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Opinion

Wallabies versus Springboks: Is this rugby’s greatest modern-day rivalry?

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Roar Rookie
27th August, 2021
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4737 Reads

“It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that, and I know. But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.”

As a relatively young Wallabies fan watching us play the All Blacks, Tony Soprano’s words are all too familiar. As our closest and main rival, my first memories of Bledisloe Tests are when John Eales was still kicking penalties, Toutai Kefu was still scoring tries and surfing the internet while someone was on the home phone was still a big no-no.

However, I may have misinterpreted Tony’s words. What if I’ve been focusing on the wrong contest? What if the Wallabies and World Rugby’s best rivalry has been happening right under my very nose this entire time?

We know the other story already. New Zealand versus South Africa is up there as one of the greatest rivalries in World Rugby.

Springboks

(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Winners of the past four World Cups, they are the two most successful rugby nations over the past 14 years. Their dominance cannot be disputed. The clashes against each other have produced some of the most memorable Tests during this period and passionate fans from both nations will attest to this being the toughest and most exciting match-up that each team has on their calendar.

But behind this passion lies another rivalry that surpasses this. One that has been almost impossible to separate over the course of the last 28 years. I speak, of course, about the Wallabies versus the Springboks.

Going back through each result since we resumed playing Tests in 1992, I was astonished to see that we are almost identical in relation to results.

Some of the numbers are incredible. Sixty Tests played. Thirty wins for Australia, 27 for South Africa with three draws. The total points scored for Australia in this period is 1321 to South Africa’s 1304. An average scoreline of 22-22 (rounded, of course).

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Those numbers are simply remarkable. This is not unique either, with each decade across almost 30 years producing similarly close averages.

1990s

Team Wins Win percentage Points scored Average score
Australia 7 50 293 21
South Africa 7 50 283 20

Draws 0

2000s

Team Wins Win percentage Points scored Average score
Australia 13 50 615 24
South Africa 12 46 539 21

Draws 1

2010s

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Team Wins Win percentage Points scored Average score
Australia 10 50 413 30
South Africa 8 40 482 34

Draws 2

I decided to investigate other match-ups to see whether this was unique. When going through the majority of the Six Nations teams, as well as northern hemisphere versus southern hemisphere teams, I was unable to find any rivalries between the other major nations that are as evenly matched as the Boks and Wallabies over the same period.

The next closest I was able to find is Wales versus France with France winning 58.3 per cent of the time. England versus France (England 58.5 per cent) and England versus South Africa (South Africa 58.8 per cent) came in at a very close third and fourth respectively.

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Clearly, the Wallabies and Boks are two teams who have proven to be the equal of the other.

As for the Springboks versus All Blacks? Not even close. Over the same period, the All Blacks and Boks have played 62 times with New Zealand winning 44 of those contests to South Africa’s 16 with two draws. That’s a 26 per cent win record for the Springboks.

And for the Wallabies against the All Blacks over the same period? A slightly better 27 per cent record.

‘But that was then and not now!’ I hear you cry. And maybe so. Perhaps it’s only our recent recollections that give the impression of this match-up being above all others.

So then how do these teams compare since 2010? Well, the Boks’ win percentage drops to 14 per cent while the Wallabies’ also plummets to 16 per cent. Not exactly an improvement.

Malcolm Marx battles the Wallabies.

(Jono Searle/Getty Images)

To be fair, both teams were able to give the All Blacks a bit more of a run for their money during the noughties and ’90s. South Africa were the pick of the noughties with a 33 per cent win record and the Wallabies were the pick of the ’90s, winning 41 per cent of the time.

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Yet this still doesn’t hide the fact that neither team has been able to measure up as a competitive rival for the All Blacks in recent years, no matter how we try and spin it.

“All due respect, you got no f*****g idea what it’s like to be number one. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f*****g thing. It’s too much to deal with almost. And in the end, you’re completely alone with it all.”

This statement from Tony Soprano is probably something All Blacks fans can relate to and I suppose it’s not entirely fair to eliminate them from this discussion. However, being the most dominant rugby team in the world across decades of Test matches makes it difficult to have any truly competitive rivalry.

In fact, since 2010, their most competitive rival in relation to winning percentage is actually England with 22 per cent.

So, if we are to speak of rivalries and contests, purely from a numbers perspective, then it’s tough to go past the Wallabies and Springboks clashes.

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Soon, these two teams will once again lock horns for the Mandela Challenge Plate and I am sure that despite recent form from Australia, another hard-fought contest is on the cards. In fact, if history has taught us anything, we may as well flip a coin.

May the rivalry continue.

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