Sat, Nov 15, 2003 - Page 20 News List

`Pommy bashing' becomes Oz's national sport

REUTERS , LONDON

Australia's passion for hating the English is never far from the surface and it has been appearing in the most unlikely settings at rugby's World Cup, which Australia is hosting.

Even England's neighbors from across the Irish Sea have found themselves bearing the brunt of "Pommy bashing."

When defending champions the Wallabies played Ireland in their final Pool A match in Melbourne on Nov.1, thousands of green-clad Irish fans marched over a footbridge to get to Docklands Stadium.

Australian fans with painted faces launched into a boisterous chant as they passed, making graphic suggestions as to what the visitors might do with their chariots.

The affable Irish turned back and explained quietly: "We don't have any chariots."

It did not matter much to the Australians. Any chance to insult the Poms and their rugby tune, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, was too good to miss, even if England themselves were not playing.

When the red rose does take the field, heaven help flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson if he makes a slip, or coach Clive Woodward if he opens his mouth and says something controversial, or indeed anything at all.

Britain's The Times newspaper is running a daily column called "Insult Watch" to detail the Australian media's fascination with attacking the England team.

The Australian, the host country's only daily broadsheet newspaper, reprinted an article this week by The Times political columnist Magnus Linklater in which the author told Australia to start acting like an adult nation.

Linklater said Australia, which has triumphed in the cricket, rugby union and rugby league World Cups and produced an array of Olympic heroes, was proving to be bad winner.

"Can it be that, beneath its self-proclaimed robust independence, Australia remains hopelessly fixated on the mother state?," Linklater wrote.

The truth is that since Australia became a nation a century ago, few things have tasted sweeter than rubbing England's nose in the dirt on a sporting field. This can be seen as a compliment, though not one most would seek.

Settled by Britain as a penal colony in 1788, Australia effectively freed itself of British rule in 1901.

Australia, as a largely arid island continent in the southern hemisphere, feels it is out of sight and out of mind for many and any chance to make a mark on the world stage is seized.

Australia cricket captain Steve Waugh made a miraculous recovery from a calf muscle injury to play in the fifth Ashes test against England in 2001, scoring a century despite having a limp.

Waugh's side won again in 2002 to 2003 against England and the skipper lashed out at the English attitude in his new book Never Say Die this month.

"I have felt for a long time the Poms need to play with more passion and purpose, be prepared to play through injuries, take on any challenge with relish and have each man participating with a goal of collecting the man-of-the-match award," Waugh wrote.

England's defeatist mentality, where a brave loss to a rampant opponent is acceptable enough, is a source of regular amusement to Australians.

Australia have safely reached this weekend's World Cup semifinals where they will challenge tournament favorites New Zealand.

However, the pain of any defeat at the hands of the All Blacks today would ease slightly if France could crush England in Sunday's other semifinal in Sydney.

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