For the benefit of anyone unfortunate enough to have spent the last few weeks adrift in the Atlantic, trapped in a mine or unconscious, Wales is in the grip of a serious case of Six Nations Fever. This annual affliction infects the nation every year around late January or early February, although usually by early March the symptoms have eased considerably and the country is beginning to return to normal.
What has made the fever so severe this year is of course the simple fact that we (I’m sorry but as hard as I try I just cannot be impartial) are winning. Following on from an unexpectedly good run in the recent World Cup, Wales have gone on to beat a very strong Irish team in Dublin, a straightforward win at home over the Scots and most prized of all, a Triple Crown clinching victory over the previously unbeaten English at Twickenham. One of my English friends has told me that he always hopes for Welsh rugby victories as it makes such a difference when everyone is smiling rather than our normal sullen expressions in the aftermath of a defeat.
For those of us old enough to remember great players from previous generations, it is almost unbelievable. In the 1970s, Wales were certainly the strongest side among the home nations with a series of Triple Crowns and Grand Slams. Sadly, this was followed by decades of disappointment and even a number of Wooden Spoons with just a few glimmers of hope, in 1987-8 when we were third in the World Cup and Five Nations Champions and in 1994 when we were again Champions. For the supporters, it was misery, made even worse when supporters of other nations felt sorry for us. I must confess that I firmly believed that I would never see another Grand Slam in my lifetime.
Thankfully, things did begin to change with the arrival of top class coaches (mostly from New Zealand) and some fans dared to hope that Wales would win again. In 2005 Wales won their first Grand Slam since 1978 and then followed that up with another in 2008. With two home games left this season things are once more very promising, hence the severe case of Six Nations fever.
This affliction creeps up on the sufferer; they find themselves browsing the Rugby Union section of the BBC Sport website in order to glean the latest news on player fitness and squad and team selection. I know this for a fact because I’m afraid I have contracted a sad case of the sickness myself. I know for instance that we must face Italy on Saturday without ‘Sam the Captain’ and at Open side Flanker Wales will select Justin Tipuric for his first start.
Justin is interviewed by the BBC here and what I found interesting in his responses was that in an interview lasting 2 minutes 21 seconds, he used the word ‘team’ twelve times. In my view this is no accident, it points to the fact that at the forefront of his mind is the success of the team. All fifteen players and the replacements must be focused on the team. The coaches are seeking to mould the individuals into a unit that is greater than the sum of its parts. All of this is difficult to achieve but easy to spot when it comes together. You can see it in things like the last ditch tackles in the dying seconds against England when a try seemed inevitable but somehow the defence got back with some players literally throwing themselves at their opponents.
This is important for us because we live at a time when individualism reigns. So often we are told that we have to be ‘true to ourselves’, in other words, please ourselves. Yet for believers, although God does call individuals and desires a personal relationship with them, his ultimate purpose is to have a people that are his very own (Titus 2:14). Like the idea of the team, it is easy to see its importance but difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, in Christ, we are all equal (Galatians 3:28), everyone has a part to play (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) and we are all being changed into something truly beautiful;
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)