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Tri-Nations Rugby 2010 - All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies - Preview

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

It is official – rugby is worth watching again. Last season the IRB pulled back from the brink with the ELV’s (experimental law variations) and created an awful compromise that produced more balls going back and forth than a tennis match. Along with this kick and kick again came the death of attacking rugby.

Individual brilliance and counter attacking flair were nullified as teams played for field position and tried to barge their way to the try line with a predictable robotic game plan.
Thankfully a season of Super rugby has shown many of the rugby fans that were contemplating the unthinkable and finding their sporting fix in other codes, that rugby was worth one more try.
Speaking of tries, the 2009 Tri-nations tournament saw a 37% reduction in tries scored from the year before and a 10% decline in match attendances. It is pleasing to see the ‘re-interpretation’ of the breakdown law by the IRB has seen teams able to counter attack with some freedom, safe in the knowledge that the tackler has to release the player before they go for the ball.     
Last year South Africa were worthy winners. They adapted their tactics well to the new rules and combined a powerful forward pack with a back line bristling with pace and talent. In the past their Achilles heal of not winning away matches was laid to rest temporarily with victory over the All Blacks in Hamilton.
The All Blacks of 2009 were disappointing. They found it hard to counter the territorial game that the Springboks were playing and always looked like they were in catch-up mode. The attacking strength that the All Blacks had was nullified by a predictable game plan that was at times ponderous and easily countered by a good rush defence.  
Australia seems to be in a perpetual rebuilding phase in recent seasons. A talented back line and an average forward pack has not been enough to put them into title contention. They have had to be content with scoring the odd win over the All Blacks and Springboks.
Robbie Deans is at the crossroads with this team. There were murmurings last season that all was not well in the Wallaby camp, and another season of below par performances will see the knives out for Robbie. Considering the limited talent pool he has to work with Robbie has done well, but it is hard for a foreigner to coach another national side and if things are not going well the players are always going to be likely to point the finger at anyone but themselves.
South Africa
Last season South Africa benefited from a favourable draw. This season they are not quite so fortunate. Their first three matches are away fixtures. Two against New Zealand and one against Australia on the way home, all in consecutive weekends. If they can come out with a win or two from this away trip then they will in all likelihood go on to claim the title. They have a four-week break when they get home and New Zealand and Australia play each other twice. That preparation time will be crucial to get things right for three consecutive matches at altitude to finish their campaign. They play New Zealand first up and then Australia twice.
South Africa have warmed up for the Tri-Nations with a close victory over Wales in Cardiff by an under strength side. They followed that up with a dominant win over France and two wins over Italy.
Their team has a more settled look about it than in previous seasons. From the 2009 campaign they are missing winger JP Pietersen, centre Adi Jacobs, halfback Fourie du Preez, flanker Heinrich Brüssow, hooker Bismarck du Plessis and wing Odwa Ndungane. Juan Smith is also unavailable for personal reasons. However there is tremendous depth in South African rugby at the moment and only Fourie du Preez will be badly missed.
It is hard to see any weaknesses in their likely starting line-up on paper and the coaching staff are well settled and secure in their jobs. It will be interesting to see how they gel as a team with a number of players in the forward pack coming back from injury and rest. They are coming up against a New Zealand side that has had one of their best build-ups in recent years and has successfully introduced a number of new players that give them some added pace and athleticism.
The Springboks should be too strong for Australia who are still having trouble finding a forward pack to give some ‘go forward’ for their talented and increasingly threatening back line.  
If the Boks can pick up two wins in these away games the title is theirs. They will be too strong at home - especially with two matches against Australia to finish.
Springbok Squad:
Backs: Gio Aplon (Stormers), Juan de Jongh (Stormers), Jean de Villiers (Western Province), Jaque Fourie (Stormers), Bryan Habana (Stormers), Francois Hougaard (Bulls), Butch James (Bath), Ricky Januarie (Stormers), Zane Kirchner (Bulls), Wynand Olivier (Bulls), Ruan Pienaar (Sharks), Morné Steyn (Bulls).
Forwards: Andries Bekker (Stormers), Bakkies Botha (Bulls), BJ Botha (Ulster), Schalk Burger (Stormers), Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), Ryan Kankowski (Sharks), Francois Louw (Stormers), Victor Matfield (Bulls), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Dewald Potgieter (Bulls), Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls), Danie Rossouw (Bulls), John Smit (Sharks, captain), Pierre Spies (Bulls), Gurthrö Steenkamp (Bulls), CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs).
New Zealand
