x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Rugby World Cup: Aussies, Kiwis are rivals and friends

There is no denying rugby followers on both sides of the Tasman Sea are zealots. But that certainly doesn't mean that New Zealanders hate Australians or vice versa.

SYDNEY // Tomorrow when the Wallabies and All Blacks face off for their semi-final game at Eden Park in Auckland, there will be war cries from the stands with supporters baying for the blood of their rivals.

There is no denying rugby followers on both sides of the Tasman Sea are zealots. But that certainly doesn't mean that New Zealanders hate Australians or vice versa.

That some Kiwis, including an MP, reportedly showed their crass side by making rude jibes to Australian supporters early in the series, displeased most New Zealanders.

They shared their shame on radio, in blogs and in other media.

The mayor of Nelson, Aldo Miccio, who is married to an Australian, was so incensed by the behaviour, he declared "Hug an Aussie Day" when the Wallabies came to town to play the Russians.

As long as anyone can remember, New Zealanders and Australians have been winding each other up - and not just on the sports field.

They bicker about accents, expressions, claims over who has the best race horse (Phar Lap was born in New Zealand), the greatest heroes (Kiwi, Sir Edmund Hillary was the first man to climb Mt Everest), the most famous celebrities (Australian actors Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Hugh Jackson versus Sir Peter Jackson, who won 11 Academy Awards for the third of his Lord of the Rings trilogy), the best food, wine, airline, tourism attractions and so on.

The two countries also spar about who invented a sugary, white meringue confection called pavlova.

Most see this rivalry for what it is - a bit of friendly goading, competitiveness between two countries that are really more the same than different.

Usually it is tit for tat, although New Zealanders have become somewhat jaded over the endless sheep jokes dished out to them by Australians. Australians also consider it fair game to pick on the soft vowels of a Kiwi accent, even though they never can correctly wrap their tongues around the way a New Zealander says fish and chips.

Unfortunately action and reaction can go awry at times. What New Zealanders are objecting to in this Rugby World Cup appears to be arrogance from the Australian team. It could be the idle bragging by Australians of New Zealand never having won a Rugby World Cup since the inaugural event in 1987. Australia has won it twice.

There is irony that the Wallabies look for guidance from one of New Zealand's beloved rugby sons - their coach Robbie Deans.

Both countries snatch players from each other for all manner of sports.

When New Zealand's Warriors team ended up in the National Rugby League grand final in Australia recently, many Australians supported the team in preference to the unpopular Manly's Sea Eagles, raising eyebrows among expats.

That nearly 600,000 Kiwis have made their home in the so-called lucky country of Australia (32,600 in the past year) shows New Zealand's love for Australia - or at least its prospects of a more affluent lifestyle.

Citizens can live freely in each other's countries. There is a free trade agreement which nurtures each other's markets - except a continued resistance to New Zealand apples by Australian producers.

Aussies and Kiwis have fought side by side at war and patriotically remember this bond each year in ceremonies.

The highest paid executive in Australia, Commonwealth Bank's outgoing chief executive Sir Ralph Norris, is a Kiwi. The Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson's successful lingerie brand, Bendon, is a New Zealand company.

The countries and its people are intertwined on many fronts. Between 210 million and 500 million years ago, both countries were one as Gondwanaland before tectonic plates split them apart and put the Tasman Sea between them.

Every time there is an earthquake in New Zealand - frequently these days - New Zealand inches a few centimetres closer to Australia.

What would really make the ground move for New Zealanders now is not only a win against Australia in the semis but a grand final against France should France beat Wales in its semi-final. After the French booted the All Blacks out of the last Rugby World Cup in the quarter finals such victory would be, as we like to say, "as sweet as".


Denise McNabb is a New Zealand freelance writer living in Sydney