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Tri-Nations Preview: All Blacks Will Win But Only Just

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith
New Zealand All Blacks Andrew Hore pushes through the South African Springboks. Pic :NZPA

It’s been a while since the Tri-Nations generated anything approaching fever-pitch excitement.

This year there is uncertainty in what used to be a fairly predictable forecast of All Blacks likely to win and South Africa an outside chance. It’s hardly the perfect storm of excitement, but the combination of a powerful Springbok outfit that may have learned to turn up for away fixtures, a resurgent Wallabies, lacklustre early season All Blacks and injuries across all three teams' means that we finally have a genuine three way contest on our hands.

With these teams all being in the top echelon of rugby nations there is little between them on any given day.  There are three key factors (apart from the score) that will be crucial in deciding the winner. They are Generalship (coaching), Leadership (Captain and senior players), and Game Breakers.

Like a General, a coach has to work with what he has got. Choose a game plan that suits his talent pool, nullify his opponent’s strengths and train his team to carry out the plan. He relies on his on-field leadership team of captain and senior players to see it through by focussing the team on the task at hand and responding to unexpected manoeuvres of the enemy. In a tight contest the game breakers come into play. They are like the cavalry of old who could win a battle with a single act of skill, daring and timing.

So heres how the teams stack up using my ‘way too sophisticated to explain on one page’ rating system. 


All Blacks - Graham Henry is in uncharted territory. The cracks are starting to show on the talent reservoir, and he failed to inspire his team against France and Italy. It has obviously helped Graham in the past to wake up in the morning, turn to his right and find he’s in bed not only with Steve and Wayne, but also with the rugby establishment. This was especially useful for job retention after an embarrassing World Cup, but maybe ‘threes a crowd’ when it comes to coaching. Not completely sure who is running the ship. I hope the players do. Score 5/10

Springboks – Peter de Villiers is enjoying being the new ‘quote machine’ of world rugby. He obviously enjoys the limelight and when you are winning the limelight is a wonderful place to be. When you are losing you just look like a dork. Obviously has a good rugby brain but always casting a shadow is the ever present spectre of interference from HQ. Score 4/10

Wallabies – John O’Neill got his man and is letting him get on with it. Robbies Cantab style means the focus is on the rugby and not the coach. This is very un-Australian. The Aussie journos’ must be hanging out for de Villiers to arrive off the plane and restore business as usual and give them their headlines on a plate. The uncluttered command structure avoids the ‘too many cooks’ syndrome. He has a season under his belt and has blended a passable forward pack with some talented backs (old and new). Score 7/10


All Blacks - With Richie, Dan, Rodney and Andrew back normal service is resumed. Just as well. Someone needed to back up Brad Thorn in the ‘die for the jersey’ department. Not a day goes by when I don’t give thanks
that Brad followed his childhood dream of the All Blacks and not the more obvious and financially lucrative option of the Wallabies. Score 8/10

Springboks - John Smit backed up by the old firm of Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Juan Smith are a force if they are focussed. Score 5/10

Wallabies - Stirling Mortlock has at times carried this team on his own. George Smith is an able lieutenant and Matt Giteau runs the backline well. Not much else there though. Score 4/10


All Blacks - Nonu on a good day, but best to sub him if the first pass gets dropped. Isaac Ross is showing the athleticism of Ian Jones and the ball skills of a pre-injury Jason Eaton. Conrad Smith – a thinking back who runs at gaps and feeds his support players (sounds more like an Aussie to me).  Score 4/10

Springboks - Brian Habana the intercept king doesn’t seem to be slowing with age. Plenty of class in the rest of
the back line plus strong running forwards. Score 7/10

Wallabies - Giteau and Mortlock are always a threat. The new crop, the likes of Ashley-Cooper, Mitchell and Turner might be too green to impose themselves yet. Score 5/10

Total Sophisticated Rating System Scores: All Blacks 17, Springboks 16, Wallabies 16. Not much in it. 

So Who Will Win?

The mist is clearing from within the crystal ball and I think the final table looks like this:


Team P


L BP Pts
New Zealand 6 4 2 1 17
South Africa 6 3 3 3 15
Australia 6 2 4 4 12




Can't be 100% sure that’s what I saw though (I have to have some excuse if I am wrong).

So there it is. A season too soon for the Wallabies, and the All Blacks just shading the Springboks in a couple of close ones.  Don’t put your house on it though. Right or wrong though, this seasons Tri-Nations should be a cracker.  

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