A few hours from now, Australia and New Zealand will square off in their eagerly-anticipated clash. When it comes to trans-Tasman rivalry, it doesn't get any bigger than this. At about 8:30pm our time, Nigel Richards of New Zealand takes on Andrew Fisher of Australia in the final of the World Scrabble Championship in Poland.
If you think Scrabble is a frivolous activity compared to that other game taking place at the same time, think again. At the elite level, Scrabble is War. And what could be a more natural basis for war than the English language? I use the English language every day without thinking about it. When it comes to putting my head up some poor bloke's bum in a scrum, on the other hand, that would require very serious thought on my part. In actual fact, competitive Scrabble bears little resemblance to the English language as we know it; I think the game could benefit from a cull of so-called words like QI and ZO from its official dictionary. I enjoy Scrabble, on the odd occasions that I play it, but I'd never consider playing it competitively because learning long lists of words (or more accurately, combinations of letters) leaves me cold.
Nigel Richards won the biennial event in 2007 (from over 100 players) and was runner-up two years ago. So that's three successive finals for the Kiwis (in contrast to that odd-shaped-ball game in which NZ haven't made the final since 1995). They play a best-of-five-game final, having finished first and second after 34 games over five days (Nigel had 25 wins; Andrew 23). I note a Kiwi actuary finished in the top third of the final standings with 18 wins and a draw. As for tonight's final, the ABs (that's the Alpha Blacks) surely have the upper hand. New Zealand contains a ten-point letter while Australia consists solely of measly one-pointers.
Update: It's one game all in the big final, while New Zealand will be playing in another final next weekend after the All Blacks convincingly beat the Wallabies. There was a big fireworks display in central Wellington during the rugby match.
Update 2: Kiwi Nigel Richards is the world champion for the second time after winning the final by three games to two.