Hey all you rugby zombies out there in TV land…
Welcome to Episode 19 of the Chewsday Chew.
I have to say that after the veritable tornado, the smorgasbord, the awe-inspiring tsunami of rugby we have had to digest over the last 4 weeks or so via my new best mate Stan, I confess to being a bit (more) of a gibbering idiot over the weekend just gone as I withdraw off the high. Sans 97 hours of rugby played to be squeezed into 48 hours of viewing pleasure, I was forced to the more mundane domesticated duties like cleaning the gutters, splitting a bit of firewood and vaguely threatening some trees with some pruning as I detoxed from the viewing rugby-opioid-overdose of recent times.
And as I winced up the ladder with Sunday Soreness to stick my mitts in the God-knows-what morass of my gutters to pull out Christ-only-knows-what biology experiments have been brewing there since last I dared disturb the primordial soup therein, I was thinking of two things:
- I wonder how much penicillin has been thrown away in these circumstances? And,
- What the hell am I going to talk about this week?
And then, as random as is the wont of most elusive moments of inspiration, I was in mid-contemplation of the ham, mustard and pickle sandwich that constituted the luvin’ Mrs Nutta’s proffered lunch and flicking through my FB feed, when I saw an article commemorating the 100th clash, on the Saturday just passed, between the fierce rugby rivals of Sydney’s Northern Beaches precinct; Warringah Rats and Manly Marlins.
For those who don’t know, the Warringah Rats and the Manly Marlins play in the Sydney Shute Shield competition. And stemming from a long history as generally the two most northern neighbours to that competition, largely driven by a bizarre mix of geography, crap roads and weird family insularity (“Don’t cross the streams!”), their shared history is littered with betrayals, dastardly deeds, broken bones, spilled claret and a level of on-field antipathy that is indeed usually only reserved for neighbours and relatives.
Now to be fair and accurate, with the advent of the Hunter Wildfires and their entry into the Shite, this ‘northern’ tag is no longer the case for either the Rats or the Marlins. But let’s not let any new-fangled fact get in the road of a good local hating ok?
If you ever get the chance to get along to Rat Park and/or Manly Oval and watch this particular local derby, you will see a level of vitriol quite startling among we more laid-back Ockers. While the crowds are generally quite good-natured (I mean it is rugby, not loig and CERTAINLY not that filthy soccer requiring fences and riot police to keep them separated), nonetheless the crowd size and invective is certainly there while the two sides partake in something at times more akin to Calcio Fiorentino then to anything played in heaven. To be clear, I well recall one incident a mere 10 years ago or so, wherein a Rat involved in a sideline scuffle with a Marlin suddenly found himself assisted by two Rat fans reaching over the fence to join in belting said Marlin ALL ON LIVE ABC TV. It was funny but shocking at the same time.
And that got me thinking of some of the best derbies and rivalries I’ve either been part of or simply privileged to see over the years.
Now I’m going to stay clear of NSW v Qld, Aus v ACBs (All Corporate Blacks) and Aus v English as I would not do them justice herein. They each deserve their own stand alone article another day, each likely written by someone more emotionally balanced than I.
Probably the one ‘local’ rugby rivalry that sticks in my head most, as it was so formative on me as an impressionable, innocent and naive young man (hehehe…), was that between Wagga Waratahs and Wagga City. Riverina rugby was ferociously strong in the post-war years (regularly hosting touring All Blacks and South African squads) and in that zone, Wagga City was the powerhouse club, providing multiple Wallabies and NSW Waratahs. And then, on 2 March 1959 Wagga Waratahs formed, attracting to them such talent including the likes of Beres Ellwood (look him up – arguably the best centre ever) and also Wallaby captain, Jim Lenehan. The Tahs quickly became a benchmark of the local competition over the following decades and I was lucky enough to play with them largely throughout the 90s. As such, with one effectively spawning from the other, the two clubs have been close to openly despising each other ever since. It was in this mutual admiration maelstrom that I was first introduced to the concept of “They’re a filthy mob those buggers are lads, so get out there and retaliate first!” by the indomitable Soapy Walker.
Another ‘healthy’ rivalry I’ve been part of up close over more recent years has been the Drummoyne Dirty Reds and the Balmain Wolves in Sydney Subbies Division1. There’s not much point getting into the specifics other than to say as two neighbouring suburbs, sharing a lot of cousins, bastards, inter-marriages and mixed stocklines between them, then it’s safe to say that when the boots go on, the gloves come off in that one.
