Scotland already have one thing over England: their pre-game anthem

A Scotland fan sings Flower of Scotland before their Six Nations match against France
Is Flower of the Scotland the pick of the Six Nations pre-match anthem? - Getty Images/Stu Forster

At the Six Nations launch in Dublin last month, the BBC’s Rugby Union Daily podcast asked each of the captains and coaches to pick out their favourite anthem (which wasn’t their own). Scotland’s Rory Darge named La Marseillaise and Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies plumped for Italy’s Il Canto degli Italiani - both very respectable choices out of the top tie, the envy of most nations. Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony paused, deliberated.

In the end there was a runaway winner. O’Mahony, Italy’s Michele Lamaro and Wales coach Warren Gatland all chose Flower of Scotland, with “special” and “unbelievable” thrown out there to describe it. Hearing the rendition ahead of Scotland’s game against France, you could see where they were coming from - it genuinely was quite special.

Having had the good fortune to attend several games in Cardiff and also recently hear France belt out ‘Marchons! Marchons!’ at their own Rugby World Cup last year, the following statement is not made lightly; Scotland might just have the best anthem out of everyone in the Six Nations.

That does, admittedly, feel slightly blasphemous given a strongly held belief that Cardiff with the roof shut produces the best atmosphere of any Test match you will ever go to. If you can somehow force the hairs on the back of your neck to not stand on end when (seemingly) a million Welshmen and women around you bellow the final line “O bydded i’r heniaith barhau”, then you should be listing that ability to emotionally detach as a skill on your CV. Or visit a therapist. Perhaps both.

How, therefore, has Flower of Scotland stealthily snuck into contention at the front of the pack? It has been adopted as an unofficial anthem since 1990, first used before ‘The Grudge’, a folk song by the Corries from the 1960s which initially attracted attention for its, let’s say, direct lyrics referencing Scotland’s victory over England and “proud Edward’s army” at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

One important caveat is that Flower of Scotland doesn’t travel as well as other anthems; the a cappella second verse sung by a sold-out Murrayfield is a deal-breaker and takes everything up a notch, giving the moment a unique hymnal quality.

Wales, France and Italy’s anthems are all deliberately delivered with maximum gusto to try and rouse you out of your seat, to make you roar, and do so brilliantly. Flower of Scotland isn’t trying to do that, which is why ‘funereal dirge’ is a popular criticism thrown its way. It marches purposefully behind the sound of bagpipes, before sweeping you along with the sound of thousands singing unaccompanied in unison.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Murrayfield on Saturday, goosebumps when the music stops are guaranteed. You are also more likely, given this is the Calcutta Cup, to hear the extra, fruity cries slipped in between key lines in the second verse. As the great Jim Telfer told Telegraph Sport last year: “I don’t think it’s a particularly happy song at all, and I don’t think it should be taken as a national anthem. But it does get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up because of the words. It brings people together.”

With France, Italy, Scotland and Wales all recognised so far, what about Ireland? After the most popular rendition of ‘Ireland’s Call’ in recent memory, it would be prudent for the Irish Rugby Football Union to immediately sign up eight-year-old Stevie Mulrooney to a multi-year contract. Does it deserve to be in the conversation for the best anthem, with those already mentioned? Perhaps not.

Those four true contenders for ‘best Six Nations anthem’ can be enjoyably discussed for hours - preferably in the corner of a pub - but at least there is no need for any discussion about the worst of the Six Nations anthems; God Save the King. Perfectly fine in most formal settings but compared to the rest as a pre-match motivator? Too short, too bland. No addition of extra bells and whistles before the start or at the end seems to have much of an effect and among the six anthems it sits bottom of the pile. The debate about introducing Jerusalem as English rugby’s unofficial anthem has raged for years and still deserves to be heard in earnest.

What impact does all this have on the game itself? Absolutely none whatsoever. Scotland can however lord two things over England on Saturday; recent domination of this rivalry, with England winning only one of the last six, and having a significantly better anthem.