‘Hello. My name’s Jack. You’re a Pommie, aren’t you?’ he said
‘What’s a Pommie?’ I asked warily, remembering my father’s warnings about undesirable contacts. ‘English are Pommies. You’re English.’ ‘How did you guess?’ ‘You can tell ‘em any place,’ he said, ‘by the way they look around, as if they own the place but don’t want it.’ So goes Eric Newby’s first contact with an Australian as recounted in his 1956 classic, The Last Grain Race. And though the brief exchange might have happened over 60 years ago, it’s fair to assume that versions of it are still played out every day. And here’s the thing: There’s no malice in it. It’s a strange, uniquely antipodean form of camaraderie, a well-intentioned but equally well-barbed observation masquerading as an insult.
Similarly, despite the intensity (not to mention the sledging) that makes the Ashes the finest cricketing contest on Earth, the upcoming test matches will be played with both sides relishing the rivalry. The Aussies want to give the Poms a good thrashing and the feeling, perhaps expressed in even fewer words, is entirely mutual.
When it comes to rugby, of course, actions speak louder than words and hurt considerably more. Whilst England are denied the chance to challenge New Zealand this autumn, they will certainly have their work cut out this weekend keeping an Argentinian team at bay that will be thirsting for revenge after the last few engagements, before clashing with Australia the week after. Anyone still standing will have to take the field on the 25th, too, to try to keep a lid on Samoa, who are never easy to put down on the canvas.
Wales face Australia, Georgia and the All Blacks respectively and consecutively; Scotland, meanwhile, will be aiming to fulfill their recent great promise against Samoa, New Zealand and Australia; Ireland with grapple with South Africa, Fiji and Argentina. Add to this three French fixtures against New Zealand, South Africa and Japan and you’ve got quite the month ahead - whether you’re a Pom or not.