Rugby World Cup: 'The little guys won'

  • 31 October 2015
  • From the section Asia
New Zealand players celebrate after the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Image copyright AP
Image caption Victory over a neighbour is especially sweet

And so the best team won. And it wasn't Australia. Hurrah.

For the third time, the New Zealand All Blacks are the Rugby Union World Champions.

On one side of the Tasman Sea this morning, there will be bleary-eyed celebrations, dancing/staggering in the streets of Wellington and Christchurch.

On the other, there will probably be a shrug of the shoulders and a communal cry of "Am I bovvered? It's a rubbish sport anyway. Let's go to the beach."

As somebody who has lived in both Australia and New Zealand for a number of years, I can tell you this result will matter far more to the Kiwis than it will for the Aussies.

While rugby union is a veritable religion in New Zealand, the ins and outs of the All Blacks side featuring in just about every national news bulletin, in Australia the game plays very much third fiddle in popularity to Rugby League and Aussie Rules, not to mention cricket and increasingly football (or soccer as they insist on calling it here.)

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Rugby union is a "veritable religion" in New Zealand

Like in England, union in Australia is still seen by many as something of an elitist sport played by those who went to private schools, primarily in New South Wales and Queensland.

The current Australian team has tried to brand itself as the "Working Class Wallabies", with a number of players from the Pacific Islands.

But for the most part, the game is still followed by the upper echelons of Australian society. The thinking man's game.

An unequal relationship

Most people here probably didn't bother to get up to watch the final from Twickenham, which to be fair, was on at an ungodly hour of the night.

Not so in New Zealand, where the game genuinely seems to unite a nation.

Sporting rivalries are a funny thing. As an Englishman, I am happy that Australia lost. A Scotsman is probably unhappy that as an Englishman I am happy. Everyone is happy that the French didn't win. And a German is probably asking "Why don't we play rugby?"

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Their pain is New Zealand's gain

New Zealand will take massive satisfaction from beating Australia.

The relationship between the two countries is an unequal one, not dissimilar to that between the United States and Canada.

Like Canadians, New Zealanders often feel overshadowed and patronised by their bigger, more brash and more powerful neighbour.

One of my favourite episodes of the brilliant New Zealand comedy Flight of the Conchords is where Jermaine mistakenly sleeps with an Australian woman.

It hits the nail on the head. Nothing gets on a Kiwi's wick more than being mistaken for an Aussie.

And yes the accents are different, with New Zealanders having much more clipped vowels than those found in the Australian drawl.

All of that said, and despite the fierce rivalry, the final at Twickenham was played in tremendous spirit.

After the game was over, it was great to see the All Blacks hoisting up the Wallabies and embracing them.

This was a clash between the two best teams in the tournament, played amid great mutual respect.

It is also important to note that this World Cup was a triumph for the southern hemisphere, with South Africa and Argentina making up the final four and teaching the Northerners a few tricks in their own back yard.

A sporting minnow

Apologies to my foreign editor here, but when it comes to sport, New Zealand is not particularly good at many things.

In the last four summer and winter Olympics, New Zealand, with a population of just 4.5 million, won only 32 medals.

Australia won 199. Great Britain took home 178.

When Rob Waddell won New Zealand's only gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the Australian comedy duo Roy and HG remarked that the only sport New Zealand was any good at was "a sport that involved sitting down and going backwards".

Image copyright ALlsport/Getty
Image caption New Zealand is good at rugby - but not at many other sports

Sadly for the Kiwis, Rugby Union only enjoyed a very brief period as an Olympic sport in the early 20th Century, although Rugby Sevens will be introduced into the 2016 games in Rio.

When it comes to sport, New Zealand puts it eggs very much in one basket.

Following each Olympics, the New Zealand media tends to go through a torturous period of sporting introspection where they ask whether the country wouldn't be better to diversify more instead of focusing on rugby.

They're probably not asking that question this morning.

Congratulations to the All Blacks. The little guys won.

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