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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 14:00 GMT
Cup win would lift Kiwi gloom
Henry Paul
Kiwi and Australian clashes are always keenly contested
by BBC Sport Online's Sean Martin

In a rugby union mad country a New Zealand triumph in the Lincoln World Cup final would provide the under-seige game with a much-needed boost.

Rugby union fans will switch their allegiance to rugby league, if only for 80 minutes or so in the early hours of Sunday morning, New Zealand time.

Nothing unites the nation like a battle with their fierce trans-Tasman rivals and one can be assured that the lights will be on in hundreds of thousands of New Zealand homes to see the drama unfold.

Their island neighbours are never shy in coming forward to remind New Zealanders how inferior they are compared to the world-beating Aussies.

Stephen Kearney
Stephen Kearney was one of many to leave the Warriors
A question smug Australians often pose is: 'Why do New Zealanders drink tea out of saucers? Because the Aussies have all the cups'.

Much like Kevin Keegan's oft-quoted line, New Zealanders would love it, absolutely love it, if their league side emerged triumphant on Saturday.

Rugby league has a huge following in New Zealand and prior to rugby union turning professional in 1995 the sport had almost reached the point where it was challenging the 15-man code for superiority.

The 13-man code had raided union's cupboard, stripping it bare of star players with All Blacks such as John Timu, John Gallagher and John Kirwan switching codes in lucrative deals.

The launch of the Auckland Warriors to play in the Australian competition in 1995 further strengthened league's popularity.

Promising start

They got off to a promising start playing to crowds in excess of 25,000 and producing some impressive displays.

But in recent times the club side has been riddled with financial problems, crowds have dwindled, their form has been inconsistent and the top stars have left the club.

Stephen Kearney, Quentin Pongia, Denis Betts and Joe Vagana are players who have left the club over the last two years.

While league went through turbulent times, rugby union got its house in order and launched the Super 12 competition taking the 15-man code to a new level and reasserting itself as the country's national sport.

John Kirwan
Former All Black John Kirwan switched to league
As the Warriors prepare for a new seaosn in the Australian competition with a new coach, new players and an uncertain financial future a win over Australia will be a shot in the arm for the sport.

But one hopes that the passion and intensity that is ever-present in the trans-Tasman internationals does not boil over like it did in a memorable match in 1985.

Blows exchanged

Two props, Australia's Greg Dowling and New Zealand's Kevin Tamati had been sent-off for fighting on the field, but more blows were exchanged on the sidelines.

The dust-up lasted a good three or four minutes, played out in front of the spectators and to television audiences, further stoking the rivalry between the two countries.

For the record, Tamati emerged victorious landing a number of vicious uppercuts that Mike Tyson would have been proud of.

New Zealand will be hoping their rugby league players can land blows on the scoreboard with the same ferocity on Saturday.

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See also:

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Rugby league's rollercoaster ride
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