2. All Blacks vs The Springboks

Originating in 1921, the fixture between New Zealand and South Africa is the fiercest rivalry in world rugby. With considerable history on and off the field, these two sides have produced some unforgettable duels over the decades.

Until 1996 New Zealand had never won a series in South Africa whereas the Springboks had won on All Black turf in 1937, a remarkable statistic considering the historical dominance of New Zealand. Prior to the professional era South Africa held more head-to head victories than New Zealand, although since 1995 the All Blacks have won 41 of their 57 matches against South Africa.

The Springboks are measured on only two things; how well they do in a World Cup and their performances against the All Blacks. If you ever asked a South African what their greatest team of all time was, the responses would include the 1995 World Cup winning side and the 2007-2009 side that Won a World Cup, beat the Lions and held countless trophies. Older generations would mention the 1937, 1949 and 1976 Boks sides. But what do they all have in common?

They all beat New Zealand.

The infamous ‘Rebel Tour’ split opinion across New Zealand in 1981 when South Africa were an international pariah due to the Apartheid. The All Blacks decided politics didn’t have a place in sport and allowed the tour to continue, leading to street protests and flour-bombs during matches. The tensions between the two nations have never truly recovered.

This political tension combined with the on-field animosity is the reason we all love to watch this fierce fixture.

Graphics by: Tom Burns

Various images courtesy of freepik.com

3. Manchester United vs Liverpool

Two cities separated by a short trip down the M62 have shared a rivalry on and off the field since the late 1800s. The historical economic and industrial feuds fuel the rivalry we know today. For years the winner of this match often took the league title, which made for some spectacular and unforgettable moments.

The two sides are the most successful English teams in domestic, European and worldwide competitions having won a combined 39 league titles and 9 European Cups although Manchester United lead in total trophies; 66 to Liverpool’s 64. The bragging rights seem interchangeable at this current moment and I’m sure both cities are aware of that.

Steven Gerrard famously took a film crew on a tour of his home and when filming his collection of football shirts, he pointed out that there were no United tops there adding that he would never have a Manchester United top in his house. He later added that a friend owned a Bryan Robson top as a child, and when he asked if he could wear it for a moment his dad went ballistic and told him not to drag the Gerrard name through the gutter again!

Even when uniting for their nation the two groups of players couldn’t get along, with both sides sitting at separate tables for meals. In a reserve match Neil Ruddock once broke both of Andy Cole’s legs before claiming “I only meant to break one…”

It’s fair to say there is no love lost between these two fan bases and despite a relaxation in their shared hatred, the animosity on the field is still there for us all to enjoy.

Graphics by: Tom Burns

All Black Legend Retires

The word legend gets thrown about loosely, but Dan Carter of the Crusaders and All Blacks epitomises what it means to be a legend. The fly-half announced his retirement late last month and the tributes have been pouring in since.

Carter scored 20 points against Wales in his All Blacks debut and didn’t stop until becoming the highest point scorer in test match rugby history with 1598 points, 352 ahead of second placed Jonny Wilkinson.

Carter missed most of the 2011 World Cup due to injury, and in 2015 it seemed lightning was going to strike twice as he limped off the field for the Crusaders in February. Upon Carter’s return he was utilised as an inside-centre where his form suffered. Sceptics questioned whether this was a World Cup too many for Carter and whether Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett should replace him in the starting XV and squad.

The trouble was everyone forgot they were talking about a true warrior, and Carter had one of his best ever tournaments in an All Black shirt.

In the final against Australia Sekope Kepu targeted Carter, hitting him hard twice in the opening exchanges. This didn’t affect Carter in the slightest, who put on a show for his international departure. His final 15 minutes as an All Black was reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s final minutes as a Bull’s player.  A legend signing off the only way they know how… by being the best.

Huge touchline kicks, monstrous tackles, a drop goal appearing from nowhere and one final conversion in front of the posts. A memorable moment from a true legend of rugby and professional sport.

Original image authors: Geof Wilson and David Roberts

Images amended by: Tom Burns

Original image licenses: https://www.flickr.com/photos/geoftheref/6279469652

4. Celtics vs Lakers

With both dynasties tied at 17 championships apiece they also account for almost half of the 74 championships in NBA history, making Boston Celtics and LA Lakers the fiercest rivalry in the NBA.

No two teams have faced each other in the NBA Finals more times than the twelve shared between these nemeses. Their domination of the sport, pure talent and raw aggression is what makes this rivalry so special.

In the first decade of the NBA’s history, the then Minneapolis Lakers won the first ever Championship series in 1950. It took 9 years for the Boston Celtics to meet the future enemy in a final, but it was worth the wait as the Celtics defeated the Lakers 4-0 for the first sweep in the NBA finals history. This would mark an era of dominance for the Celtics who went on to win 8 straight titles! Despite their dominance in the 60’s both sides were extremely strong and a level above the rest leading a true escalation of their rivalry.

