Tri Nations – the World Cup warm-up
It’s Tri Nations time and the Wallabies will be hoping for the perfect Rugby World Cup preparation with victories over the All Blacks and the Springboks. But what do New Zealand and South Africa have in store?
2011 will feature a reduced Tri Nations tournament due to the impending Rugby World Cup, which begins in New Zealand in September. But despite fewer games, there is still everything to play for in the southern hemisphere’s annual premier rugby competition. Australia, South Africa and New Zealand will all play each other twice and the tournament will hopefully provide valuable insight into the form and preparation of each country ahead of this year’s main rugby event.
Despite Australia coming off the back of a shock loss to Samoa, the Wallabies will be hoping the return of their big name stars will get them off to the Tri Nations start they’re looking for. Buoyed by Queensland’s spectacular Super Rugby success and the sublime skills of Quade Cooper plus the return to form for regular starters Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor, the Wallabies will be in ominous form when they kick start their campaign against South Africa on Saturday.
New Zealand will still be riding the high of almost sneaking an unprecedented 11th straight win against arch rivals, Australia but the Wallabies win in Hong Kong last year will still be fresh in the minds of the Kiwis and it’s difficult to say whether this will psychologically disadvantage the world number one team. The All Blacks’ Crusaders players are coming off a very strenuous Super Rugby season and there may be a bit of burn-out (coach Graham Henry has already hinted at the fact) and pressure continues to mount on the national team ahead of them hosting the World Cup later this year. Never to be written off, New Zealand may play the Tri Nations quiet in hope of grander glories in October.
The current world champs come into the Tri Nation with most of their top players rested or injured. Outspoken coach Peter de Villiers continues to court controversy with team selection and outlandish comments and it will be interesting to see how focused the Springboks actually are. With a host of players in the champion side nearing the end of their careers, several of the Boks will know this may be their last chance at Tri Nations triumph but they had a very poor tournament last year and expect much of the same again this time round.
The Wallabies should sneak the 2011 Tri Nations trophy, just ahead of New Zealand, but will probably only be able to square the Bledisloe Cup ledger at one game apiece to the Kiwis (meaning the All Blacks will retain the coveted Cup once again). The Springboks will be hoping some form in their home games keeps them in touch … but don’t count on it.