The Six Nations is a tournament built on rivalry, and this week’s episode of the Rugby’s Greatest Podcast shines a light on the biggest in the Championship.
James Gemmell is joined on this week’s podcast (Apple / Spotify) by ex-internationals Tom Shanklin, Toby Flood, Johnnie Beattie and Marco Bortolami to discuss the Six Nations’ greatest grudge matches.
“There’s an element of jealousy,” Shanklin said.
“But, there's a huge element of respect, and it's doing one over on a fellow country that could potentially win the Grand Slam, the Six Nations.
“You know, you want to win that. You think that's yours, because you've done it previously. You think you've got the right, you think you're the better team.”
Flood: You always knew wherever it was on the horizon, I think especially from my time of playing as well, that Wales were so strong. So, during that time, they won a few Championships and Grand Slams.
So, therefore, you always knew it was a game that if you wanted to be in contention for the Six Nations, that you had to win.
Personally, we went there in '11 and won on the first game and that was pretty good. The atmosphere was amazing.
Ben Foden beforehand decided to call Wales the 'little brother', which was great, which was what you want. So, on the bus journey in, there were people holding up the article and also sort of spitting more passionately at the bus than normal.
Shanklin: Those players have played on Lions tours, they've played in Barbarians matches, they've played club rugby with a lot of English guys, you know, Welsh guys and English guys.
So, you have that, you have friendships and there is nothing better than taking on one of your mates in a game of rugby.
You want people to see how good you are, you want your mates to know how hard you run or how hard you tackle and how difficult you are to play against. So, there is a massive element of that.
France v Italy
Bortolami: The most intense games for me, for an Italian, is always against France because they are our neighbours.
But, honestly, also against Scotland. There were quite intense games, especially at the start of the tournament, and we were very competitive against them.
So, I think as a country, we feel our special games are definitely against France and Scotland.
I played in France for two years in Narbonne. And, during that time, there were also a number of the other guys [who] were playing in France.
[Gonzalo] Canale was playing for Clermont and [Sergio] Parisse was in Stade Français with the Bergamasco brothers.
I think when you play in the country and you know the players and the opposition, that's where the contest becomes more salty and more interesting.
And, you know, I started also very young, playing for Italy. So, I had to learn a lot of lessons. Some tough games against those players were, you know, the times where I learnt the most.
So, the rivalries are sometimes born from between friends. When you play on the same side, maybe, the week after the Six Nations.
Beattie: They are probably our closest and oldest mates, be it historically, geographically, the tussles that we've had over the years. And, obviously they're such a big country with so much resource, player power, manpower.
It's always been a hugely difficult task for us to get down and beat them. It's made it such a tasty rivalry.
I think that's the same for most nations that come up against a team of England's level with that amount of manpower and success behind them. World Cup winners, obviously, in my youth.
Look, everybody loves to beat the best countries, the best players and they have them all.
Shanklin: You look at Scotland, they've got two teams now, Wales have got four teams. You look at England, they've just got players absolutely everywhere.
We don't have the strength and depth that a team like England would have or France would have. So, we've got limited resources, and I was saying, Johnnie, there is an element of a little bit of jealousy there as to what, say, England players earn as to what we would earn from Wales or Scotland.
And, there's something about that, that just feeds you. That just makes you a little bit jealous and you feed off it inside and it just spurs you on a little bit to really want to put one over on them because of everything they get given, whilst we have to work hard for it.
Beattie: 100 per cent. The old stat that we found out at a camp, last time I think we played England was… and this really shocked us, was that there are more registered referees in England than there are rugby players in Scotland.
So, that gives you the sort of the size of the task that you're up against. It's absolutely huge. And look, through the early days, like ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, even, the win percentage was shared.
But then come ‘90s, professionalism, the 2000s, there was complete dominance towards England. And, I think once you sort of understood all those stats, you understood the mountain that you're up against, you savoured those wins even more because you knew statistically the chances were against you.