Ten time winners, New Zealand, are once again odds-on favourites to lift the of the Tri-Nations championship trophy. The high-flying Aussies are licking their wounds after getting smacked by Samoa and P Divvy is taking a leaf out of Jake White’s book in preparing for the bigger picture that is RWC 2011. STYLI CHARALAMBOUS previews this year’s Tri-Nations.
With the 7th Rugby World Cup kicking off in 51 days, and the Tri-Nations finishing a mere 11 days prior, it’s no wonder the Great Moustachioed One of SA Rugby has done everything possible to rest the creaking bodies of his senior generals heading into the RWC. It’s a bold move for which SA Rugby has attracted much Australasian flak, but yet it’s the right move, if Dad’s Army are to have any chance of becoming the first nation to successfully defend the most prized accolade in world rugby.
Sadly, that means the Boks have as much chance of winning the Tri-Nations as Silvio Berlusconi winning the international clean-living citizen of the year award. (Unless it is adjudicated by Murdoch Inc) At 7-1 for a tournament win, one feels the bookies have been a little stingy pricing those odds, given the line-up expected to take to the par, come Saturday. With 23 front-line players being made to watch the tournament from the comfort of the physio’s table, the best the Boks can hope for is a determined showing and the opportunity for some fringe players to solicit the interest of the selectors. In reality though, we shouldn’t come to expect too much from the Boks in these coming weeks nor should we read too much into the results.
The home leg will be interesting and could prove important in the preparations for RWC. Rested and revitalised can sometimes lead to rusty comeback performances which the Boks can ill-afford in what is looking like an ever more difficult Pool D. Even if the chances of winning the Tri-Nations have exploded into tiny pieces like an Qantas jet engine, the Bok management team would do well to ensure those senior players get quality game time nearer the World Cup start. Kicking off the World Cup campaign against Wales followed by fending off the Polynesian beasts of Samoa and Fiji, will take much doing and the proverbial laying of bodies on the line.
P Divvy has questioned the need to host the Tri-Nations in a World Cup year, even though it is the revenues from the television rights that fill the Sanzar coffers and ultimately pay his salary. But in an already congested rugby calendar, the brains trust should rather consider a further simplified format in World Cup years where each team plays only two matches (one against each opponent). In this way the risk of injury is reduced and both fans and players are provided with a decent set of games in the build-up to the World Cup.
Australia, up until their second-rate performance on Saturday, were the nearest thing the All Blacks would have had to a threat in this year’s competition. In a poll following the 32-23 loss to Samoa, 47% of readers on Rugbyheaven.com.au voted that result as the lowest point in Australian Rugby history. The hard-hitting Samoans dished out rugby lessons to their Aussie counterparts in all parts of the park to a team fielding many first-choice players in the starting line-up.
No doubt Robbie Deans will be unleashing some dingoes at training this week and you can expect a much-improved performance from the men in gold this weekend in Sydney. A team looking to restore pride and welcoming back the leading stars of the successful Reds’ Super Rugby campaign should see off the challenge of a Bok team fielding debutants and untried combinations.
The title should be decided by the game between the All Blacks and the Wallabies, in Auckland on 6th August. Given the proud record of ascendency they’ve maintained over the Aussies at Eden Park, since 1986, it seems likely the Tri-Nations table will be a wash-rinse-and-repeat of last year’s.
The All Blacks, weary of the travelling and emotional toil some leading Crusader players have endured this season, will also likely rest some key players for their travels back to the Republic. It is unlikely we will see the likes of Dan Carter or Kieran Read in Port Elizabeth Test match. Luckily for the folk in the windy city, returning from injury stars such as Richie McCaw should be given game time to make up the lack of Super Rugby this year.
Last year was a simply sublime year in which the All Blacks lost one match by the narrowest of margins to the second-ranked Australians. And they will be eagerly anticipating the opportunity to repeat that kind of form and shed World Cup chokers tag they seem to alternate between themselves and the Proteas. In their own backyard, they have their greatest opportunity to do so and they will be looking to the Tri-Nations as a good workout in preparation of that campaign.
It’s often said that the All Blacks have a habit of peaking between World Cups. And judging by the number of times the Kiwis have had their names etched into the Sanzar silverware without troubling the Webb Ellis trophy engraver, it becomes very difficult to argue agains that statement. So, if like 2007, this is another year in which the Boks claim the wooden spoon at the Tri-Nations barbeque, but go on to lift the World Cup will anyone really care? Or even remember? DM
Tri-Nations 2011 Fixtures
Saturday, 23 July: Australia v South Africa – Sydney
Saturday, 30 July: New Zealand v South Africa – Wellington
Saturday, 6 August: New Zealand v Australia – Auckland
Saturday, 13 August: South Africa v Australia – Durban
Saturday, 20 August: South Africa v New Zealand – Port Elizabeth
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