1. New Zealand vs. South Africa
When South Africa plays New Zealand, consider your country at war,” said legendary Springbok Boy Louw back in 1949. It’s a sentiment that has rung true since the teams first met in 1921, with the intervening years pock-marked by rows over biased local refereeing, on-field violence and dirty tricks. As Springbok centre John Gainsford once reportedly said: “When you come to us, we cheat you and beat you. And when we go to you, you cheat us and beat us.”
Tensions came to boiling point in 1981, when the Springboks team that toured New Zealand was met by fierce anti-apartheid protests everywhere they went – previously, South Africa’s government had denied the Kiwis the right to play Maori players on their soil – and almost forced its abandonment. Politics plays less of a role now, but for two countries in which rugby union is a way of life, and who are often jousting for the game’s biggest prizes – they have racked up six World Cups between them – relations will always be icy.