x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A fighting team spirit among the Welsh rugby players

To get the right mix in a rugby union team, intelligence should balanced by simple brawn.

Warren Gatland, left, was without Shaun Edwards, right, and Fergus Connolly after the latter pair were banned from Wales' final Six Nations match, a 28-9 defeat to France in Paris last weekend. Stu Forster / Getty Images
Warren Gatland, left, was without Shaun Edwards, right, and Fergus Connolly after the latter pair were banned from Wales' final Six Nations match, a 28-9 defeat to France in Paris last weekend. Stu Forster / Getty Images

What do you call an Englishman, an Irishman and a New Zealander falling out over a song?

The answer: the Welsh rugby union team.

That is not a joke but a true story, which makes it funnier.

The protagonists were Shaun Edwards, Fergus Connolly and Warren Gatland — the defensive coach, chief sports scientist and coach of the Welsh team, respectively.

Edwards and Connolly came to blows following Wales' unlikely victory over Ireland in the Six Nations two weeks ago.

On the team coach, the Welsh players were ribbing Connolly because he was the nearest available Irishman. He responded in lighthearted defiance by singing Wild Rover, the famous Irish folk song which begins: "I've played the wild rover for many a year."

Edwards, who is English, responded by leading a crass version of the same song, which begins: "I've been a wife-beater for many a year." Connolly objected to this ditty and, back at the hotel, a furious row ensued.

Blazers were removed, heads collided and both men were "stepping outside" when they were separated.

They were each fined £500 (Dh2,925) Wales' team management and banned from attending the final match of the tournament.

When the ugly details of such internecine sporting strife leak into the public domain, we are expected to react in the traditional fashion.

Eyes must be rolled, tuts uttered and some general harrumphing does not go amiss.

Think of our disapproval over the French footballers' revolt at last year's World Cup.

Yet as I read about this Welsh nonsense, I experienced an alien feeling: quiet approval.

This incident illustrates perfectly the friction which should lie at the heart of a rugby union team. Namely, intelligence versus bone-headed stupidity.

Modern rugby is a thrilling combination of brain and brawn, of thinking and thumping, of PowerPoint presentations and, well, power.

So, while it is pleasing to know that a 21st-century rugby team contains men who object to jokes about domestic violence, it is also strangely comforting to know there are still a few Neanderthals lurking behind the laptops and post-match protein shakes.

That is not to advocate wife-beating, but simply to acknowledge the fact that a rugby team needs men who are prepared to fling their bodies into the path of sprinting giants. It sometimes helps if they are not the deepest thinkers.

Even the nature of the fight sounds like a fine balance of gentlemanly and thuggish conduct, with the removal of blazers followed by alleged butts. The only part of this affair which should embarrass the Wales Rugby Football Union is that none of the combatants were Welsh.

The idea of the Welsh camp being disrupted by an Anglo-Irish row over an Irish folk song tells its own story about the creeping impurity of international sport, in which mercenary coaches roam the globe for flags of convenience and, although this is not the case for Wales, action-hungry players cling to long-dead branches of their family tree to play for any country which will have them.

Never mind the old songs, these men are the new wild rovers.

Incidentally, do not assume that an all-Welsh camp could not fall out over a song. Any player who fails to harmonise that third verse of Abide With Me will have hell to pay. Once he has taken his blazer off, naturally.

The right formula for success at Red Bull

Formula One has never been a sport to underestimate its own importance, so it was not surprising to learn of its recent request for help from the British intelligence services.

One boffin was so confused by the recent variables added to make for more exciting racing – the kinetic energy recovery system (Kers), adjustable rear wings and tyres designed to deteriorate quickly – that he contacted the spooks at Government Communications Headquarters to ask if any of its mathematicians knew of any helpful formulae.

They did not, apparently.

Perhaps they were a little busy with that whole national security thing, which can be rather time-consuming.

Anyway, after much pencil-chewing, the first grand prix of the season took place in Melbourne yesterday and was won by Sebastian Vettel, whose Red Bull Racing car did not even use the Kers power boost.

Now, I am no government mathematician but, based on this evidence, I reckon to have come up with the secret formula that boffin was after: fastest car + fearless German = chequered flag.

Guys, feel free to use that if it helps.

Media reaction to Vettel’s victory was as measured as ever. Within minutes, I heard one pundit remark that Vettel was now on course to surpass compatriot Michael Schumacher’s record of seven Formula One crowns.

He based this on the evidence that Vettel won his first at age 23, compared to Schuey’s 25, and had won yesterday’s race in impressive fashion.

In mathematical terms, I believe such conclusion jumping is termed “2 + 2 = 5”.

Or, in this case, 25 years – 23 years = 8 championships.

Formula One may not be the beautiful game, but it takes a Beautiful Mind to come up with theories like that.