boks, aussies on high

AUCKLAND - Southern hemisphere rugby is set for a shake-up in the Tri-Nations series kicking off tomorrow, with confidence high in South Africa and Australia and a question mark over powerhouse New Zealand.

AUCKLAND - Southern hemisphere rugby is set for a shake-up in the Tri-Nations series kicking off tomorrow, with confidence high in South Africa and Australia and a question mark over powerhouse New Zealand.

New Zealand, led by captain Richie McCaw, and Australia launch the tournament in Auckland and the grip of the All Blacks on the championship, which they have won nine times out of 13, including for the past four years, looks decidedly shaky.

They were off colour in their warm-up matches against France and Italy, teams Australia disposed of with comparative ease, while South Africa chalked up a notable 2-1 series win over the British and Irish Lions.

It's a reversal of the pattern of recent years and sets up an intriguing nine-match series over the next two months.

The quality of the Springboks' performance against the Lions, and a favourable Tri-Nations draw that sees them play their first three games at home, has bookmakers putting them as favourites.

Their squad includes 22 players who turned out against the Lions and coach Peter de Villiers said that consistency was important for the Tri-Nations.

"The core squad that secured the series win in the first two Tests has great potential as a unit and we believe that they have much more to offer," he warned.

Though South African rugby is already on a high, with the Blue Bulls having won the Super 14 crown, De Villiers has been reluctant to accept the "favourites" tag.

The All Blacks and Wallabies offered a faster-paced game than the Lions, and De Villiers said the Tri-Nations offered "a new and different challenge". It has never been fashionable to rate the Wallabies highly, even in the two years they won the Tri-Nations, the last of which was eight years ago.

But with coach Robbie Deans now in his second year at the helm, they are starting to build a more resolute reputation, and importantly leaked only one try in the June Tests.

- Sapa-AFP

X