October 1, 2011
Posted: 507 GMT
(CNN) – No matter what the sport is, major tournaments always throw up intriguing match-ups, contests that go beyond a simple sporting rivalry between two opponents.
New Zealand’s largest city will witness such an occasion this weekend when one of rugby’s great battles takes place.
Scotland face “auld enemy” England for a place in the quarter-final stage of the Rugby World Cup, almost 140 years after the two teams first played each other in a challenge match in Scottish capital – the world’s first international rugby match.
Scotland won that encounter.
For some, the match at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh’s fashionable New Town was the start of an annual contest that offered the Scots the chance to makes amends for perceived historic injustices suffered at the hands of their bigger and more powerful neighbor - albeit on a rugby field.
For hundreds of years the two countries fought numerous battles – Bannockburn, Stirling Bridge and Culloden to name but a few – before Scotland eventually ceded control to London’s parliament in 1707 as part of the Treaty of Union.
The loss of Scotland’s sovereignty was too much for many Scots, despite the fact it would remain largely autonomous, with its own legal and education systems.
More recently, the establishment of a parliament in Edinburgh has gone some way towards quenching the thirst for control among Scottish nationalists, but a desire to usurp the English “Sassenachs” in any form of sporting contest burns as brightly as ever.
And no-one shows more passion for a contest than the players that represent the Scottish and English rugby teams. The physical battle for territory and control over 80 minutes on a pitch is a perfect metaphor for the historic struggles between the two nations.
One of the most famous encounters took place in March, 1990 at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, when Scotland skipper David Sole – the sleeves of his shirt cut short - famously slow-walked his side out onto the pitch to meet the much-fancied English in a Grand Slam decider.
The tension and anticipation on the terraces was stoked by a passionate rendition of Scotland’s adopted anthem “Flower of Scotland,” before the players were finally unleashed on each other.
What followed was a brutal war of attrition that Scotland eventually edged thanks to a try from a fresh-faced bank clerk from the Scottish borders called Tony Stanger.
But not even the onset of the professional era has diminished the effect this fixture has on players.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s match, Scotland winger Simon Danielli insisted it was the one game any Scottish player wanted to win above all others.
“It’s massive, it’s the oldest game. This is one of the biggest games we’ll all ever play in,” he told scottishrugby.org.
Teammate Richie Vernon said it is an occasion every Scottish rugby player has fantasized about. “As a Scottish lad growing up that’s (Scotland v England) the game you want to play in, that’s the game you want to be involved in.”
“You play rugby in the back garden and imagine scoring tries against England. This is no different . . . but definitely a bigger stage at the World Cup.”
The passion is no less evident among their opponents.
“As an Englishman I couldn’t think of anything better than beating Scotland,” scrum-half Ben Youngs told the BBC.
“It’s England v Scotland, the fans will be going crazy so we can’t wait.”
The stakes have rarely been higher: a place in the quarter-final stage of the World Cup – even if Scotland have to win by eight points.
No problem, whispers this Scotsman…