Tri Nations 2011: Tournament Preview

Richie McCaw celebrates

As the build-up towards the Rugby World Cup gathers pace, the small matter of a Tri Nations tournament is still to be decided. With injuries and fatigue a clear consideration, the Tri Nations squad members who remain standing are set to slug it out in a tournament that will, aside from being competitive in its own right, be a strong pre-cursor to the fast-approaching World Cup.

Last year’s tournament confirmed New Zealand as the dominant force in southern hemisphere rugby. Having won the competition ten times since its inauguration in 1996, New Zealand’s sensational white-wash in the 2010 competition was their best performance yet. Once again, Graham Henry’s All Blacks will be favourites.

The six-match format of this year’s competition contrasts with that of previous years whereby each team would play each other a total of three times, as opposed to two.

South Africa

Coach Peter de Villiers’ move to announce an injury list of 23 players, including Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, was initially viewed with scepticism in some quarters, with Australia in particular suggesting this was a shrewd tactic to rest key players. But with SANZAR accepting the Boks’ injury assessment, it still remains that a squad containing the likes of John Smit, Patrick Lambie and Bjorn Basson will have flair in abundance along with a sprinkling of experience.

It is likely that more experience will return on home territory, and if South Africa return from their two matches with reputations intact then the return of Matfield could bolster a delayed charge. However when facing an Australian side eager to atone for the loss to Samoa, the likelihood of leaving the game with points for their efforts is slim.

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers

The Coach says:
Peter de Villiers: “To me, this is the Springbok team that is going to compete and we are serious about becoming number one in the world again. If we can do that before the World Cup, it will be brilliant.”

The Captain says:
John Smit: “There are guys who have taken on a bit of strain and these guys that are going over there, if they’re a b-team, it is because it stands for Boks and nothing else.”

One to watch
With the mounting challenge of Butch James, as well as youngster Patrick Lambie, Morne Steyn needs to perform at a level that will consolidate his position as the Springboks’ starting fly half.

Expectations
With the staggering loss of more than 23 players to injury, despite the noises in the camp, the travelling squad for the matches against Australia and New Zealand will be fortunate to return with a single victory. Questions surrounding the legitimacy of the injuries have been dismissed, though the success of South Africa’s campaign may hinge on the quick recovering of de Villiers’ injured troops. 3rd

Australia

The triumph of the Queensland Reds in the Super 15 represented something of a success for Australian rugby, but their high spirits were extinguished by a fearsome Samoa side that savaged then shocked Robbie Deans’ men in a fine 32-23 victory. In contrast with the Samoans, the Australians were not at full strength, and it is perhaps notable that Australia’s second half slump halted when the likes of Kurtley Beale and Will Genia joined the pitch. Australia will also hope that the return of openside David Pocock can galvanise the team.

Rod Davies had a tough time against Samoa

Deans will have had high hopes for some of his less experienced charges, many of whom retain World Cup hopes, and will have undoubtedly been left dismayed by their efforts. That they wilted under the intense pressure exerted by Samoa strongly hints at the poor squad depth currently at Deans’ disposal. In World Cup year with widespread recognition of the dangers of player burnout and injuries already playing a part for Australia, victory in this competition may prove to be too difficult a feat for the men in green and gold.

The Coach says:
Robbie Deans on the Samoa loss: ‘(I wasn’t surprised by the reaction) – not at all. We expect it. It wasn’t a great experience. We’ve obviously reviewed the game – now we’re looking ahead.’

The Captain says:
Rocky Elsom after the Samoa match: “I’m not happy about it, I don’t think anyone is, but we’ve got six days till will play the Springboks so we’ve got plenty to work on.”

One to watch
Queensland Reds captain Will Genia capped a remarkable year with being awarded the title of Australian Super Rugby Player of the Year. Growing in stature within the Australian ranks, Genia has been pinpointed as a future captain of the green and gold and will be a key player this year.

