Rugby World Cup 2011

Kiwi v Oz rivalry hots up

2011-10-12 12:24
Graham Henry (File)





Auckland - Sporting rivalries don't come more prickly than the one between trans-Tasman neighbours Australia and New Zealand.

Whether it's rugby union, rugby league, football, cricket, horseracing or netball, the one-upmanship can dominate the national conversation and sideline other issues of the day.

It's on again in Sunday's Rugby World Cup semi-final between the feisty rivals.

New Zealand, with a population of 4.4 million, has been tagged a small country with a huge inferiority complex, while Australia, a larger nation of 22.7 million, is seen as cocky and brash.

Australia is an over-achiever on the world sporting stage: among the top six nations in medals at the last three Olympic Summer Games, producing champions in rugby, swimming, athletics, tennis, golf, motorcycling, field hockey and cricket in recent times.

'Little brother' New Zealand has also aspired to have its place under the sporting sun and celebrates its achievements as a source of national pride.

New Zealanders jealously guard their own and often accuse Australia of trying to take the credit for Phar Lap, the champion racehorse of the Great Depression era, Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe, international rock band Crowded House, even the meringue-like pavlova dessert.

The sporting rivalry can spill over with some nasty consequences, none more so than the infamous underarm bowling incident of 1981.

Australia captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother, Trevor, to roll the last delivery of the match along the ground to prevent New Zealand from hitting a six which they needed to tie a one-day cricket international in Melbourne.

New Zealand's then Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, said at the time the Chappell brothers were responsible for "the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket".

He added: "It was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow."

More recently, the Aussies cheekily even claimed a part of New Zealand's unbeaten yet fruitless run at last year's football World Cup with a newspaper headline: "Australasia 1 Slovakia 1" as the Socceroos crashed to Germany 4-0.

Yet the light-hearted sentiment was lost on this side of the Tasman, with one paper replying: "Dirty Aussies lay claim to NZ's World Cup glory."

The Kiwis took special delight when they upset the Socceroos 2-0 in Sydney to grab their place at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain and plunge Australia into despair.

Nowhere though is the rivalry more pronounced than on the rugby field, with the top-two ranked nations, New Zealand's All Blacks and Australia's Wallabies, facing each other at Eden Park on Sunday for a place in the World Cup final.

Since 1903, the All Blacks have had the upper hand over the Wallabies.

This weekend will be their 168th international meeting, with the All Blacks winning 115 times, the Wallabies 47 and five matches drawn.

But the Wallabies, who have not won at Eden Park for 25 years, have had some significant victories along the way.

John Eales kicked an extra time penalty goal to claim a 24-23 victory and the Bledisloe Cup in Wellington in 2000 and scrum-half George Gregan brought off a famous try-saving tackle on All Blacks wing Jeff Wilson to win the 1994 Cup in Sydney.

Only a month before this World Cup, the Wallabies downed the All Blacks 25-20 in Brisbane to claim their first Tri-Nations crown in a decade.

And as the Wallabies keep reminding the Kiwis they have won both their two World Cup games against the All Blacks, in the 1991 and 2003 semi-finals.

"Whilst the All Blacks have dominated Australia in the last couple of years on the scoreboard as far as statistics go, there's no doubt the team will know you've never beaten us in a World Cup, you've lost in two-semi finals to us," Australia's former World Cup-winning skipper Nick Farr-Jones crowed.

Meanwhile an extra, and intriguing, sub-plot this weekend will be the tactical jousting between All Blacks coach Graham Henry and the Wallabies' Kiwi boss Robbie Deans.

 

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