By Julian Linden
They’re the best of friends and the worst of enemies and Australia and New Zealand wouldn’t want it any other way.
Like a lot of neighbours, the two nations have a deep and enduring love-hate relationship, although what binds them is much stronger than what divides them.
Both former British colonies, Australian and New Zealand soldiers have fought and died alongside each other at wars. If ever one suffers disaster, the other is always first to help, and they have a free trade agreement since 1983.
But they are also great rivals. Like siblings who want to beat their brother or sister, the two Pacific nations are constantly bickering and trying to outdo each other.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in sport. Because of their cultural ties, they play the same games, so every contest between the Antipodean states evokes strong national feelings.
On Saturday, the two countries will face each other in the final of the Rugby World Cup. The two nations are already on tenterhooks, trading friendly insults in the build-up to the match, but the stakes could not be higher.
For the winner, years of bragging rights will be assured, but it’s the fear of losing that is causing most palpitations on both sides of the Tasman Sea.
“Anyone that is involved in rugby hates losing,” the Australian coach Michael Cheika said. “On Saturday there will be 46 pig-headed fellas out there trying to win.”
Rugby is New Zealand’s game. Historically, the All Blacks are one of the most successful international teams in all sports. With a population of 4.5 million, New Zealand punches way above its weight in rugby, winning the inaugural World Cup in 1987 and the last in 2011.
They play Australia more than any other country, often three times a year, and beat them more often than not. But the Wallabies have been a thorn in their side at World Cups, winning the tournament twice, in 1991 and 1999, and knocking the All Blacks out of the 2003 tournament.
Their matches are often bitter. Australians still harbour ill-feelings over the career-ending injury New Zealand’s Colin Meads inflicted on Wallabies scrumhalf Ken Catchpole in 1968 while New Zealanders still blame Australia for being stripped as co-hosts of the 2003 World Cup.
While Saturday’s clash will mark the first time the two countries have played each other in the Rugby World Cup final, the two countries have met in various other global finals, including the last three rugby league world cup finals and the last five netball world cup finals.
Earlier this year, Australia and New Zealand met for the first time in the final of the Cricket World Cup, a tournament they co-hosted. But cricket is Australia’s game and the Aussies won easily, capturing their fifth title and leaving the Kiwis still chasing their first.
Cricket remains a sore point between the two countries. Australia refused to even play New Zealand regularly until the early 1970s but the low point in their relationship was the 1981 ‘underarm’ incident, when Australia bowled the final ball of a close match along the ground to prevent New Zealand from having the chance of tying the game.
It’s not just in sports either that Australia and New Zealand don’t see eye to eye, with debates still raging over the nationalities of the musical band Crowded House and Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe.
And bizarrely, the two countries are still feuding over the origins of a sweet dessert.
Named after a Russian ballerina, the Pavlova is a meringue-based cake served at Christmas in both countries. New Zealand claims it was invented by a Wellington chef to serve the world-famous dancer when she visited in 1926. Australians argue the recipe appeared in local magazines earlier than that.
The only thing the two agree on is that it is delicious.