Expectations
Robbie Deans will be hoping for a strong response from his Australia side after last week, and with the return of the likes of the aforementioned Pocock along with Quade Cooper and Will Genia, Australia’s first choice line-up is very strong. Victory in the competition will not be expected, though strong performances, starting with a victory over an injury-ravaged South Africa, must be the minimum required. 2nd

New Zealand

Graham Henry announced a strong squad to compete in this year’s tournament. Captained by Richie McCaw, Highlanders’ lock Jarrad Hoeata is the sole debutant in this hugely experienced side. Having played for both the New Zealand Sevens side as well as the NZ Maori, Hoeata receives the call-up after a fine sophomore season in the Super 15.

New Zealand begin their preparations against Fiji on Friday, but with Henry already alluding to the prior exertions of his players, particularly the Canterbury set, it is unlikely that a full strength side will take to the field. Bookmakers have New Zealand as odds on favourites; you may be foolish to bet otherwise.

The Coach says:
Graham Henry: “The Tri Nations also remains an important competition for the team this year. We are proud of the record we have achieved over the years and the fact that we have held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 and it is crucial as we look to build towards the Rugby World Cup.”

The Captain says:
Richie McCaw on squad fitness: “We’ve got to have faith in the fellas that are fresh and raring to go. You look around the squad of 30 and we’ve got some good players there we’ll be able to fit in. If we end up in three or four weeks’ time with everybody back fresh and the team ticking along that will be what we’re after.

One to watch
Defeat in the Super 15 final represented Sonny Bill Williams’ first taste of defeat while playing union in New Zealand and he will be eager to ameliorate his performance in that final. Williams will be making his first appearance in the Tri Nations competition, marking yet another step on his rapid learning curve since switching from rugby league.

Expectations
As ever with New Zealand, expectations will be sky high. The knowledgeable fans will realise the importance of squad rotation, but with the World Cup a matter of months away a break from the norm of triumph, especially after their dominance last year, may only serve to increase the heightened tension in the nation. 1st

Fixtures

Saturday July 23rd – Australia vs South Africa
ANZ Stadium, Sydney.

Saturday July 30th: New Zealand vs South Africa
Westpac Stadium, Wellington.

Saturday, August 6th: New Zealand v Australia
Eden Park, Auckland.

Saturday, August 13th: South Africa v Australia
Mr Price Kings Park, Durban.

Saturday, August 20th: South Africa v New Zealand
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth.

Saturday, August 27th: Australia vs New Zealand
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.

4 thoughts on “Tri Nations 2011: Tournament Preview

  1. The sooner Argentina start playing in this tournament the better. Yes the quality is high and a good chance to see the sides in action but as an actual tournament it’s completely pointless to me. There are minimal upsets an it’s far, far too predictable every year. The argentines will bring a new challenge to the ‘big 3’ and i am hoping will really ruffle some feathers. Role on next season.

    As for this season. It’s as predicted I think. Can’t see much else happening except everyone starting to see that Sonny Bill really is that good and that the Aussies still can’t scrummage. Let’s just hope all the big names make it through injury free. I think NZ would postpone the WC if DC got injured!

  2. Hard to look beyond the All Blacks to win the tri nations. Big doubts over Australia’s strenght in-dept. Were they to lose a few players to injury they would really struggle. As for the Springboks I think the most of there injury list would be available if they were playing the Lions in the morning. SANZAR were never going to overrule the medical opinion of the South Africian medical team and anyway there should be no interference in team selection from the authorties. Whats the point in a squad if you cant use it.

  3. I think will win the last 2 matches at home when the big guns return. I think will beat the Aus by 20 points in Durban.

  4. I think with their backs against the walls the Springboks will be very dangerous come World Cup time and i have funny feeling that they will knock out the all blacks in the semi’s. People are under-estimating the boks but they have guys who have been ther b4 and won the world cup. Form is temp but class is permanent. SA is not taking the tri-nation seriously and i don’t think it has any bearing on the world cup. Some peeps are saying the boks will lose to Samoa and fiji or Wales but SA don’t lose to such teams as Samoa or Fiji no disrepect but it’s true. The boks will beat England or France or Aus in the final otherwise the All Blacks will win it if not England.

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