This is the second of a two-part look at rugby rivalries.
You may have read our article from last month, in which we looked at some of the top rivalries at club level.
This month, we turn our attention to the international stage. So, read on to find out about some of the top rivalries between rugby nations around the world.
International rivalries are part of rugby history
The first international rugby match took place in Edinburgh in March 1871 between Scotland and England.
Since then, internationals have become an integral part of rugby history.
The fact that top-level rugby is only played by a relatively small number of nations means that rivalries are that much more intense than you may find in some other sports.
They are rivalries that can set the pulse of even neutral observers racing, and create stories and legends that are talked about for years afterwards.
Furthermore, with a Rugby World Cup on the horizon, there is now the mouthwatering prospect of some of the rivalries you can read about here being rekindled in the furnace of a World Cup.
Although, to be honest, none of the five listed here really need anything extra to add to the intensity.
1. New Zealand v South Africa
With all due respect to Australia and, more recently, Argentina, for over a century matches between New Zealand and South Africa have been all about southern hemisphere and, to an extent, world domination.
Since 1921, these two rugby giants have gone up against each other over 100 times, with each encounter seemingly more physical and intense than the last.
If the All Blacks have often been seen as the standard against which other teams compare themselves, it is no surprise that South Africa have the best record against them. Indeed, their 37% win rate is far higher than any other nation has managed.
Between them, they have won six out of the nine Rugby World Cups, and it would be hard to bet against one or both of them being in the final this year at the Stade France in October.
2. England v Wales
One of the biggest attractions of the Six Nations is that it is an annual event.
This means that story lines and narratives can develop from year to year. Beaten teams can gain some satisfaction from knowing that they only have to wait 12 months for a chance of revenge.
After all, who has not been looking forward to the Ireland v France match-up in 2024 from the day after the acknowledged classic they thrilled us with earlier this year? The fact that one of them could well be world champions by their next meeting just adds another layer of anticipation.
Each of the matches has a certain spice and history, with even Italy starting to create some legends of their own.
It is hard to pick one rivalry above all the others in the Six Nations, but England v Wales has a certain edge to it that really does make each annual encounter the one both sides desperately want to win. “As long as we beat the English” was a common refrain in Welsh club bars, long before the Stereophonics put music to it.
3. England v France
Everyone badly wants to beat England, but France probably carry that desire more than anyone else.
In the previous section, you read about the Six Nations creating narratives that run from year to year. That is very much the case with these two teams, and “Le Crunch” is one of the most eagerly awaited fixtures in the international rugby calendar.
After a period of French dominance in the 1980s, England fought back (often literally) in the early 90s, with red cards in matches between the two being almost as common as tries.
The rivalry was then taken to a new level of intensity in the following decade, with England winning two consecutive World Cup semi-finals in 2003 and 2007. France then took their revenge in 2011 in the quarter-final at Eden Park.
4. Wales v Scotland
One of the advantages of the six home nations being in relative proximity to each other is that all matches see a substantial contingent of travelling supporters enjoying a weekend in a host capital city.
This adds to the vibrant atmosphere at each match, with the added benefit that there is never any need for fans to be segregated. This is why a common TV picture is of supporters of both nations happily mingling inside and outside the stadium.
The largest travelling contingents of all are those that descend on Cardiff and Edinburgh when Wales and Scotland play the latest match in a rivalry that dates back to the 19th century.
It makes each game an extraordinary occasion of passion and intensity that is reflected just as much off the pitch as on it.
It was given added recognition by the introduction of the Doddie Weir Cup in 2018, offering another layer of excitement to an already storied confrontation.
5. Fiji v Samoa
We travel to the other side of the world to introduce you to the final rivalry on this list.
The rivalry between Fiji and Samoa dates back to 1924, and matches between the two rarely fail to disappoint.
Both are widely regarded as extraordinary hotbeds for rugby talent. Because of their geographic location, and the relative poverty of their organising bodies, they have seen many of their very best players move to represent other nations.
Despite this, the depth of talent on both islands still means that the quality of rugby that both play is remarkably good, and matches between them are always highly competitive.
With the Rugby World Cup in mind, Fiji and Samoa are the two sides most likely to cause an upset.
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