This summer’s Tri-Nations looks set to be one of the most exciting in recent times. With the World Cup looming in September, and with the challenge of the Northern Hemisphere teams looking fragile, it is to the Southern Hemisphere we will be looking for the next World Champions.
Many are predicting a
South Africa’s back row is a world-class, powerful unit led by the inimitable Schalk Burger. It will be his battle with Richie McCaw that could determine the outcome of the matches. The South Africans will compete physically at every breakdown and will stand up to the All Black power – a feat that no other team has been able to do this season – and potentially starve the electrifying New Zealand backs of quality possession.
The New Zealand pack has been weakened by the loss of two top locks, Ali Williams and Keith Robinson, and their lineout could be a weakness. If they start losing their set piece, and South Africa employ a clever kicking game, turning the likes of Rokocoko and Sivivatu, they will be able to apply considerable pressure. Moreover, in the backs, the Springboks are no pretenders. With Montgomery, Habana and de Villiers, they boast some of the finest backs in the world and will be defiantly aggressive in defence. They look to me like the only team that will be able to go toe-to-toe with the mighty Blacks.
All that said, I am loathe to discount the Wallabies. Australia has an irritating way of being competitive in major competitions, despite not finding particularly strong form during the build-up. Gregan and Larkham are an immensely experienced half-back unit, capable of reading and leading a game. Outside them, they have some bruisers of their own in Stirling Mortlock and Lote Tuquiri, and if their forwards can secure a solid platform, they will look strong in attack. Obviously, I’ll be hoping they get blitzed off the park and embarrassed in all of their matches, but they should not be ruled out.
The result of the Tri-Nations will be a good indicator of success at the World Cup. If