Convincing wins over Ireland and Wales (twice) with some exciting attacking rugby has taken some of the pressure off Graham Henry for now. Some of the young talent like Dagg, Vito, Ranger and Cruden have shone in the build-up but are yet to be tested at the highest level.
They will miss the hardness of Andrew Hore and the back row will have to step up to match the work rate of the discarded Rodney So’oialo.
The All Blacks are in the box seat for the Tri-Nations if they can get off to a winning start at home against South Africa. One of the reasons for the Springboks dominance last season was their ability to win the territorial war with a longer kicking game. With counter attacking rugby now back on the menu this advantage is negated somewhat. The All Blacks on the other hand can restore to their attacking armoury the counter attack from their own territory, which has been one of their major strengths over the last two decades.
New Zealand’s forward pack is good enough to hold their own against the Springboks who will put them through a searching inspection, and should dominate Australia. With a number of experienced players injured or out of favour, the newer faces in the forward pack will need to take the opportunity to prove that they are up to playing against the best so they can cement their spots for next years Rugby World Cup.
Win the first two home games against South Africa and the All Blacks will be favourites to win their 10th Tri-nations title.       
All Blacks Squad
Backs: Jimmy Cowan (Highlanders), Piri Weepu (Hurricanes), Dan Carter (Crusaders), Aaron Cruden (Hurricanes), Richard Kahui (Chiefs), Ma’a Nonu (Hurricanes), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Benson Stanley (Blues), Cory Jane (Hurricanes), Rene Ranger (Blues), Joe Rokocoko (Blues), Israel Dagg (Highlanders), Mils Muliaina (Chiefs). 
Forwards: Corey Flynn (Crusaders), Kevin Mealamu (Blues), John Afoa (Blues), Ben Franks (Crusdaers), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Anthony Boric (Blues), Tom Donnelly (Highlanders), Brad Thorn (Crusaders), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Richie McCaw – Captain (Crusaders), Victor Vito (Hurricanes), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Kieran Read (Crusaders).
Given the strength of their opposition it is hard to see how Australia is going to improve on their single win in last year's tournament. In recent years Australia has always been two props short of a dominant team. They might be sitting third in the world rankings at the moment but the gulf between second and third is fairly wide.
The Wallabies will generally beat most other teams in world rugby provided their pack holds together except for Australia and New Zealand. They will benefit from the law re-interpretations this season because counter attacks have always been a Wallaby strength. It is their back line that is their most potent threat, but getting enough quality go-forward ball from their forward pack is going to be a big ask.
Things are not quite as stable as they should be off the field either. There seems to be a bit of ‘player power’ in action that is undermining Robbie Deans. In Dean’s favour is that he is still well supported by the ARU and they are the ones who pay the players wages. Injury and retirements have also diminished the core number of senior players behind the murmurings.
Australia does have one thing in their favour and that is that no one is expecting anything much from them. Unencumbered with a weight of expectation and freed to play some running rugby it is possible that they are capable of a couple of upsets.
They are not title contenders at this stage but it is possible that they could avoid the wooden spoon. It is a sad indictment on the front row depth in Australia that if they could field the third string Springboks front row they would be title contenders. To be fair though they were without Benn Robinson and Stephen Moore in the June tests through injury and they are back for the Tri-Nations campaign so things might be on the 'up' scrumwise. There has never been a questionmark about the Australian tight five's ability at lineouts and general play – just the scrums.  
Their best option is to play a Queensland Reds style high-speed game that runs their bigger opponents off their feet. This will be a lot more effective against the Springboks than the All Blacks.
Wallabies Squad
Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies), Berrick Barnes (Waratahs), Kurtley Beale (Waratahs), Luke Burgess (Waratahs), Quade Cooper (Reds), Anthony Faingaa (Reds), Will Genia (Reds), Matt Giteau (Brumbies), Rob Horne (Waratahs), Peter Hynes (Reds), Digby Ioane (Reds), Jame O'connor (Western Force).
Forwards: Richard Brown (Western Force), Mark Chisholm (Brumbies), Ben Daley (Reds), Rocky Elsom (Capt) (Brumbies), Saia Faingaa (Reds), Scott Higginbotham (Reds), Matt Hodgson Western Force), Ben McCalman (Western Force), Salesi Ma'afu (Brumbies), Stephen Moore (Brumbies), Dean Mumm (Waratahs), David Pocock (Western Force), Benn Robinson (Waratahs), Nathan Sharpe (Western Force), Rob Simmons (Reds), James Slipper (Reds)
10 July 2010 New Zealand v South Africa Eden Park, Auckland
17 July 2010 New Zealand      v South Africa Westpac Stadium, Wellington
24 July 2010 Australia v South Africa Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
31 July 2010 Australia v New Zealand Ethiad Stadium, Melbourne
7 August 2010 New Zealand v Australia AMI Stadium, Christchurch
21 August 2010 South Africa v New Zealand Soccer City, Soweto
28 August 2010 South Africa v Australia       Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
4 September 2010 South Africa v Australia Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
11 September 2010 Australia v New Zealand ANZ Stadium, Sydney

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