The 2009 Tri-Nations trophy is safely back in South Africa in the hands of the Springboks. But those who suggest today's final Test of the tournament, Australia's visit to Wellington to meet the All Blacks, is therefore irrelevant understand nothing regarding Australasian rugby.
The intense rivalry between these two teams takes on the added spice that defeat will condemn one to bottom place in the Tri-Nations. New Zealand, winners every year from 2005 until this tournament, have not suffered that ignominy since 2004.
A home defeat last weekend to the Springboks has persuaded the All Blacks selectors to make seven changes – two positional, with alterations at centre, wing and in all three rows of the pack.
A newcomer to Test rugby is tried at lock, Tom Donnelly, but at 27 he hardly represents the siren voice of youth. The experiment of pairing Dan Carter and Stephen Donald, both really No 10s, in midfield, has been abandoned. Ma'a Nonu is moved inside to inside centre and Isaia Toeava, the great future hope of New Zealand back-line play 18 months ago but since then erratic and abandoned, returns at outside centre. With the wing Sitiveni Sivivatu injured, Corey Jane plays on the right wing, with Joe Rokocoko switching to the left.
Up front, a musical chairs scenario is enacted. Out go prop Owen Franks, lock Isaac Ross and flanker Jerome Kaino, to be replaced by Neemia Tialata, Donnelly and Adam Thomson.
The All Blacks coach, Graham Henry, desperate to see an improvement in his side's hitherto wretched line-out play, says of the debutant Donnelly: "He has played a lot of rugby at the level below, a lot of Junior All Black matches, and we are hopeful he has got the composure and the experience of a lot of first-class rugby to handle this occasion."
Life in the Australian camp is, by contrast, quiet and serene. The coach, Robbie Deans, announced an unchan-ged team from the one that beat the South Africans 21-6 in Brisbane.
That day, Australia's game was much tighter and less error-strewn than a week earlier against the same opponents in Perth and Deans will hope to build on that improvement, not least for the fact that New Zealand have already beaten Australia twice in this season's Tri-Nations and Australia have not won on New Zealand soil since 2001.
The match will be watched with close interest, not least in the northern hemisphere, where both sides head in five weeks' time. Both coaches have endured a rough year and are desperate to finish their domestic international programmes on a positive note.
They acknowledge that, at the present time, South Africa are a class apart from both of then. But the World Cup is still two years away and much can happen in that time.
New Zealand: M Muliaina; C Jane, I Toeava, M Nonu, J Rokocoko; D Carter, J Cowan; A Woodcock, A Hore, N Tialata, B Thorn, T Donnelly, A Thomson, R McCaw (capt), K Read.
Australia: 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).
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).Reuse content