The Wallabies today voiced concern they could be facing a gauntlet of abuse when they take on the All Blacks in Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup rugby finale.
Australian players who have already experienced the atmosphere inside Hong Kong Stadium are concerned the majority of a near sell-out crowd of 40,000 will turn on them again, sevens-style.
The venue should be neutral territory for the trans-Tasman rivals but the Australians have traditionally been made to feel unwelcome when they compete at International Rugby Board’s annual sevens tournament.
The mass of predominately English ex-pats and locals has routinely booed and jeered the Australians, reportedly since an unspecified incident of foul play during the 1979 tournament.
However, another Australian well-known to New Zealanders has also been held accountable – David Campese is said to have incurred the wrath of spectators when his tackle on an Asian opponent saw the player stretchered off in the mid-1990s.
While a definitive answer remains elusive, old habits die hard and the Wallabies’ sevens contingent have warned their team-mates to expect another torrent of abuse on Saturday night.
“They hated us,” said perplexed Wallabies fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper, who is one of six members of the Australian squad – along with Matt Giteau, Richard Brown, Drew Mitchell, James O’Connor and assistant coach Jim Williams – who have played in the Hong Kong sevens.
“Every sevens tour they were just abusing us. I was asking why do they abuse us so much? Why do they hate us? They said I don’t know. They’ve just done it for years and years.
“It’s tradition now to boo the Australians.”
Ashley-Cooper, who played in the 2004 tournament, remembers the notorious southern stand at the Hong Kong Stadium as being particularly boisterous and intimidating.
He hoped Australians working in Hong Kong would turn up to at least negate the hostilities.
“You want to feel support. Bloody Suncorp was like a home game for them with the amount of Kiwis who turned up,” Ashley-Cooper said of the All Blacks 28-24 Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations winning test on September 13 in Brisbane.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Hong Kong is like that. I’ve heard there are a lot of Aussies working in Hong Kong. I just hope they all turn out and they outnumber the guys in black.”