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Rugby World Cup: Why Swing Low Sweet Chariot?

If you’re not an English rugby supporter then Swing Low Sweet Chariot will drive you NUTS for the six weeks that England hosts the 2015 Rugby World Cup. But what the heck does it even mean?

Well according to Wikipedia it was first sung in 1909 as an African American Spiritual, recorded by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. It was written by a freed slave named Wallis Willis (he also wrote Steal Away) and was meant to be a song of hidden meaning about the “underground railroad” which was a freedom movement helping Southern slaves escape to the North of America and Canada.

Got the rugby reference yet? No?

What about the escaping reference? Me neither, unless it’s to try and psyche them up about getting away from New Zealand’s mighty All Blacks!

Anyhoo, Sweet Chariot had a revival during the 1960s Civil Rights movement and was made most famous probably by Joan Baez’s version at the 1969 Woodstock. It was adopted by England rugby in 2002 and in 2011 it was signed in as the Oklahoma State official gospel song.

Swing Low at Twickenham

Twickenham, the home of Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Pic Flickr/LouiseTolman

How did Swing Low Sweet Chariot become the England Rugby song?

According to Uncle Wiki, it had been a rugby match and drinking song with rude gestures (you had to drink if you got the actions wrong) for decades, but in 1988 it became the unofficial England rugby song after England, who had only scored one try in the previous two years, were down 0-3 against Ireland at Twickenham in their last game of the season. But in the second half England scored six tries winning 35-3.

The first theory is that a group of school boys from Douai School used to sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot whenever a try was scored. They sang and they sang during the second half, and fans around them joined in.

The second theory is that a few guys from Market Bosworth Rugby Club started singing it. At the same moment. Either way, it started at that game in 1988, England went on to thump Ireland and that’s pretty much why today Swing Low Sweet Chariot is the England rugby song, officially adopted in 2002.

Now, go win that pub quiz! 

Here’s the official version for the 2015 Rugby World Cup


Lyrics for Swing Low, Sweet Chariot


Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.


Sometimes I’m up, and sometimes I’m down,
(Coming for to carry me home)
But still my soul feels heavenly bound.
(Coming for to carry me home)


The brightest day that I can say,
(Coming for to carry me home)
When Jesus washed my sins away.
(Coming for to carry me home)


If you get there before I do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
Tell all my friends I’m coming there too.
(Coming for to carry me home)


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Megan Singleton
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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!

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