From Bodyline to Ballymore: England, Australia's long sporting rivalry

Oita (Japan) (AFP) –


When England face Australia in Saturday's Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Oita it will be the latest chapter in a sporting rivalry stretching back over 140 years.

Cricket -- the national summer sport of both countries -- has been the cornerstone, with England and Australia playing the first Test match at Melbourne back in 1877.

This year alone England beat Australia in a men's World Cup semi-final before lifting the trophy for the first time, while the two sides shared a five-match Ashes Test series 2-2 with one draw, although Australia's women dominated a multi-format Ashes campaign during the recently concluded English season.

When Douglas Jardine was named England captain for the 1932/33 tour of Australia, Rockley Wilson, his old cricket master at the elite Winchester school, quipped: "We may well win the Ashes, but we may very well lose a dominion."

Wilson's words were very nearly proved correct, with Jardine's use of controversial 'Bodyline' bowling tactics, primarily designed to curb Australian run-machine Don Bradman, helping England to a series win but also leading to an off-field crisis that almost provoked a breakdown in diplomatic relations.

According to cliched views in both countries, the English or Poms "whinge" while the "ugly" Australians care only for winning at all costs.

There is some truth, however, in the view held by many Australians that "England don't have a problem with losing -- they have a problem with winning", with sport more central to the way Australia projects itself to the world than in Britain, the "mother country".

Rugby Union came relatively late to Anglo-Australian sport.

The first Test between England and the Wallabies didn't take place until 1909. Matches between the two countries, unlike the Great Britain-Australia rugby league clashes that started at the same time, were sporadic affairs for many years afterwards.

Indeed the widespread view within English rugby for decades was Australia were a a second-tier nation compared to the traditional southern hemisphere union giants of New Zealand and South Africa.

Attitudes were not helped by the infamous 'Battle of Ballymore' at Brisbane in 1975 when Mike Burton became the first England player to be sent off in a Test, with Australia going on to win a spiteful match 30-21.

- Ella and Campese -

English opinions of Australian rugby were changed dramatically, however, by the 1984 Wallabies side that completed a Grand Slam -- beating England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales on a single tour.

The superb attacking play of the likes of Mark Ella -- a childhood friend of England coach Eddie Jones -- and David Campese, made a huge impression on a generation of British followers of the 15-a-side code.

Since then England and Australia have contested two Rugby World Cup finals, both resulting in wins for the away team. The Wallabies triumphant at Twickenham in 1991 before England, thanks to Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal in the dying seconds of extra time in Sydney, beat a home side coached by Jones.

England have also enjoyed quarter-final wins over Australia at the 1995 and 2007 editions.

That Jones was appointed to the England post is a direct consequence of Australia -- then as now coached by Michael Cheika, a former team-mate at Sydney club Randwick, knocking the hosts out in the first round of the 2015 World Cup with a 33-13 pool success at Twickenham.

Nor is it in union alone where England have been coached by an Australian with Wayne Bennett in charge of the rugby league side, and Trevor Bayliss stepping down from his post with the England men's cricket team after the Ashes following several years at the helm.

Meanwhile Cheika has been riled by the "weird" presence of Ricky Stuart, the coach of the Canberra Raiders rugby league side, within the England camp this week -- although England insisted the visit was arranged long before the quarter-final line-up was known.

"It always hurts me when there's an Aussie over there, you know what I mean?" said Cheika. "Trevor Bayliss and Eddie and, I don't know, Wayne Bennett.

"You want them at home but it is what it is.

"What do you do?"