The 2011 Tri-Nations starts this weekend. Australia and South Africa meet at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday to kick off the tournament in a year when the World Cup looms largest.
Of course, the Tri-Nations is important, but the year's focus is the World Cup. The teams' focus is the World Cup. Coaches and selectors and fans all focus on the World Cup. The result is that, as in 2007, the Tri-Nations will not have the best players representing each country.
Oh, they will say they are the best available with availability difficult to define.
South Africa arrived in Sydney minus 23 top players, who are injured - or 'injured', if you like.
In a sense the Tri-Nations is a casualty of the World Cup to come and of the vast amount of rugby in the recent past, causing sports scientists to throw up their hands in horror at the prospect of more punishment for minds and bodies. They cry out for rest. Given rest there are (non-playing) administrators who protest because they want to fill their stadiums and need the best players to do that.
However, as much as South Africa insists that its team is a worthy one, nobody is fooled into believing that it is the worthiest the nation can put into the field.
But then last weekend Australia put a team into the field against Samoa, called the Wallabies but not the worthiest the island continent can produce - and it got a hiding. Apparently the Samoans took motivation from the weakened side the Australians had chosen. The same may apply here - the Wallabies determined not to lose to the 'B Team', while the 'B Team' is determined to show that they are not a B Team.
All that said, the players chosen and to be capped for their selection, will give of their very best and every one of them can claim to be an outstanding player.
All of the Wallabies are already capped players, and there are amongst them some of the best and most exciting players in the world - Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia and David Pocock. Each one of those is a player who can change a game.
South Africa cannot compete with that though it has Gio Aplon, Bjorn Basson, Juan de Jongh of the dancing feet and Ashley Johnson. The Springboks are more likely to rely on graft than brilliance.
But their ability to graft is not what it usually is with two uncapped props in Werner Kruger and Dean Greyling and locks who are not first choice. Alistair Hargreaves, a late replacement for injured Johann Muller, has two caps and not as powerful as Muller, and big Flippie van der Merwe is not a first-choice player for the Bulls.
On the other hand the Wallaby front five is not made up of powerhouses either - good, hardworking, lively players but not enforcers.
The composition of the two sets of loose forwards is similar - runner, charger and fetcher. That means it is all up to the backs and here the Wallabies seem to have the greater strike-power.
When it comes to goal-kicking the Springboks have in Morné Steyn the more consistent and reliable performer, a man icily cool.
Players to Watch:
For Australia: Those classy players - Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia and David Pocock.
For South Africa: Gio Aplon, happier at fullback where he has more scope, an electric player, and fearless Ashley Johnson.
Head to head: In their forwards veteran hookers rub heads - John Smit and earnest Steven Moore - and there are competitions between fetchers - fetcher David Pocock against fetcher Deon Stegmann, both players prone to being penalised and those two upright old warhorses - Rocky Elsom and Danie Rossouw. You will see Quade Cooper and wonder how steady, calm Morné Steyn deals with a will-'o-the-wisp and how Adam Ashley-Cooper deals with the clever feet of Juan de Jongh.
* For referee Chris Pollock it's a big day - his first Tri-Nations match.
2010: Australia won 41-39, Bloemfontein
2010: South Africa won 44-31, Pretoria
2010: Australia won 30-13, Brisbane
2009: Australia won 21-6, Brisbane
2009: South Africa won 32-25, Perth
2009: South Africa won 29-17, Cape Town
2008: South Africa won 53-8, Johannesburg
2008: Australia won 27-15, Durban
2008: Australia won 16-9, Perth
Prediction: It just seems that the Wallabies, one of the very best teams in the world and a serious contender for this year's World Cup, closer to their best team, have two much firepower for the Springboks' who will have to be secure in their first-time tackling, and so we suggest that the Wallabies will win by 10 or more.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (captain), 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Pekahou Cowan, 18 Nathan Sharpe, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Anthony Fainga'a.
South Africa: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Dean Greyling
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Ryan Kankowski , 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 Patrick Lambie
Date: Saturday, July 23
Kick-off: 20.00 (10.00 GMT)
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Expected weather: There is a 50 percent chance of rain, with a high of 14°C, dropping to 9°C
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Keith Brown (New Zealand), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
By Paul Dobson
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