Rugby Titans Line Up for Tri-Nations Decider
On 13th September in Brisbane, Wallaby coach Robbie Deans will have the chance to snatch both the Bledisloe Cup and the Tri-Nations crown from his own countrymen. A 27-15 victory over the Springboks in Durban, Australia’s first away victory in the Tri-Nations since 2000, set up the Suncorp Stadium showdown against the All Blacks.
Despite suffering the biggest Test loss in Australian rugby history last weekend, a 53-8 drubbing by South Africa, which surpassed the 61-22 defeat at the hands of the Springboks in Pretoria in 1997, confidence in the Australian camp is high.
After a successful start to his international management career, Deans is determined to finish off the job in Brisbane.
"We have genuinely started something," he said. "We've picked up something to show for it along the way, but the thing we'd really like to show for it is ahead of us.
"It's always good to get the confirmation that we are making progress and I guess we've got the opportunity now to show that we have made some headway."
However, injuries may hamper Australia’s efforts to win their first Tri-Nations since 2001. Deans confirmed that lock Dan Vickerman would definitely be unavailable for the Test with the All-Blacks, while prop Ben Robinson is also doubtful after coming off with an injured hand against the Boks.
Young prodigy Berwick Barnes, who was rated at no better than 50-50 to play by Deans a week ago, is making a miraculous recovery. After undergoing intensive physiotherapy on his shoulder injury sustained in Australia’s defeat of South Africa in Durban, Barnes has trained for the first time with the squad at Ballymore, much to the relief of Deans.
The lack of Barnes’ organisational skills in defence and attack, and his ability to take pressure of Matt Giteau inside him, were evident in the Wallabies’ record loss to South Africa.
New Zealand have injury concerns of their own. Anthony Tuitavake has been ruled out for up to six weeks following a fractured cheek bone sustained in the recent Samoa match.
However, influential skipper Ritchie McCaw, who missed the Samoan game in New Plymouth with a rib injury, lock Brad Thorne, winger Sitiveni Sivivatu and prop John Afoa should all recover in time for the Antipodean showdown.
Although the 101-14 mauling of Samoa should have done little more than boost egos in the All Black camp, Graham Henry saw the mid-week clash as a valuable exercise for his team.
"We needed to play together as a team before we go to Australia, so we were pleased to have the opportunity to play Samoa," he said.
Following two months of exhilarating Test match rugby, the 2008 Tri-Nations will be decided by a ferocious 80 minute battle between two of rugby’s most bitter rivals.
Securing the greatest prize in Southern Hemisphere rugby will be one of the biggest challenges of Deans' coaching career but surely one of the most satisfying.
"The Tri-Nations isn't over. It's a one-off encounter. One game that can make their season good. Whether they can do it remains to be seen," he said.
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