When the dust finally settles after the 2011 Rugby World Cup is over, no doubt the post mortems will begin.
One thing the different international rugby unions will be looking at is how the teams got on in New Zealand compared to the preparation they did leading up to the tournament. And you won’t find two more contrasting build-ups than those orchestrated by Peter de Villiers of South Africa and Graham Henry of the All Blacks.
Both coaches are under pressure when you think of it. The Springboks are reigning champions and you don’t need me to tell you how important victory is to the host nation!
Much has been said about DeVilliers’ tactics whereby he virtually wrapped his best XV in cotton wool until the last possible moment. Well, the side effect of this strategy has been a poor showing in the 2011 version of the TriNations Championship. And however little these results may “matter” in the build up to the World Cup, you’d have to expect the Springbok fans would be a whole lot happier if their team could set off with at least one win under their belts.
And I feel they had their chance last week to register that win. Although they went down 9-14 to the Wallabies, had they Morné Steyn starting they could have established a bigger lead which the visitors couldn’t catch. But he does regain his starting position this week, with yet another rival for his outhalf berth, Patrick Lambie, slotting into his other position of full-back.
Watching this match in Port Elizabeth with great interest will be the Welsh, as they face South Africa in their World Cup opener in Wellington on September 11. And looking down DeVilliers’ line up for this weekend you have to saw it should be very close to that which will face Warren Gatland’s men.
So the question is – can they finish their TriNations campaign with a consolation victory?
Well first we need to look at the All Blacks and how they have prepared. Quite simply, they appear to be on a mission to comfortably put away all before them on the way to their second William Webb Ellis Cup triumph. And given their pre-tournament performances so far, you can only say that everything is going to plan.
They may have left their marquee names of Dan Carter and Richie McCaw behind, but the thing about New Zealand rugby is that the word “marquee “can be used for just about anyone who has ever pulled on the famous black jersey!
Colin Slade impressed against Fiji and will no doubt relish his opportunity to cement his position as Carter’s backup; while his fellow halfback Jimmy Cowan may still feel he has a shot at ousting Piri Weepu for the number 9 jumper. And behind them, there’s plenty of damage to be done by the likes of Dagg, Gear and of course Sonny-Bill Williams.
And despite the absence of their regular captain, their pack still looks formidable. Keven Mealamu is leading the team out on the day and a strong second row of Whitelock and Ali Williams should cause mischief even against such proven lineout jumpers as Matfield & Botha.
So when it comes to making my prediction, I can’t help but plump for yet another defeat for De Villiers’ men. I expect it to be close much like the test in Durban last weekend, but the rugby union world’s script seems to be written these days for the All Blacks, and I can see them rounding off their World Cup preparations with a victory of around 3-4 points.
Should that result pan out, it would leave the TriNations championship beautifully poised for a decider next weekend between the All Blacks and the Wallabies, ironically in SunCorp Stadium Brisbane, the scene of the Queensland Reds’ SupeRugby triumph.
And although they don’t play this weekend, the Australian Rugby Union have been busy in the past week, awarding coach Robbie Deans a new contract before a World Cup ball is kicked as well as taking the bold move of taking the captain’s armband away from former Leinster hero Rocky Elsom and handing it to James Horwill just weeks before the tournament begins.
Only time will tell if it was not only a brave move but also a smart one, but one thing’s for sure, the Irish camp will be factoring it into their own preparations!
So all in all it should be a fascinating end to this year’s TriNations – I’ll be back next week to preview that final encounter. Enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP