The Essential Songs of the Rugby World Cup

Rugby has a deep and rich relationship with music. From anthems to supporters' songs, it provides a fitting soundtrack to the World Cup.

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Oct 8 2015, 1:44pm

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Rugby has a deep and rich relationship with music. Whether it be Welsh hymns, the Japanese victory rap or England belting out a William Blake poem on a regular basis, a big rugby match simply cannot happen without the accompanying chorus of 60,000 fans trying to hit the high note. In the spirit of the World Cup, we've collected the most famous, strangest and very best tunes you should think about when you watch your next match.

ENGLAND

We're starting with England because, let's be honest, there's not much time left for us to appreciate their fans. For whatever reasons, English supporters have two slightly left-field choices as their unofficial team songs.

Starting out as the preface to William Blake's grand poem, Milton, what we now know as Jerusalem began life as a radical, anti-establishment bit of poetry. All those mills and hills and references to Satan they sing? Blake was an admirer of the French Revolution, of seizing power – so next time you hear Jerusalem sung at Twickenham, remember that it's actually about how great the French are. English fans are a funny bunch. Since morphing from poem to song it's been recorded by artists as diverse as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, dance group The KLF, and more recently Jacob Collier.

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Swing Low, the other rugby anthem, has an even odder beginning. Starting out as an African-American song about slavery, it spread through England in the 20th century, originally appearing at Twickenham in 1988.

Or so they say – two separate groups claim to have turned it into a popular rugby song at the exact same time, students from the Douai School in Berkshire and the Market Bosworth Rugby club. There's even a few whispers that it began in the '60s, and was accompanied by the sort of hand gestures you wouldn't want your mum to see you doing. Despite the darker origins and its untraceable path to fan-favourite, its so far been recorded three separate times by pop artists in support of the team, most notably by Birmingham's own UB40.

WALES

Nobody knows why Wales have yet to win a Rugby World Cup (or, for that matter, why they struggle to beat any Oceanic countries in the big tournament) but if there is one thing the Welsh are 100% the best in the world at, it's singing. From walloping chapel hymns to the downright debauched, the Welsh fans have their side covered for all occasions. Even Stereophonics have got in on the act, penning As Long as We Beat the English 16 years ago, which is still banged out in matches today.

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Recently, however, the plucky Welsh have got themselves in a spot of bother with their love of Tom Jones's Delilah. High profile people like Dafydd Iwan, a former Plaid Cymru president and folk singer, have argued that it promotes domestic violence and should be banned from the stadium. While the topic is a bit dodgy, most rugby fans are signing it because it's a great song, and the lyrics are shown on the Millennium Stadium screens before matches. In Jones's own words – "if it's going to be taken literally, I think it takes the fun out of it." The WRU, in turn, compared the pop classic to a Shakespearian tragedy (ahem).

JAPAN

Until the Cherry Blossoms beat South Africa, they hadn't won a match in a World Cup since Zimbabwe in 1991. What we're saying is: the poor Japanese players and fans have had little excuse to sing, which is why the team's reaction to beating the Springboks was so lovely.

Rather than singing the Kimagayo, Japan's sombre national anthem, the players performed their very own song – which they had made up. According to Japanese coach Eddie Jones, number 8 Hendrik Tui has been leading the team in creation of "their own rap song, which they sung on the bus on the way back."

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While little else is known about the Japanese victory song quite yet, they've still got a shot to get out of their pool after beating Samoa on Saturday, in which case hopefully someone will spill the beans. Or drop the beat. Or whatever.

THESE IRISH FANS

Sometimes you don't need to be in a stadium to make the headlines. These Irish fans were recorded on the London Underground after their team's win over Romania in the group stages. Just watch the video and admire them. At turns cheeky and always loud, they charmed/frightened their fellow passengers all the way to Aldgate with a set-list that could rival any school disco. Kicking off with Spandeau Ballet's Gold, the impromptu acapella group cruised through B*Witched to Monty Python and all the way over to never-before-heard classics such as, Shoes off if You Broke the Tube, which will undoubtedly be charting in Dublin very soon.

Ireland, however, are the only rugby union team to sing two official anthems before their home matches. When the Irish Free State split from the United Kingdom, the Irish Rugby Football Union opted to continue to allow all Irish people to play under one unified team, which makes the Irish team perhaps the only one in the world that is representing an area rather than one nation. This, of course, caused issues – what anthem would be sung? God Save the Queen? The Soldier's Song? Would unionists be happy? Would nationalists?

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The issue was solved back in 1995, when composer Phil Coulter wrote Ireland's Call, which is now used as the de-facto song for the side (as well as Ireland's cricket, hockey and rugby league sides). Despite it's success and prominence, the debate continues to rage about whether it's good enough. We like it, though.

THE WORLD IN UNION AND PALOMA FAITH

Poor old Paloma Faith. The 34-year-old singer has recorded the official Rugby World Cup song, The World in Union, and the fans hate it, with some (admittedly a bit over excited) commentators calling it a "hate crime". The World in Union has been the official RWC tune since 1991, and it's been performed by beloved figures like Shirley Bassey. Originally created in 1914 and based – yet again – on a hymn, it takes its melody from Gustav Holst's The Planets.

Currently, however, an online petition to have ITV remove Paloma Faith's version before their match coverage has amassed 10,000 supporters. We're sort of on the fence with this one – it's not the greatest song in the world and nowhere near the worst, so until cats are driven deaf by it and dogs start banging their heads against the walls, we think it should stay. Because it's tradition. And also because some of the comments about it are just unnecessary.

AUSTRALIA

The Aussies. The damn Aussies and their Waltzing Matilda. If you watched any of the England v Australia match over the weekend, you will no doubt have heard the thousand or so Aussies in the stadium belt out the song over and over again. Look at them here singing happily during the England match, while the English fans quite politely boo them until they celebrate in silence.

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Similar to Wales's devotion to Delilah, the Aussies have chosen a catchy tune that's, if not Shakespearian, then at least Cormac McCarthy in its themes. It's about a homeless Aussie gentleman waltzing around the country with his Matilda (a bag) over his shoulder, who steals sheep and ends up killing himself by jumping in a river; it is categorically not a song about dancing with a pretty girl.

This is what the Australian Rugby Union thought when they went and decided to ban the singing of the song during the World Cup in 2003, which they were hosting. (And which England won). They deemed it irrelevant to Australian culture (the tune, for example, was taken from Scotland's Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea) presumably because they didn't want people to find out what the song was actually about. This, naturally, annoyed 99% of Australia (including the Prime Minister) and they sang it anyway. Quite loudly.

The Fanatics are also noted for their playful victory songs – which are often simply the opposition's song, sung back to them with an Antipodean twist. Those victorious cads.

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