With an expanded SupeRugby competition before it and a World Cup shortly after, this year’s TriNations Championship is a condensed version, with the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies facing each other twice instead of three times as has become the custom. But you can be sure the players will be taking it just as seriously as ever, if not more so with World Cup squad spots up for grabs.
On Saturday in the ANZ Stadium in Sydney, things get underway as Australia face South Africa. The home side should be going into the tournament brim-full of confidence after the Queensland Reds’ impressive victory in the SupeRugby final, but they were brought back down to earth last Sunday with a defeat to Samoa, also in Sydney, that took the rugby world by storm.
Robbie Deans’ side were played off the park by the Samoans that day and will be keen to make amends as they welcome back many of their marquee names to the starting lineup. Irish fans should be sure and watch this particular encounter, as coming off the loss the previous week they will be heavily motivated to win and thus could show us some of the moves they have in store for our encounter with them in Eden Park onSeptember 17.
Wallaby skipper and Leinster legend Rocky Elsom has returned from injury, playing a full 80 minutes against Samoa, and he’ll now be joined in his back row by the Western Force’s impressive number 7 David Pocock. Their combined performance will be key on Saturday for if they can provide enough quick ball, there’s plenty of talent in the backline to break open any international defence.
Much has been written about Quade Cooper’s ability to attack from deep but it was his Reds halfback partner Will Genia who provided the match-winning try against the Crusaders with a break from inside his own half. And should the pair decide to pass the ball further on Saturday, there’s Ioane, O’Connor, Ashley-Cooper and Kurtley Beale behind them, all potential match-winners in their own right.
The South Africans, by contrast, are in the midst of an injury crisis. At least that is what their coach Peter DeVilliers would have us believe. There were many raised eyebrows among players, official and fans alike from the other two nations when he announced that he was missing as many as 21 established names going into this tournament. One wonders if a large proportion of those injuries will miraculously heal as the defence of their World Cup crown draws nearer.
The most glaring omissions from their matchday squad are their famous pair of locks Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, and they suffered a further blow in their second row as Ulster’s Johann muller who had been picked to start had to pull out with a hamstring injury.
But the Springboks haven’t travelled completely empty-handed, and another Ravenhill favourite, Ruan Pienaar, starts at 9 and does the ever-reliable Morné Steyn outside him to provide the threat from the kicking tee should the Wallabies fall foul of match referee Chris Pollock too often.
And they also have their share of proven talent behind the scrum – Aplon, Basson, Olivier and Mvovo have all proven themselves in SupeRugby this year. Plus there’s the up-and-coming Patrick Lambie ready to spring from the bench and he can play well at 10 as well as 15.
Still, taking everything into consideration, I can’t really see South Africa putting a whole lot of effort into winning this one, at least not for the full 80 minutes. I believe the home side need the victory more and they’ll get it by a decent enough margin, possibly one that’s double figures.
Of course being a three-team tournament, there will always be one waiting in the wings when a match is played, and this weekend it will be New Zealand. They face Fiji in a warmup of their own on Friday morning in Dunedin and have picked a relatively strong starting XV, albeit with Dan Carter on the bench.
With the pressure to bring “home” the Webb Ellis Trophy in October so great, you have to wonder how much importance Chris Henry and his coaching staff will place on the TriNations this year. For this reason I’m going out on a limb and predicting that the Wallabies will lift their first title since 2001. They are going into the competition needing a win and if they are still in contention in the final encounter with the All Blacks on August27, the home advantage of Brisbane’s SunCorp Stadium should prove enough for Genia & Cooper to get the job done and lift a second major trophy this year.
One thing is for sure, there’s six weeks’ worth of fascinating Test rugby at the highest level to look forward to. Be sure and take the opportunity to watch it if you can. I’ll be back next week with a preview of the second tie between the All Blacks and Springboks. JLP
You can read my blog at http://www.harpinonrugby.net/
2011 Tri-Nations Schedule :
|DAY & DATE||MATCH||VENUE||Kick off
|Kick-off in New Zealand
|Kick-off in Australia (NSW/ACT)||Kick-off in
|Saturday 23 July||Australia v South Africa||ANZ Stadium, Sydney||20.05||10.05||Sat 23 July 22.05||Sat 23 July 20.05||Sat 23 July 12.05||Sat 23 July 11.05|
|Saturday 30 July||New Zealand v
|Westpac Stadium, Wellington||19.35||07.35||Sat 30 July 19.35||Sat 30 July 17.35||Sat 30 July 09.35||Sat 30 July 10.35|
|Saturday 6 August||New Zealand v Australia||Eden Park, Auckland||19.35||07.35||Sat 6 August 19.35||Sat 6 August 17.35||Sat 6 August 09.35||Sat 6 August 10.35|
|Saturday 13 August||South Africa v Australia||Mr Price Kings Park, Durban||17.00||15.00||Sun 14 August 03.00||Sun 14 August 01.00||Sat 13 August 17.00||Sat 13 August 16.00|
|Saturday 20 August||South Africa v
|Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth||17.00||15.00||Sun 21 August 03.00||Sun 21 August 01.00||Sat 20 August 17.00||Sat 20 August 16.00|
|Saturday 27 August||Australia v New Zealand||Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane||20.05||10.00||Sat 27 August 22.05||Sat 27 August 20.05||Sat 27 August 12.05||Sat 27 August 11.05|