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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...

Castle Tri-Nations logo. Picture: Supplied

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

powerhouses.

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

Samoa upset.

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."

Timeline

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