The calm of the 70’s led to an explosion between the two sides in the 80’s, largely due to the ferocious personal rivalry between Magic Johnson of the Lakers and Bird of the Celtics. The Celtics defeated the Lakers in 8 consecutive championships before finally the Lakers responded and claimed their first scalp against the Celtic in 1985.

The Celtics were destined to a decade of mediocrity whilst their rivals announced themselves as the biggest force in basketball. Today one side getting one-up on the other is as important as it has ever been, and hopefully we will see the fiery rivalry in a NBA final sooner rather than later.

Graphics by: Tom Burns

Various images courtesy of freepik.com

5. USA vs USSR

After World War II the USSR were adamant they would keep control of Eastern Europe as a way of controlling any potential future threat from Germany. Their other motivation was to spread communism through Europe and the world which led to Cold War and the open yet restricted rivalry between America and the Soviet Union.

From space and the creation of NASA to Robert “Bobby” Fischer and the chessboard, these two nations fought on every possible battleground to claim their system and nation was superior.

We have already discussed the “Miracle on Ice” on this blog, when an amateur USA ice hockey side incredibly defeated the professionals of the Soviet Union. The most famous sporting battleground was however the Olympics where both nations have dominated post World War II.

Between 1960 and 1980 the Soviets invested heavily in their Olympians, leading them to three consecutive victories in that period. USA who had their fair share of victories last century had dominated the Olympic basketball scene, winning Gold consecutively for 7 games in a row leading up to the 1972 Olympics.

The Soviets who were regular Silver medallists in the event reached the final yet again in 1972 and led for most of the game before USA fought back in the final seconds to lead by a single point. Controversial timekeeping and refereeing led to the Soviets scoring a “illegitimate” winning basket (51-50).

USA were seething and accused the Soviets and Olympic committee of foul play. Their appeal was rejected and still to this day their Silver medals have not been accepted, and stay guarded in a Swiss safe.

Graphics by: Tom Burns

Naomi Osaka Wins at Australia

Naomi Osaka won the Australian Open last week, her fourth Grand Slam singles title in as many finals making her one of the most exciting sporting personalities in the world at the moment.

Serena Williams has dominated tennis for a quarter of a century but her search for that record-equalling 24th grand slam continues after being dispatched in straight sets by Osaka last week. Serena choked back her tears after her defeat, which can only add to the aura currently surrounding Osaka.

The only active female players with more titles than Osaka are the Williams sisters and with Osaka already 3 behind Venus’ seven titles at the age of 23, you would think she has to surpass that tally at some point.

After dispatching Serena in straight sets, Osaka did the same to Jennifer Brady in the final to win her 21st match in a row. Osaka has also never lost a match beyond or including the quarter-finals. Speaking in the week she said “the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved” before adding “I fight the hardest in the finals”. Admittedly I’m excited to what this warrior has to offer in future battlegrounds.

If she wishes to control tennis in the same was Serena has, Osaka must improve her form on grass and clay as she has never progressed further than the third round in a Grand Slam on either surface. Something tells me her fans won’t be waiting too long though.

Original image authors: si.robi and Jono52795

Images amended by: Tom Burns

Original licenses: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Osaka_WM17_(4)_(36143097936).jpg

6. England vs Germany

It would be a disservice to these two footballing nations to discuss their football rivalry using military metaphors alone. There is plenty of drama, pain and glory in the footballing archives to put fire in the belly of this rivalry.

Without question this rivalry is one of our most one-sided rivalries, as the English consider Germany their biggest footballing rivals whereas Germany considers other mainland European countries as their most fierce opposition. This isn’t to say the English rivalry does not matter to the Germans though with plenty of their most glorious victories have come against the English.

This is definitely a tale of two halves with the World Cup of 1966 signifying a switch in footballing power.

England dominated from the 30’s until 1966, often comfortably defeating the Germans with their 6-3 victory in 1938 being the largest scoring match in their history, as well as their most politically controversial (no, still not going there).

In 1965 Germany lost 1-0 in Nuremberg to England, their first ever defeat at that ground. The following year Alf Ramsey’s England defeated Germany by sucking all the life out of the Germans, pushing Moore into midfield to nullify any attacking potential from their young star, Franz Beckenbauer. Later that year England went on to lift the World Cup after defeating Germany 4-2 in the final, signifying the beginning of the end for England’s dominance.  

In 1970 England let a 2-0 slide to the Germans and went crashing out of the World Cup. England were playing great football at that time and the defeat was crushing and psychologically significant. In 1972 the Germans began their era of dominance when they comprehensively outclassed Germany at Wembley, playing with “grace and absolute commitment”, inflicting a thorough defeat on Ramsey’s England.

There have been moments of greatness for England in the modern era but also several crushing defeats, Lampard’s “goal” being at the forefront of all our memories. Will the tide turn again? Or will the Germans continue to laud their World Cups over the English?

