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Tri Nations Rugby – Team Profiles
Here’s a look at the big three in world rugby in relation to where they are ahead of the 2010 Tri Nations tournament. The teams will also have an eye firmly on long-term preparations for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, adding to the pressure in this year’s Tri Nations.
Given the relatively low profile of rugby union in Australia and the fact that much of the athletic talent gravitates towards rugby league or Aussie rules football, it is a testament to the Australian fighting spirit and “never say die” attitude that they are so competitive in rugby union. Australia tend to favor an open running style of rugby, relying on quick, elusive backs and no small amount of guile to run rings around their opponents, which can be very entertaining to watch. Teams that have success against them tend to try to force a more structured, forward game on them to exploit what is perceived to be their biggest weakness: an under-powered front five, especially in the scrum department.
It’s something coach Robbie Deans is trying hard to address ahead of the 2010 Tri Nations and next year’s World Cup. There are still many questions left after this summer’s internationals against Northern Hemisphere sides, which this Tri Nations tournament could go a long way towards answering. If they can manage to be more competitive up front, one feels the core of this young side could carry the Wallabies forward into the next decade.
New Zealand All Blacks
Although the Kiwis are a relatively small nation, rugby is religion in the Land of the Long White Cloud, meaning the sport enjoys picking the athletic talent. Their ranks are further bolstered by imports from the various Polynesian islands, whose people, both culturally and physically, seem born to play rugby. Arguably the All Blacks’ batting over the years, the All Blacks have perhaps the most balanced approach to the game, combining strong, incisive running backs with hard-hitting, battle-hardened forwards capable of dominating against most teams in world rugby. They are a formidable prospect, with few obvious weaknesses.
Their Achilles heel appears to be an inability to win the most elusive prize: the World Cup (apart from the inaugural tournament). Every year they seem to be the team to beat in the competition, yet somehow they have failed to win it, earning them the tag of “chokers”. Maybe their problem is that they want it too much? At least one thing is for sure: the Kiwi crowd will tolerate nothing less than a win at next year’s World Cup on home soil – otherwise the players and staff might as well pack their bags and play in the Heineken Cup!
But no such problems in the Tri Nations – the All Blacks have been dominant over the years and will be keen to restore the natural order of things after underperforming in last year’s tournament.
South African Springboks
Rugby has traditionally been a white man’s game in South Africa. But since the birth of the Rainbow Nation, more non-white players have come through the ranks. While this is still something of a political process rather than pure rugby development, the future looks bright for the Springboks if they can tap deep into the local talent pool. The Springboks have traditionally played “10-man rugby” built on a very powerful forward line with a kicking flyhalf and the rest of the backline there primarily for defence, but of late they have made progress in becoming more balanced – sometimes swinging too far the other. way – but lately it seems to have to balance about right.
After a very successful few years where they have won almost everything, the challenge for them is to keep developing to stay ahead of the pack. Many of their stars are nearing the end of their playing careers and it remains to be seen whether suitable replacements can be found to take up the mantle after next year’s World Cup. At the moment, depth doesn’t seem to be the big issue, but one or two injuries at key positions could have a big impact.
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