Making the most of their home advantage, South Africa have recorded three consecutive Tri-Nations victories, beating New Zealand twice and Australia once to sit firmly atop the Tri-Nations table.
South Africa now has 12 points, New Zealand 4 and Australia 1 and if the next couple of results favour the Springboks’, the competition could be all but over with three or four rounds to play.
The Australian Rugby Union will be particularly concerned, since they have historically struggled to draw the crowds for Tri-Nations fixtures when there is nothing at stake. If Australia are out of the running, the supporters will stay at home, and match revenues will obviously decline.
The Wallabies now face New Zealand and South Africa in consecutive weekends, which are must-win home fixtures. Lose on Saturday, and there is no way back for Robbie Deans’ squad and they’ll have to go through the motions for their remaining games with nothing to fight for but pride.
Deans has been threatening to wield the axe if his players cannot maintain their discipline, as their penalty count has hurt them in their two games so far. They have conceded 28 penalties over the two matches, compared to a total of 18 by the opposition – this has cost them a combined total of 36 points in two matches.
With that in mind, the Australians won’t be as excited as everyone else about the return of Dan Carter to the All Blacks fold, which will only make it more difficult for Stirling Mortlock and his side to record their first Tri-Nations win.
Next weekend’s game should be enthralling. Each episode so far has been enjoyable to watch, despite my pre-tournament prediction, and the ARU will be desperately hoping that their team remains in the running. The fact that there is so much at stake for Australia adds to the excitement, but another defeat and that excitement could evaporate along with the Wallaby crowds.