The Greatest Derbies and Rivalries

There’s something great about watching a derby match, from the local Orlando Pirates vs Kaizer Chiefs game to the Bulls vs The Stormers. It’s the history and the passion, it’s fascinating and it truly draws you in. It’s the game that will mean more to you than most. As a fan it’s the one game you feel like you have to win. It’s somehow that important. The histories of rivalries are as interesting as the rivalries themselves. I picked a few sports and I’ll show you why I love Derby day!

Rugby: Springboks vs The All Blacks

The two countries have been arch enemies for 90 years on the Rugby Union scene. It is definitely one of the most fearsome rivalries. It started in 1921 and hasn’t stopped since then. In 1970 in the second test All Black Fergie McCormick started a now infamous match where he was the cause of blood pouring from Piston van Wyk’s head. He also later swung his elbow into the face of Springbok centre Syd Nomis’s face after he kicked ahead in a counterattack. McCormick admitted to journalist Terry McLean that he had deliberately elbowed Nomis.

There has always been ill feeling between the two nations. They were also the best two teams in the world so much so that when they met the victor would be considered the world’s best. Joel Stransky said, “We South Africans grow up wanting to wear the green and gold and play against the All Blacks. It is part of our rugby DNA. The history is just so strong and we want to judge ourselves against the arch enemy and the best.”

Apartheid meant that there was a break in the rivalry even though New Zealand always wanted to test themselves against the Mighty Springboks. An attempted tour in 1967 was called off after the South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd refused to allowed Maori players on the tour of South Africa, resulting in New Zealand cancelling the tour. The Springboks did however go on an ill-fated tour of New Zealand in 1981. It’s a tour that should never have taken place and everywhere the Springboks went they were met by protestors. The matches on the tour were brutally intense, ending with New Zealand controversially winning the series 2-1, this would be the last time these two nations played until 1992.

Football: England vs Germany

England and Germany have played against each other since the 19th century and had their first ‘official’ match in 1930. The teams met for the first time 1899 when England beat Germany four times in a row. In particular there have been some memorable matches: 1966 FIFA World Cup Final, Semi-Finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro Cup in 1996.

Although the Germans think of the Holland rivalry as their fiercest, there is no denying the history of this fixture. England currently lead this head to head with 12 wins to Germanys 11. English fans will remember 1966 as the year they won the World Cup beating Germany in the final. This win has overshadowed all that the English have done since though, and in particular Germany matches have seemed to be more than the match itself but also a comment on the state of English football. What makes this a unique rivalry is that until 1968 Germany had never managed to beat England, and then following this victory they managed a string of successes.

Tennis: Nadal vs Federer

This rivalry is considered the greatest ever in Tennis, and their first match was in 2004. From 2005 till 2010 they were the top 2 men in tennis, making it 6 consecutive years, a record. They have played 28 times with Nadal leading the way 18-10, 14 of these have been on clay though. What makes their rivalry unique is that they’ve met 19 times in finals of tournaments, including a record 8 times in Grand Slam finals. This means when they play each other the matches always carry substaintal weight.

The rivalry is generally regarded as the greatest ever in men’s tennis history. As both players hold so many records it adds to the intensity of the rivalry. Their difference in style, their ability to have long intense matches really added to their co-created records, making their rivalry truly unique. The 2008 Wimbledon final contested between the two is considered the greatest match ever by tennis analysts.

Boxing: Tyson vs Holyfield

This rivalry only truly started when Holyfield surprised everyone by beating Tyson in their first fight. Tyson had just come out of jail and had won back his championship belt. Holyfield looked past his best, and thus the surprise when he managed to win.

The rematch of this fight saw the infamous moment where Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear. At this point in the match Holyfield was definitely winning. What made Holyfield a unique opponent for Tyson was that Holyfield was never afraid of Tyson. Their rivalry dated back to the days when they sparred against each other as amateurs. Holyfield began calling out Tyson in 1988 but Tyson avoided committing to fighting him until 1990, which never happened as Tyson was imprisoned before they could fight.

When they did fight Holyfield was a massive underdog but dominated the fight before he got bitten. Tyson finally apologised but this fight basically ended the mysticism of Tyson.

