This Tri-Nations will see one of its closest finishes where amazingly, all three teams will be looking to get something different out of the game as we start looking to the Rugby World Cup in 2011.
Of course the clichés from coaches and players alike will be how every match is taken one step at a time there can be no doubt that the most important assessment of this Tri-Nations at its conclusion will be where every team stands in respect to the Rugby World Cup which will be hosted in New Zealand in 2011.
Media, supporters and coaches will go back after the Tri-Nations either content with where they find themselves in the run up to the World event or start to hit the panic buttons, if only at random or with little intensity.
The most fascinating aspect of this year’s Tri-Nations for me however is not so much in who will win it, but with the mindset each nation will enter the competition.
The All Blacks first and foremost will demand revenge for the humiliation of 2009 where the Boks ended up 3 – 0 against the old foe, and with two of the three tests being played in New Zealand anything less than a 100% return will trigger the alarm bells in the host nation.
I believe the psyche of the All Blacks is at such a fragile point that even just a single victory in Auckland or Wellington in 2010 by the Boks will outweigh a Tri-Nations crown for the All Blacks.
The New Zealand public will always demand Tri-Nations success, but top of their list will be to inflict the same amount of damage the Boks did in 2009.
The Springboks on the other hand is in quite a strange place at the moment.
Largely viewed as Tri-Nations favourites and even World Cup favourites together with their SANZAR partners there seems to be less pressure on the Boks than in previous years…
Of course a zero from three return on their away leg of the competition will not be tolerated but for a change, the pressure is firmly on New Zealand and Australia and not so much on the current World and Tri-Nations champs.
The significance of this will of course, only be answered at the conclusion of the competition but I suspect this to play a massive part.
The fact that the Boks minus the services of such influential players like Bismarck du Plessis, Juan Smith, Heinrich Brussow, Fourie du Preez, JP Pietersen and Frans Steyn (all World Cup winners apart from Brussow) are still ranked as favourites speaks volumes of the pressures put on the All Blacks and Wallabies.
Even a 33% return from their overseas leg (one victory in 3 tests) will still put the Boks in a very strong position to win the competition as all three return or home tests will be played at altitude with the possible return of players like Bismarck, Juan and JP Pietersen for the Boks.
The Oz-mob still seem rather confused of where they are or where they want to be.
There is no doubt that with players like Genia, Cooper and Giteau the Aussies can shred any team to pieces on their day, but for the most part they seemed unconvincing against the Northern Hemisphere teams in recent weeks, losing against England in one test.
A general ‘feeling’ I get with each squad is desperation for the All Blacks, building for the Wallabies and building confidence from the Boks.
It is not arrogance, years of disappointment against these top nations have taught any Bok supporter humility but for once, I believe the Boks go into this tournament with a lot less to lose one year out from the World Cup than New Zealand or Australia.Tweet