The 2009 Tri-Nations promises to be the mostly highly contested tournament to date.
For the first time in its history, the All Blacks are rated third, even though they have won the tournament nine times out of 13, including the last four years.
The Australians are rated highly and many believe they will get stronger and stronger under Robbie Deans. And the Springboks are in great shape coming off a successful 2-1 series win over the British and Irish Lions.
The All Blacks
They lost their hold on the Super 14 crown this year, and will be keen not to let another trophy slip from their grasp. They were disappointed in their early season tests against the French and Italians.
The All Blacks start the tournament against Australia at Eden Park, a ground on which they have not lost to the Wallabies in forever. I can't see the Aussies winning there despite the All Blacks' poor recent form.
The return of one Richie McCaw will be a boost of immense proportions, and he will be just the spark to add some determination and composure to the All Blacks.
After their first game, the All Blacks face consecutive tests against the Springboks at Bloemfontein and Durban. That's a tough task, and if they win one of those games it'll set them up nicely for the second half where they play the Aussies in Sydney, before two more games in New Zealand against the Springboks and Wallabies again.
I predict the All Blacks will lose both games in South Africa, and Graham Henry will start to feel the pressure once more. If he selected his sides better, the All Blacks would be extremely formidable, but he seems to have favourites consisting of players that are not rated as highly by the rest of the world.
He'll welcome the return of Dan Carter later in the tournament, but even that won't save the All Blacks.
Many people are predicting great things from this Wallaby side leading up to the Rugby World cup in 2011. I'm not convinced.
This Wallaby side lacks the class and hard edge in the forwards to consistently challenge the All Blacks and Springboks. Whilst they have a class flyhalf in Giteau, the wingers and fullback are not nearly the accomplished players that Burke, Tune, and Roff were when the Wallabies were dominant.
Whilst many think that Robbie Deans is the saviour of Australian rugby, I don't believe he can work miracles on a side that simply doesn't have the raw materials to produce the desired results.
They have a favourable draw with only one game in South Africa, coming at the back of the Springboks playing the All Blacks twice in successive weeks, and then play the Springboks twice at home.
However, that may not be enough to save a side that is talking a big game, but may not be able to back it up with results. If they get one or two injuries to key players, they'll struggle to recover.
The World Champions have a settled side and the benefit of coming off a tough series against the British and Irish Lions. They have to play their first three games in three consecutive weeks which is tough, but not as tough as playing Games Four through Six in three consecutive weeks away from home!
Their biggest weakness is Coach Peter de Villiers. If he gets selection right, employs a game plan that suits the players, and doesn't mess up the substitutions, this Bok side will be extremely tough to beat.
All the Super 14 winning Bulls had a quiet series against the British and Irish Lions, so I'm picking Superman Spies, Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, and Bryan Habana to produce their magic and provide the catalyst for some sizzling Springbok performances.