Formula 1: Alain Prost vs Ayrton Senna

This racing rivalry was one of the best to watch and as they say, they don’t make them like this anymore. It all started in 1988 when Senna joined Prost at the McLaren team. At that year’s Portuguese Grand Prix Senna tried to block Prost from taking the lead, forcing Prost to run close to the pit wall. Eventually Prost got past Senna but was angered by Senna’s driving, setting the tone for a tremendous rivalry.

At the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix things intensified when an agreement on letting each other through the first corner was made, at a restart, Senna pushed through starting an argument that resulted in Prost announcing he was leaving to Ferrari halfway through the season. The rivalry peaked at the end of the season at Suzuka where the two McLarens collided at the Casio Triangle chicane when Prost blocked Senna’s attempted pass. The resulting melee meant Prost was eliminated and Senna illegally went on to win the race. Senna was later fined US$100,000 and given a six month suspension, this led to him accusing the then FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre of favouring Prost. This incident meant that Prost won the 1989 Championship. It is a Formula 1 moment that will always be lased with controversy, as to whether Prost ran into Senna on purpose or Senna was too ambitious in his passing manoeuver, whatever it was it lead to an iconic moment in the sport.

1990 saw them collide again, Prost in a Ferrari against Senna in a McLaren. At the penultimate race at Suzuka, Prost was second on the grid with Senna on pole. The pole position was moved to the other side of the grid without explanation, to the fury of Senna who said his side was now the dirty side of the grid. Prost got a better start but Senna refused to give way, colliding with Prost at 160mph. The accident sealed the title for the Brazilian. This prompted Prost to almost retire from the sport saying, “What he did was disgusting. He is a man without value.” A year later Senna admitted it was premeditated as revenge for the incident at the same circuit in 1989.

1991 once again saw a controversial moment, this time at Hockenheim where Prost was forced off circuit to avoid a collision at the first chicane, and then later in the race Senna ran out of petrol. It was always eventful when these two came together. 1992 saw Prost take a Sabbatical from motorsport. 1993 saw Prost return to Formula 1 with Williams, with a clause in his contract forbidding Senna to be his team mate. This infuriated Senna as he also wanted to join Williams. Senna actually called Prost a coward at the press conference at Estoril!

1993 saw the rivalry resume its intensity to the extent that Prost needed a police escort to the Interlagos circuit for the Brazilian Grand Prix, due to the hositility of the Brazilian crowd! Silverstone saw aggressive position defending from Senna against Prost, at its usual high intensity. At the last race of the season which was Prost’s last Grand Prix, Senna pulled him to the top step of the podium for an embrace. It was one of those special moments in sport.

At Senna’s funeral Prost was a pallbearer and for years refused to speak about Senna’s death. In 1998, 4 years after Senna’s death, Prost stated that a part of him had died also, because their lives and careers had been bound together so much. Senna had said the same in 1994 that once Prost retired a huge amount of motivation had left with him. A few days before Senna’s death on French television channel TF1 he greeted Prost, a TV pundit then, with this, “A special hello to my … to our dear friend Alain. We all miss you Alain.” A moment that amazed and touched Prost.

Cricket: India vs Pakistan

In cricket this is by far the most intense rivalry in the sport. When they play they attract up to three hundred million television viewers. For each set of fans, defeat against their rival is unacceptable.  The main reason for their intense rivalry is the very violent domestic relations between these two neighbouring countries. The first test happened in 1951-52 with Pakistan touring India, and India toured Pakistan for the first time in 1954-55. Then between 1962 and 1966 they didn’t play due to wars between the two countries. Now once more, due to the 1999 Kargil War and the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, cricketing ties have once more been broken.

There have been neutral matches in countries such as Canada and the UAE owing to the amount of expats in these countries. Losses in these matches have seen extreme reactions and such a degree of violence and public disturbances. Even so cricket has been seen as a way to bridge the gap between these two warring nations.

The partition of India in 1947 led to the creation and independence of Pakistan. This was marred by a bloody conlict that left one million people dead. Around ten million people migrated to the nation of their choice. This violent legacy has led to fierce rivalries in hockey, football and especially in cricket. Ironically many of the players in the first post-independence teams had played together as team-mates in regional tournaments before independence.

The rise of violence in Pakistan has led to the country not hosting international cricket since the Sri Lankan national team was attacked in 2009. Pakistan was stripped of its co-host status for the 2011 Cricket World Cup. It seems the rivalry will always be more about what happens off the field than on it, although hopefully cricket will be used in the future to bridge relations between the two countries.

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