London – You might think Wales captain Sam Warburton would have enough to worry about ahead of Sunday's Six Nations international against England at Twickenham without having his patriotism called into question.
Yet that is what happened after the flanker, also captain of the British and Irish Lions last year, responded to comments from English players saying they were “hated” by their Welsh rivals.
Warburton, both of whose parents are English, said he had no strong feelings of animosity, and that if anyone asked him about his nationality during the Lions' tour he would say he was British.
That proved too much for Jonathan Edwards, a Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist) MP, who tweeted: “I really find it difficult to understand how someone who does not consider themselves to be Welsh can be captain of the national rugby side”.
It had all started innocently enough when England wing Jack Nowell said Wednesday: “We're playing against a team that hate you and want to beat you up or beat you in the game.”
The 25-year-old, Cardiff-born, Warburton replied: “Both my parents were born in England so I can't think that way at all.
“I think people make a bigger thing out of it. All the lads went on the Lions tour and got on well with the English boys. If someone asked me my nationality (on that tour) I'd say British.”
Cue outrage from Edwards, a member of the British parliament.
But after a barrage of social media protest, Edwards released a statement saying: “Sam was doing his best to defuse the unfortunate jibes coming from the England team that Welsh players were motivated by hatred when playing the old enemy.
“He was right to do so. There is no room for hatred when representing Wales in sport or in politics, or any other walk of life for that matter.
“It's about pride in our country, people, heritage and culture.”
John Taylor, one of the stars of the successful Wales side of the 1970s, told the scrum.com website: “It's not a case of 'hating' them as a few English players have suggested this week but, because they are English, it is a burden they have to bear.
“They are the dominant country in the UK in terms of population, size, even numbers of rugby players and at some stage they have conquered the rest of us.
“You cannot get away from that so history definitely comes into it,” added Taylor, who ought to know given he was born in Watford, north of London, and so is one of several English-born Wales internationals.
A close match is expected at Twickenham on Sunday, with champions Wales and England both pressing for the title.
About the only thing that can be said with safety ahead of the game is that Warburton's pre-match team talk will have little resemblance to the the celebrated address given by then Wales captain Phil Bennett ahead of the 1977 clash with England.
“Look what these bastards have done to Wales,” the fly-half great said. “They've taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year.
“What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We've been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that's who you are playing this afternoon.” – Sapa-AFP