Pragmatism the watchword in final Tri-Nations
The 16th and final version of the Tri-Nations looks destined to be little more than a footnote to this...
The 16th and final version of
the Tri-Nations looks destined to be little more than a footnote
to this year's World Cup for the southern hemisphere's rugby
Clashes between New Zealand, South Africa and Australia will
never be for the faint-hearted but the allure of the biggest
prize in rugby has made pragmatism the watchword in the last
edition before Argentina make it four nations from 2012.
The competition kicks off when the Wallabies take on the
Springboks in Sydney on Saturday, two weeks after the end of the
longest Super rugby season. It concludes when the All Blacks
travel to Brisbane on Aug. 27, less than two week before the
start of the World Cup in New Zealand.
The Springboks signalled their priorities when they left 21
injured frontline players out of their tour party for their
first two tests and the All Blacks have suggested they too will
have to rest players.
"They just think these guys are machines. You shove in the
batteries, charge them up and throw them out there," coach
Graham Henry told local media on Wednesday.
"They're just going to fall over. We've got to be sensible,
work with individuals and get the best out of them."
New Zealand, who won all of their matches to clinch a 10th
Tri-Nations title last year, face Fiji on Friday in their only
warm-up match before hosting the Springboks in Wellington.
With Dan Carter at flyhalf and Richie McCaw leading an
experienced side from openside flanker, they remain the team to
beat before they attempt to win the World Cup on home soil.
Springboks coach Peter de Villiers has made no secret of his
opinion that the Tri-Nations should not be held in World Cup
years, even if it has been reduced to six matches this year
rather than the usual nine.
South Africa also travelled overseas with a weakened party
in the 2007 Tri-Nations before going on to win the following
World Cup and captain John Smit angrily dismissed allegations
that his side was a "B" team.
"We're going there to play rugby, not to make up the numbers
and that's what we did the last time we took a so-called
'second-string' team over there," he told reporters before the
squad left for Sydney.
The absence of players such as Schalk Burger, Fourie du
Preez and Victor Matfield will, however, mean the team that face
Australia on Saturday has three debutants and a string of
players with little international experience.
That could be good news for the Wallabies, who will be
looking to turn things around on Saturday after suffering a
hiding at the hands of Samoa in a warm-up game last week.
Coach Robbie Deans took a lot of flack for resting several
players from the Super rugby champion Queensland Reds for the
Eight Reds, including the inspirational halfback pairing of
Will Genia and Quade Cooper, are in the matchday 22 to face the
Springboks and Deans has it clear he wants his team to win every
trophy they can this year.
Australia have not won the Tri-Nations since 2001, have not
held the Bledisloe Cup for the series against the All Blacks
since 2002 and will be keen to retain the Mandela Challenge
Plate they won back from the South Africans last year.
"Robbie said last night, we've got four games in the next
period and there are three pieces of silverware up for grabs in
those games," hooker Stephen Moore said on Wednesday.
"Three trophies in four games and if we really knuckle down,
we can potentially win those trophies. That's certainly
something we're focusing on.
"I know most of the guys in the squad are desperate to
achieve that. The World Cup's down the track but there's plenty
to do before that."