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Top 5 international rugby rivalries of all time

By Philip Bendon
The Springboks and All Blacks rivalry is a fierce one on the field, but full of affection off it, with both sides holding each other in the highest regard (Photo by Getty Images).

The 27th of March 1871 is a day etched into Rugby history as the first on which a competitive game of Rugby Union took place.

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England and Scotland duked it out that day in front of 4000 spectators at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh.

The fixture itself came about as a challenge set forth by the captains of five senior Scottish Clubs to the footballers of England.

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Much to the delight of the home crowd the Scots took home the win by the score of two tries and a goal to England’s lone try.

At that very moment Rugby’s first international rivalry was born and now more than 150 years later the sport has become a global game with many significant rivalries at all levels.

Rivalry by its very definition is based on competitiveness with the sole objectivity of superiority over your competition.

In a sport where many of the top nations play each other on a regular basis, several intense rugby rivalries have cultivated over the decades.

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Below we will look at the top five rugby rivalries in international rugby history.

5. Fiji vs Samoa

Undoubtedly the most bone crunching of these rivalries, the South Pacific Island rivals rarely disappoint when going head-to-head.

Having first met way back in 1924, they have met on 53 further occasions with Fiji currently edging Samoa 30 – 21 with 3 draws.

Both countries are widely regarded as hot beds for rugby talent and have seen several of their very best players go on to represent other nations.

Names such as Joe Rokocoko, Manu Tualagi and Mils Muliaina have gone on to be some of the greatest players in the world for other countries.

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Despite this, the players who have remained and played for their countries have been nothing short of sensational.

Think Alesana Tuilagi, Rupeni Caucaunibuca, Brian Lima and suddenly you realise just how much talent these little islands have produced.

4. Australia vs New Zealand

The Australasian rivalry between these two sides is one of little brother looking to take on big brother.

Unfortunately for big brother (Australia) little brother has completely dominated this rivalry, in particular in recent years.

Having played each other a whopping 173 times, New Zealand holds almost three times as many wins with 120 compared to Australia’s 45 with 8 draws thrown in for good measure.

Despite the lopsided nature of this rivalry, it remains one of the fieriest match ups in the game.

Australian victories have often come at the most inopportune times for the Kiwis, most notably the 1991 and 2003 Rugby World Cups – both tournaments in which the All Blacks were heavy favourites.

The 2003 tournament in particular sticks out for the famous statement of “Four more years boys” from the former Wallabies‘ captain George Gregan as his side knocked the All Blacks out of yet another tournament.

3. England vs Ireland

Ireland and England’s rivalry is one steeped in history due to the two countries complicated history.

The first fixture between the two sides took place in 1875 and would begin a run of forty-two consecutive English victories.

The streak would come to an end in 1925 when the two sides played out a 6 – 6 draws at Twickenham.

The following year in Dublin would see a first ever Irish victory 19 – 15. From here the Irish would begin to level the series with it currently standing at 80 – 51 in England’s favour.

Interestingly when one of these two sides gains the ascendancy, they tend to hold it for multiple seasons.

2. Australia vs England

A rivalry as old as time, the Aussies and the Poms.

No two countries enjoy beating each other more than these two.

Perhaps it is the similarities between the sporting psyche of the two nations or could it just be wanting to get one over the monarchy.

Rugby due to its very nature as a sport that requires physical and mental dominance for success has seen fierce battles over the years. None more so than the 2003 World Cup final which required two periods of overtime to be settled by the boot of one Johnny Wilkinson.

To get a real sense of this rivalry one only needs to look at the record between the two sides which is currently led by England 28 – 26.

1. New Zealand vs South Africa

Since 1921 these two southern hemisphere giants have gone tooth and nail against each other.

Due to South Africa’s apartheid regime, the country was put on an international sporting ban initially by the International Olympic Committee in 1970.

It would take rugby a bit longer but as the Springboks landed in Auckland in 1981 for their tour, the New Zealand public offered a significant backlash.

This would be the last time the two sides would meet until 1992 when the Apartheid era came to an end.

Interestingly until that point the Springboks held the advantage in the head-to-head series 21 – 18 and had the distinction of winning a series in New Zealand.

At the time of writing the two sides have now played 100 matches with the All Blacks winning 60 tests, the Springboks 36 with 4 draws.

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