Sunday, 5 July 2009

Tri Nations: looking forward

I sat up late last night when I got home, and I watched the final Lions Test against the Boks. I think talk of the match being a ‘dead rubber’ was unfair. Sure the series was lost for the Lions, but they definitely had their pride to play for (see what I did there?). These tours are hard for the Lions: the odds are always stacked against their squad in terms of real preparation and team bonding, and so it was always possible they would really get it together for the last Test, especially against a Springbok team with 10 changes.

Even Evil Eddie Jones thought so before the game.

Last night the Lions played all the footy. Ricky Flutey showed real class at 12 (making Shane Williams’ second try), as did Rob Kearney the fullback and unstoppable No.8 Jamie Heaslip of Ireland stood out. They deserved the win, after going close last week. Hell, even Phil Vickery produced a great comeback performance against ‘The Beast’ up front. I really enjoyed watching the game,
and it actually relaxed me a little bit about us playing the Boks now.

This Tri Nations is going to be tough, but very hard to call. Before the Lions tour I thought the Boks looked awesome and would whitewash it - after all we had been poor to shit, and the Wobblies were looking to build fast under Dingo Deans, but now I am not so worried.

Aussie had a flattering two Tests against Italy, and did not put France away. South Africa have enough depth and fire in the belly to beat all visitors on their home turf, but they have to travel away too ... and I can't help feel their ill discipline may become a monkey on their back this season. Last night their new cap N0. 6 Heinrich Brussow seemed set on picking fights constantly, and Pierre Spies chased biff as much as he could once subbed on. Add Matfield, Botha and Burger to this motley crew and they will see red. Brad Thorn may be busy.

Sure their superboots like Frans & Morne Steyn can kick to Mars, but I still fancy our back three (whoever they are) to catch, kick or carry it back at them.

I guess the real flavour this year is rebuilding. All three sides seem to have a core of quite experienced players being bolstered by a new flock of bolters or debutantes ... Super rugby certainly throws up freaks every year. And that puts all the teams in the same boat, only halfway through this World Cup cycle of four years.

We certainly go in as underdogs, but that is overdue. Let Peter de Villiers sweat it out as the favourite’s coach, then trip over his words under pressure.

I’m now very much looking forward to the 3N - it should be a classic given the uncertainty and tension over form, mixed the bristling physicality of all three squads. That recently concluded Lions Tour of South Africa produced a great mix of brutial forward power and expansive back play, plus the return of test mauls and excellent lineout & scrum play. ... that mix of skills and body type that do make rugby a great game, especially at the pinnacle of Test level.

So now we can stop bashing our All Backs and get behind them for the next few months. After all, givien our recent history, we are supposed to be peaking now, two years out from the World Cup. Instead, we are rebuilding, soul searching and looking forward. Maybe this is Ted’s master plan?

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