Australia's rugby coach, Robbie Deans, celebrated his 50th birthday this week. Coming, as it did, sandwiched between last weekend's hiding at Perth by the world champion Springboks and today's likely repeat performance at Brisbane's SunCorp stadium, it is safe to say the Australians probably did not prepare a cake the size of Sydney Harbour to celebrate the event for their New Zealand chief.
It was all so different when Deans was expensively lured across the Tasman Sea early last year to the angst of his fellow Kiwis, who wanted him to replace Graham Henry as All Blacks coach, and the cheers of the Australians, who always love to poke the Kiwis one in the eye. Deans, went the whisper, could take the Wallabies to World Cup glory in 2011.
That was the theory. The reality was demonstrated in a Brisbane press conference this week when an Australian media interrogator asked a barbed question of wing Lachie Turner. "Is it the coach's game plan that is all wrong or the players' failure to execute it properly" came the missile. Sensibly, Turner ducked.
"I don't think there is anything wrong with our game plan," he said. "We have been so close over the entire series but haven't got the results because there have been little lapses of concentration. We've got the game plan to take these games and wrestle them away from the opposition."
Perhaps, but if the rampaging South Africans, even without wing JP Pietersen who is injured, fail to complete the deal in Brisbane today, and clinch their first Tri-Nations title since 2004, it will be a major surprise. Not a calamity, however, for the Springboks have still to play New Zealand in Hamilton next week and they need just a single point from either game to be sure of the title. Brisbane will surely be the setting for more Springbok success.
This year South Africa have been the overwhelmingly superior force in world rugby. Disregard the Lions third Test; that was a South African 2nd XV. At their strongest, they are in a class of their own.
They have the world's most influential captain, the best second-row pairing in world rugby, the best open-side, the best No 8, the best half-back, the most reliable goal-kicker, the most creative inside centre and the fastest, most dangerous wing in world rugby. Not too many weaknesses there, then.
They have spent much of this week talking up the Australians and their challenge. Can there ever have been a greater slight on the sports-loving Aussies than an opposition trying to gee them up?
Australia (probable): J O'Connor; L Turner, A Ashley-Cooper, B Barnes, D Mitchell; M Giteau, W Genia; B Robinson, T Polota-Nau, B Alexander, J Horwill, M Chisholm, R Elsom, D Pocock, G Smith (capt).
South Africa (probable): R Pienaar; O Ndungane, J Fourie, J de Villiers, B Habana; M Steyn, F Du Preez; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J Smit (capt), B Botha, V Matfield, H Brussow, J Smith, P Spies.
Referee: W Barnes (England).Reuse content