Face-off for the best of enemies

Tuesday November 18, 2003

Face-off for the best of enemies

SYDNEY: One of the oldest sporting rivalries in the world is set for a new chapter when Australia face England in the Rugby World Cup final here Saturday at Olympic Stadium. 

To the committed on both sides, this weekend's match is about more than just a mere game of rugby although the rivalry to outsiders must seem odd. 

Even though it is over 200 years ago since the first convict settlers arrived here from Britain, Australia still has Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and the British Union Jack as part of its national flag. 

And earlier this month Australian Prime Minister John Howard unveiled a memorial in London honouring his country's war dead who served alongside their British counterparts in both World Wars. 

Sport though helped Australia establish itself as a separate entity from Britain, its victories against the far more populous “mother country” always cherished. 

And it almost caused a permanent breakdown in Anglo-Australian relations with England's 'Bodyline' tactics during its victorious 1932-33 cricket tour of Australia creating a major diplomatic incident. 

But that was a rare moment of English dominance in a series stretching back to the first ever cricket Test in Melbourne in 1877.  

Australia won that match and haven't lost a series against their oldest foes since 1986-87 

Their rugby league record is even better.  

Australia's recent win in England left Great Britain still looking for its first series victory over the Kangaroos since 1970. 

Rugby union has been more competitive although distance as much as form has been a factor.        

Before the advent of professionalism, the only regular tours to the southern hemisphere were conducted under the combined banner of the British and Irish Lions. 

Equally, Australia teams rarely made it to England. Consequently since the first Anglo-Australian rugby union Test was played in 1909 (Australia won that one too) the teams have met just 28 times. 

Australia lead the series 16-11 with one draw, including a 12-6 victory over England at London's Twickenham ground in the 1991 World Cup final. 

That match saw England, goaded by Australia wing David Campese's taunts about their 'boring' play, abandon their successful forward-dominated game in a bid to match the Wallabies' flair game. 

But in recent years England have had the edge, winning the last four matches, including a first victory on Australian soil in June where they outscored the Wallabies three tries to one in a 25-14 triumph. 

But whatever happens on Saturday, for some the English will always be a bunch of “whingeing Poms” and Australians will all be called 'Bruce' and have corks dangling from their hats. – AFP