Powerhouses England rugby and the NFL's New England Patriots thrive when feeling it's them versus the world
Being ‘written off’ helps England in the Six Nations
Some of the talk in the build-up had been about how it was time the established powerhouse was overtaken. Sure they had world-renowned names and a bloody good track record in this competition, but many were backing the other side. As always happens at this time of year, there was a thick serving of jokes, memes and even mocking advertisements pre-match.
Then at the weekend the team in white physically dominated. By the time they reeled in an interception in the closing stages – a diving grab that eventually led to a score – it was the final nail in the coffin. It was them against the world and they had triumphed.
But hold on… Is this England’s rugby team or the New England Patriots we’re talking about here? After all, the rugby side were not favourites to win on their Six Nations visit to Dublin on Saturday. The NFL side, well, they were led by a 41-year-old quarterback and the ‘dynasty’ there was meant to be crumbling, right?
England have six Six Nations titles, with their last in 2017. They’ve had two Grand Slams in the Six Nations – their last in 2016. They have not had a Wooden Spoon in the championship since 1987.
The Patriots have now won six Super Bowls with coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady in harness. They’ve been to nine together. They have made the play-offs for the last ten seasons.
Yet the way things worked out, these two outfits went into the weekend believing they were unfancied. And it totally suited both groups.
When you are a hugely successful, storied franchise or national side, it can be tough to get yourself written off. Every diss, imagined or real, has to be blown up and stretched out. The media and fans at large – often referred to as ‘people’ or ‘they’ – can become the straw man detractors. Eddie Jones loves his side to feel like the enemy is at the gates and their ranks include the rest of the planet.
Let the siege begin.
Related: Six Nations 2019 table
In 2018 Jones told the world that his defending champions from England were being slaughtered. “If you read the papers, then we might as well not turn up,” he said on the eve of the tournament. In 2017, after a world record-equalling run of 18 wins in a row, Jones said next opponents Ireland were “in a very favourable position psychologically”. When he arrived in 2016, England were a “work in progress”. Remember him saying England had no world-class players before revising along the way?
Then, before the Dublin match-up this season, Jones said of Ireland: “Everyone is writing them up and they have got to carry that expectation round. We’re excited about playing there. Praise can make you weak.”
That both played up the us-against-them nature of being with England, and implied that Ireland are fallible. While in 2017 and 2018, Jones’s team lost to Ireland, this time they were demonstrating how strong they were… while still claiming “everyone” thought they were rubbish.
Then they outmuscled Ireland on the way to a 32-20 win.
There were echoes in New England. Tom Brady said during the post-season leading up to this Super Bowl: “Everyone thinks we suck and we can’t win any game.” After the confetti finished falling in Atlanta on Sunday, they have equalled the record for the most Super Bowl wins in history.
How do these teams believe that they are written off by “everyone”? Well, there is a difference between some outsiders wanting you to lose and the public at large actually thinking you are terrible. But it helps to blur this distinction or at the very least create the impression that you are being relentlessly hunted and the world is cheering for the poacher. Anyway, when you’re embedded in your own camp, where the message is tightly controlled, it doesn’t matter what the people outside genuinely believe. It is about narrative.
What is clear is that neither England nor New England suck. Now Jones and his men in white will have a tough task convincing themselves that people think they are garbage and are destined to lose in the next round of the Six Nations.
Thankfully there are other ways to create a siege mentality. So it’s great that, while France struggle on the field, there is a rich history of animosity between the nations on either side of the Channel to do a caricature of.
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Let’s get the buzz going again. Who’s with us – or more fittingly, against us?