Tri Nations preview

The Super 14 is over. Internationals are on course and they show they good old-fashioned gap between north and south. What about the Tri Nations? How are the teams performing? How will they fare through July and August games?

Let's take a look at them:

All Blacks: No one will doubt of the inmense quality in the kiwi pool of players. In normal conditions, the All Blacks would be clear favourites to win the tournament. But there are two issues that have been threatening New Zealand's national squad ever since RWC failure: Players exodus and Graham Henry. Exodus towards the wealthy north has affected many an All Black: Hayman, Howlett, McAlister, Kelleher, Mauger, Gear, Jack... and recently Nick Evans and Jerry Collins have also quitted. On the other hand, the controversy around Graham Henry has issued many a trouble to the NZRU and, it was feared, even amongst the very players. To make things worse, New Zealand's favourite son Robbie Deans has coached the Crusaders without a trace of irony or polemics to their seventh title and it has been with great sorrow that the kiwis have seen him cross the Tasman.
The two international games played have somewhat diminished the pressure on the All Blacks. Good victories over Ireland and England have answered many a question and, more importantly, may have shown the solution to a problem that the All Blacks are carrying since back in 2005: the mid-field. Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith may be the answer and this more than anything lifts the spirit in the All Black camp. So the Tri Nations is awaited with anxiety and excitedness in the land of the long white cloud.

Wallabies: The Wallaby side may have a great advantage over their rivals. It is the only one side which could register a bad result, even coming last at the Tri Nations and still, be confident about the future. That is the credit of Robbie Deans, a luxury that not many a coach nowadays can benefit of. The key to Deans and the Wallabies is that theirs is a long-term partnership and no just a one-year deal. Being said that, I am sure it is not in their plans to get such result and, given the quality of the Aussie squad, they are actually title contenders in everyone's mind, which may be a difference to any of the other two teams (if you are amazed of me implicitly saying that the All Blacks are not clear favourites for everyone, go and see Zinzan Brooke's opinion). But Australia is more, far more than a selection of the best aussie players. They have got Deans. And to help you make a whole picture about how important that change may be, let me just quote him a few days ago. All in all, it makes me wanna write a post over Deans, I think he deserves it.
Coming back to the team, it is a big oportunity for many a player. In a time of change, without names like Larkham, Gregan and Latham for the first time in a decade, it is a chance for the Giteaus, Tuqiris and other species to rise to the top, with Mortlock the only link between past and present. The future is in the name of the Shifcofskes. However, the weak point of the Australians could be again the scrum. It is something that has hurt in the past (remember the RWC quarterfinal) and, with the ELVs in play, New Zealand and South Africa could take a fair advantage over the aussies. It is going to be interesting how Deans manages this one.

Springboks: It is amazing how the World Cup champions and by far the less changed side from last year is apparently also the weakest of the three. It does not give much credit to the Rugby World Cup certainly (but of course I am an All Black supporter, maybe I am a bit biased against a tournament so ellusive to us), but it does put a lot of pressure over Peter de Villiers. Perhaps the hardest time of the three head coaches is that of Peter de Villiers. Henry has half of the country against him, Deans must start over again but has the whole country behind him, but de Villiers can't afford a single mistake or he will be ferociously devoured by the roaring public opinion. If he succeeds, however, he could change the future of the country. And I don't mean rugby (here I am just quoting Monsieur Rugbycan). The problem is, they don't look like succeeding. Northern exposure to Matfield, Montgomery and co seem to have somewhat softened them or perhaps they have never been really that good. It is a pity that they won't face Ireland next week but Italy instead, as the celts have become a touchstone for the southerners this season after playing exceptionally weel both against New Zealand and Australia. A good win against Ireland would suit them well, but a scrappy win against them would simply put to much question marks over the Springboks. Unlike the All Blacks and the Wallabies, the Springboks are in our minds as a much more finished product, whereas the other two have a long way before the peak. After scrum struggles against the Welsh in the first game, things went worse in the second, being the whole team who struggled to get a win in the final minutes. At the scrum was not thought to be a problem and they were confident that it would only get better but, to quote Monsieur Rugbycan again: "What makes you think you are so f...... good at scrummaging?"

All in all, I am quite confident the All Blacks will win. I want to see, however, how this Wallaby side is handled by Deans as, I think, does the whole rugby world.


monsieur rugbycan said...

I think that your call si pretty accurate but you may be underestimating Australia. They have as much talent as NZ and Deans , in my opinion, is already a better coach than Graham Henry. This not to say that Henry is a poor coach by any stretch of the imagination....I simply think his olde school drama will produce diminishing results.
The Boks remain an enigma. SA do have the players but, without question, not the best coach they could have had. As much as the players and the system will work to insure his ultimate success, unstable country conditions could impact the passionate rugby of that country.
I think you may see SA struggle a bit against Italy and NZ being pushed hard by England. In both cases, the inferior teams have something to prove and if Italy pushes SA, it will be a tribute to Nick Mallet, who surely must be on a par with Deans. If England pushes NZ it will becorded as one of the astonishing fightbacks in the history of rugby and England will glow as the tower of rugby strength. Only those who know the England style of play will know that cheeky pushing of the All Blacks will be , in reality,
built on a foundation of sand.

sesenta y cuatro said...

Perhaps I am.

But they are aussies, after all.


In any case, I expect Deans to have an impact on a longer term, as the year dies or the following year. I might be mistaken, though.