Looking further afield, Glasnost is certainly not in-mind when Russia plays Georgia. While not as high-profile as other test match rivalries, there is no doubt there is little love lost between these neighbours in their 20-odd matches since their inaugural clash in 1993. Local media (reliability?) reports their smallest crowd to date as 50,000 (apparently) and while Russia has only won a single match so far, and they have shared one draw, it is fair to note that a number of matches have had time called significantly early due the extent of fisticuffs both on-field and on the sidelines involving both players and
spetsnaz spectators’ alike.
Regarding our Celtic Six Nations friends and steering away from more fraught political topics (don’t let’s start on Ireland v England at Croke Park), Ireland and Wales is an interesting rivalry to consider. The bad blood seems to stem originally from an evening in 1914, wherein during the week before a test match, a group of Welsh forwards (themselves known as the ‘Terrible Eight’ clearly for being vestal virgins) were having a night out at a north Belfast theatre when they were (allegedly) confronted (some say ‘ambushed’) by a dozen Irishmen allegedly including most of the Irish forward pack. A prodigious fight ensued and thus the scene was set. The match that followed came to be known as one of the most spiteful ever played.
And so the Welsh v Irish dislike continued down the years with episodes such as Gavin Henson and Brian O’Driscoll tête-à-tête in 2005. And the never confirmed rumours of an ongoing series of training ground and dressing room antipathy came to limited public attention after the Lions Irish contingent allegedly took physical umbrage at the predominantly Welsh forwards ‘failure to respond’ to the treatment meted out to Brian O’Driscoll in the 1st test of the 2005 Lions v ACBs series. Apparently the first training session post the ‘pile driver’ test match was ‘intense’ to say the least. Even coach Gatland is quoted as commenting “Probably, out of all the teams in the Six Nations, the Welsh and Irish players dislike the other the most.”
Another ‘healthy’ rivalry to consider is certainly Les Blues and the ACBs. While both sides have not ever been accused of being shy and retiring types when it comes to spilling a bit of claret (be it their own or anyone else’s), their mutual antipathy was typified by no better example than the infamous 1986 ‘Battle of Nantes’ wherein Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford, playing his 2nd test for the ACB, went down in rugby folklore when a Les Blues amphetamine-fuelled boot found Monsieur Shelford’s crown jewels and quite literally tore his scrotum open (see below at about 29:50 is where I reckon it happened – you see him thrown down as a ruck ends and then you see him still on ground in backplay after).
And for the sake of completeness, I cannot close this article out without acknowledging the rivalry of South Africa and the ACB (why does everyone hate the ACB?). Certainly I could wax lyrical about our own Ocker viewpoints regarding the English and the ACBs, but when it comes down to sheer open antipathy not much rivals Bokke and Silver Ferns.
Never exactly being the types to exchange Christmas cards, tensions certainly came to boiling point between the two in 1981, when the Springboks tour of New Zealand was met at every turn – both on and off field – by fierce anti-apartheid protests pretty much all over the twin islands of our 7th state. And to be fair, don’t forget we are talking about a mob whose own government had denied the Kiwis the right to field Maori players on Jaapie soil. And of course, mutual admiration was again at an all-time low following the 1995 Bill when Suzy the waitress was suddenly nowhere to be found.
Apparently much of the historic antipathy stemmed from the South African indignation towards the New Zealand approach of fielding a two-man front row in the 1928 tour of SA by the NZers, thereby creating an extra wing-forward deployed outside the confines of the scrum. Besides creating a numerical advantage in the backs, the two-man front row boring inwards created intolerable pressure on an opposing hooker which apparently led to a succession of hospitalised Jaapie hookers. After the ACBs approach apparently smashed all opening opponents, including the Bokke themselves in the first test, the answer as devised by the Bokke was to pick 8 enormous forwards and simply overpower the ACBs. And that approach of mutual antipathy, typified by indignation and gargantuanism, and occasionally interrupted by some random chick named Suzy, continues to this day.
So there you have it cobbers. There are a few rivalries to chew over and perhaps alleviate the DTs in an otherwise addiction withdrawal week. As ever, I invite the denizens of this ‘ere site to contemplate and post their own recollections, allegations and completely unfounded musings in the comments below and to sprinkle them liberally with UChube clips in support thereof. As ever, more points for the more obscure…