accounts as opposed to old-fashioned nationalistic reporting biased heavily against England.


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Irish Times 2004

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Irish Independent 2014

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Sunday Independent 2014

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Irish Times 2014

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