среда, 26 сентября 2012 г.

Australian dynasty that's hard to toppleDominance is unwavering over 30 years RUGBY LEAGUE - International Herald Tribune

Huw Richards
International Herald Tribune
The New York Yankees missed baseball's World Series, Real Madrid won nada in soccer, and the U.S. men's Olympic basketball squad was a dream team only for its gratified opponents. But not every sporting dynasty is collapsing without a fight in 2004.Australia's rugby league team established an early grip on the sport's new Gillette Tri-Nations tournament, where it plays New Zealand and Britain, by beating the Kiwis 32-12 on Saturday night at the Queens Park Rangers soccer ground in London.The tournament is the biggest thing in league this year. It has had a World Cup for 50 years, much longer than the rival code of rugby union, but never established it as a regular competition. The next is in 2008, a gap of eight years.The three teams play each other twice apiece, then the top two meet in the final at Elland Road in Leeds on Nov. 27.The timing of domestic seasons Britain's Grand Final, in which Leeds beat Bradford 16-8 last week, fell two weeks after Australia's grand final means Australia and New Zealand have played the first two matches, drawing, 16-16, last week in Auckland, New Zealand.Britain now plays its rivals on alternate Saturdays for the next four weeks, starting next week against Australia.The outcome will determine the world pecking order. That hierarchy has been largely unchanged in more than 30 years. Australia has not lost a series to New Zealand since 1953 or to Britain since 1970, and it has won all six World Cups since 1975. Rugby league is like American football, a fruitful outcrop from rugby union. It broke away in 1895 over payment for players a concept that ''union,'' named after the administrative body that ran the sport at the time, rejected for another century. League is played with 13 men, compared with union's 15, and while methods of scoring are the same, values are different. Four points are given for a try, or touchdown, two for a goal when the ball is kicked over the bar and between the posts and one for a drop-goal, kicked as a dropped ball strikes the ground.League supporters point to players' speed of movement, dexterous handling and ferocious hitting all apparent on Saturday night.The British historian Tony Collins once likened it to Yiddish, because it has never been associated with a ruling class in any of the countries where it is played. It has not, though, matched the ability of Yiddish to cross national boundaries.League is heavily concentrated in a few regions in the Tri-Nations. Once-powerful France has fallen away and no new fourth force has arisen, although league is Papua New Guinea's national game.It is, however as a roster including names like Tonga, Rooney, Webcke, Minichello, Buderus and Civoniceva indicates more reflective of Australia's ethnic richness than cricket or rugby union, and it has long been more popular than union among the Pacific Islanders and Maoris of the poorest districts of New Zealand's two largest cities, Auckland and Wellington.But even if unfashionable with ruling classes, it is not invariably unpopular with individual rulers. Liking league is about the only thing John Howard, Australia's conservative prime minister, and Helen Clark, his leftish intellectual counterpart from New Zealand, have in common. The decision to play a game between two nations from the other side of the world in London was vindicated on Saturday when the game at Loftus Road, normally home to a lower-division English soccer club, drew a capacity crowd of 16,750. If Britain's league fans are mostly in the north, its Australians and New Zealanders concentrate in London, where schools, bars and law firms would struggle without them.New Zealand started well, with the prodigious 19-year-old forward Sonny-Joe Williams's remarkable dexterity helping to create a second-minute try for fullback Brent Webb. Though Australia struck back rapidly with a try by wing Luke Rooney and two goals from forward Craig Fitzgibbon, New Zealand still led 12-8 at halftime with further tries by wing Lesley Vainikolo and halfback Vinnie Anderson.The second 40-minute half, though, was all Australia once its captain, Darren Lockyer, had sliced through within two minutes. Willie Tonga and Shaun Berrigan, both centers, and forward Petero Civoniceva, a replacement, scored tries, while Fitzgibbon, Lockyer with two and Berrigan kicked goals. New Zealand went scoreless in increasingly unpleasant rain- and wind-swept conditions.British fans habitually support New Zealand against Australia but may not be too sorry. If Britain reaches the final, Australia is now its likelier opponent. As well as wanting to win, the players will want, like Boston Red Sox fans, to beat their old tormentors.

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