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Research Christmas 2008: Sport

Rugby (the religion of Wales) and its influence on the Catholic church: should Pope Benedict XVI be worried?

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 18 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2768
  1. Gareth C Payne, specialist registrar in clinical neurophysiology1,
  2. Rebecca E Payne, general practitioner2,
  3. Daniel M Farewell, MRC/WAG training fellow in health services research/health of the public3
  1. 1Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, University Hospital Wales, Heath Park, Cardiff CF14 4XW
  2. 2Cardiff
  3. 3Department of Primary Care and Public Health, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF14 4YS
  1. Correspondence to: G C Payne garethpayne{at}
  • Accepted 23 November 2008


Objective To explore the perceived wisdom that papal mortality is related to the success of the Welsh rugby union team.

Design Retrospective observational study of historical Vatican and sporting data.

Main outcome measure Papal deaths between 1883 and the present day.

Results There is no evidence of a link between papal deaths and any home nation grand slams (when one nation succeeds in beating all other competing teams in every match). There was, however, weak statistical evidence to support an association between Welsh performance and the number of papal deaths.

Conclusion Given the dominant Welsh performances of 2008, the Vatican medical team should take special care of the pontiff this Christmas.


  • This project was based on a suggestion by Geraint Fuller. We are grateful to Christine Connolly of Six Nations Rugby Ltd for providing us with the historical data used in our analyses.

  • Contributors: GP and RPP cowrote the paper and collected the historical data. DF cowrote the paper and performed the statistical analysis. GP is guarantor.

  • Funding: This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Ethical approval: Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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