Graphics by: Tom Burns

Various images courtesy of: free pik.com

7. Celtic vs Rangers

By far the two most successful clubs in Scottish history are based in Glasgow, a city with deep political, social and religious history and divide which only adds fuel to this fiery and unpredictable rivalry.

Rangers have 3 more Scottish League championships than Celtic but back in 1966-67 The Bhoys became the first and only Scottish side to become European Champions, a fact Celtic often laud over their arch-rivals.

This rivalry has as much to do with Northern Ireland as it does Scotland, conveyed in the emblems and colours of both teams. The protestants of Rangers had an unwritten rule for decades that they would not knowingly sign a player of Catholic faith, playing into the Sectarianism between the two sides. Although thankfully these lines have blurred over the decades, the roots of divide are still there to be seen when the two sides go into battle.

Of the numerous exchanges between the two sides over the decades, one incident between Celtic manager Neil Lennon and Rangers assistant coach Ally McCoist in March 2011 comes to mind. The incident occurred at Celtic Park in a season where 7 Old Firm matches took place, including a League Cup final and a title race won by Rangers by a single point.

Rangers came out with particular fire in their belly for a Scottish Cup fifth-round replay, and were down to 10-men after just 36 minutes in a match that saw another two Rangers players dismissed. Whittaker was the second man dismissed which sparked an exchange between El-Hadji Diouf (the third man dismissed) and the Celtic bench. The Rangers dug-out got involved and McCoist and Lennon clashed, yielding a warning from the referee. As the full time whistle blew for a 1-0 Celtic win, Lennon and McCoist clashed again, exchanging expletives before being pulled apart. The two were later suspended from the dugouts and the incident even prompted a crisis meeting with the Scottish Government.

We shouldn’t want to see emotions boil over and people losing their cool, but then isn’t that what great rivalries is all about?

Graphics by: Tom Burns

Six Nations: Scotland vs Wales

After their first win at Twickenham for 38 years, Scotland were set to face a Welsh side hit with injuries and lacking form despite a morale boosting victory against 14-men Ireland in the first round of fixtures. The match was definitely Scotland’s to lose.

The first half at Murrayfield went as most were anticipating with Scotland scoring two tries through Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg, closing the half with a 17-8 lead. The second half saw Graham get the ball over the line before seeing the try chalked off because Scott Cummings was guilty of blocking.

A few minutes later saw Wales advance to the other side of the pitch and score a converted try, bringing the score to 17-15 in Scotland’s favour. The mental collapse of Scotland didn’t finish there when Zander Fagerson connected with Wyn Jones’ head at a clearout. After some discussion between the on-field referee and the TMO the Scottish man was shown red, rightfully reducing Scotland to 14 men.

Wales quickly capitalised on the one man deficit, scoring a try through the emerging youngster Rees-Zammit. This was the second week in a row Wales faced 14 men and the second time they made a tough work of it as Scotland applied constant pressure in the Welsh half before gaining the lead for the second time in the match.

This lead was short-lived as Rees-Zammit scored a magnificent second try, leading to a Man of the Match performance in the Welsh victory.

The Scottish will be disappointed with this loss ahead of a big clash against a formidable French side. Wales can take some positives into their match against England but one would think the performances would have to improve if we are to continue this winning streak. For now though we dream of yet another Grand Slam! C’mon Cymru!!

Original images authors: Calum404 and 江戸村のとくぞう

Images amended by: Tom Burns

Original image licenses: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Murrayfield_Autumn_2017.jpg

8. Brazil vs Argentina

A large proportion of the greatest footballers ever come from one of these two nations, making it an occasion that is known for its incredible talent as well as its sheer competitiveness.

In 1925 Brazil and Argentina played in the Copa América final in Buenos Aires on Christmas Day in what became known as “The Barracas’ War”. Argentina only needing a draw to emerge as tournament winners went 2-0 down in the first half. The 30,000 fans were deafeningly silent until Friedenreich of Argentina was hacked down by a Brazilian defender whilst on the counter attack to which he responded by kicking the Brazilian.

He received a hammer punch in return which started a royal rumble involving players and spectators. The match was temporarily suspended before a hug between the two players restarted the match. No red cards, no messing around just back to football, not sure how Neymar would have fared in those days.

14 years later in 1939 Brazil were seeking revenge against Argentina after losing 5-1 to them just a week previously. The stadium was vibrating as Brazil shot into a 1-0 lead. Argentina quickly recovered and were leading the match 2-1 before Brazil managed to draw level yet again. A brutal game which saw both teams kicking each other as much as they did the football ended when Brazil was awarded a penalty with little of the match remaining. Seething one of the Argentine players had to be escorted from the pitch after verbally abusing the referee. The Argentine players walked off the pitch and the match-winning penalty was scored without a goalkeeper.

The passion of these two fanbases will never die and hopefully they continue to produce stories and incident for us all to enjoy.

Graphics by: Tom Burns

Various images courtesy of: freepik.com