A Lifetime of Bragging Rights
It feels like this game has been brewing my entire adult life.
For has long as I can remember, usually in pubs littered with folks from the antipodes (shout out to SheBu Walky), the passionate debate has raged regarding Aussie & All Black successes and come Sunday, the eternal Rugby conundrum will be finally be decided.
How does complete dominance of the rugby world for three-and-a-half years out of every four compare with the glory of hoisting ‘Bill’ aloft?
Despite the countless beers spilled during heated debates, complex diagrams drawn on the backs of coasters and advanced population-to-sheep calculations, the answer to this question has varied dramatically depending on which side of the Tasman your mother was lying on when she pushed you out.
Granted, the All Blacks have won a world cup. But it was on home soil, the competition itself still had training wheels attached and it was so long ago that great Aussie band Split Enz were topping the charts with their undeniably 80’s sounding hit, ‘I Got You.’
But the inaugural World Cup was rightfully theirs and that achievement should be properly acknowledged instead of being thrown a cutout pass by many an Aussie, usually something along the lines of “yeah they won the first one but that was back in the 80’s and since then all they’ve done is prayed that someone knows the Heimlich maneuver.”
So the Kiwi’s drew first World Cup blood. But the Wallabies exacted prompt revenge by winning the first World Cup staged in the northern hemisphere and they did so in stylish fashion beating the hosts, England, in the final at Twickenham. Since the game went professional, the Wallabies have definitely enjoyed the better running in Rugby’s biggest showpiece, as they won again in 1999 and finishing runner-up in a tense final at home in front of 83 000 fans in 2003.
The All Blacks, on the other hand, have only made one final since their initial World Cup success and their 4-yearly inquisition into what went wrong has become more of a Kiwi staple than a cold can of Tui (whose slogan, I might add, is Distracting the boys from the task at hand since 1889).
But one dependable foundation of All Black Rugby, that probably swings the favoritism for Sunday’s match toward Team Haka, is the Eden Park influence. More a home ground certainty than advantage as the All Blacks have not lost there since 1994. It was also the stadium in which they tasted their only World Cup success in ’87 and you even have to go back to before that time, some 26 years, to find a day where it felt great to be an Aussie at Eden Park.
With the All Blacks hit by a string of injuries, namely that of their first & second choice fly halves as well as their inspirational captain (who will still probably play after a couple of needles), this could be the best opportunity the Wallabies have had for victory in Auckland in that 26 year period.
Despite the Aussies being far from convincing in the quarter final victory against a dominant South Africa, they will go into the game as underdogs which is a tag that will suit them just fine and pile yet more pressure on the boys in black.
The biggest danger for both sides is that with all the hype surrounding this game, they may just play their final a game early and be slightly overcooked for a tricky encounter against the ever improving Welsh or the unpredictable French.
But all eyes are, for now, on Sunday’s Semi final between the ANZAC nations. The fact that these sides have only met twice before in a World Cup match ups (both in the semi-final stage 1991 – Oz 16- NZ 6 & 2003 – Oz 22-NZ10) only adds to the intrigue. Those matches have produced some of the most memorable rugby moments with Campo’s no look flick to Horan and George Gregan reminding the All Blacks just how many years there are between World Cups, so we are no doubt set for a classic match.
Whether it be poking fun at accents, slating each others environmental policies or switching the nationality of famous actors, musicians and race horses, there will always be a healthy sense of rivalry driven banter between the two nations. But the real bragging rights, for a long time to come, are up for grabs and are far more important than the fact that Shortland Street is vastly superiority to Neighbours or how Kiwi’s pronounce battered cod with a side of fries (for the record, some of them say ‘shark and potato’).
Occasionally, society is guilty of a tendency to take sport a little too seriously. The Vancouver Hockey Riots, sectarian death threats to football players from Northern Ireland and Mark Geyer likening being accused of being an eye gouger to being labeled a kiddy-fiddler, are just a number of many examples. This is not one of those times.
Generations past bled together on Turkish sands and due homage to that fighting spirit to be paid through claret spilt on the blades of grass of Eden Park. It should be one for the ages – A ripper contest. A clessic breh.
For the losers may just find themselves living in a shotgun shack and the winners most likely behind the wheel of a large automobile because, for these players, a game of this magnitude is played only ‘Once In A Lifetime’ (cue music).