New Zealand will win another Tri-Nations title this year - because their culture of travel is superior to either the Australians or South Africans.
As ever, Eddie Jones offers an intriguing analysis of the three southern hemisphere rugby nations as they prepare to do battle in the Tri-Nations which starts on Saturday in Auckland with the clash of the All Blacks and Wallabies.
Jones isn’t so sure the New Zealanders are quite as formidable as in past years. In fact, he has a suspicion this year’s competition could even go down to the last weekend, when New Zealand will meet Australia again, this time in Wellington. But the key factor should again be the New Zealanders’ superior ability to adapt to overseas games and carve out a crucial victory.
The former Wallaby 2003 World Cup finalist coach is currently "somewhere up in the mountains" in Japan at a pre-season training camp. But he admits he won’t be doing anything other than sitting in front of a TV set on Saturday to watch the Test match from Eden Park. His money, he admits, is "just" on the All Blacks.
It should be a very interesting match, he thinks. "This Australian team is definitely on the way up with a lot of good young players. Under Robbie Deans, they have a very cohesive playing style. On the other hand, the All Blacks are in a bit of a state of flux, a little uncertain of themselves which is unusual for a New Zealand team."
Australian weaknesses? "I don’t think they have a great deal. Maybe Burgess tends to over play his game a little bit. And if you can get to him Giteau, Barnes and Mortlock, who are all fine players, can suffer a little bit. But there’s not too much else.
"This is a pretty strong Australian pack and it will be hard for the All Blacks to physically out-muscle the Wallabies. It will mean New Zealand will have to play a bit smarter, but they are capable of doing that under these coaches. They have shown that."
Jones admits that you coach a side differently in preparation for any match against the All Blacks or Wallabies. "New Zealand sides traditionally base themselves on winning the physical contest. It is the sides that have been able to stop them in that area and make them play in another way that have prevailed because they struggle to cope with being asked to play in a different way.
"Against New Zealand, you have got to be physical but also make them do something a little bit differently. You need to do that from the start if possible so they think their traditional way of playing will be compromised and threatened to some degree. That is the way to trouble them but of course, it is easier said than done. They are always a very strong team and well coached."
Where does Jones stand on the re-appointment of Graham Henry and his fellow coaches? As a true, blue Aussie, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Shoulder to shoulder with Henry.
"Anyone with his Test record deserves to keep his job. Most coaches are happy with a 65 per cent win ratio from their games. Graham’s is above 80 per cent, I think, so there is no debate to be had, in my book. There was no real decision to be made as long as he still had the desire and as he only got the All Blacks job when he was 58, there wasn’t much doubt about that.
"Graham has two very good assistants and the three of them all complement each other. They have a very strong coaching team there, I think."
Which is more than you can say, Jones thinks, for the All Blacks’ line-out, an area of potentially significant weakness in Auckland this weekend. He calls it still very much New Zealand’s Achilles heel, insisting they will badly miss Ali Williams this season.
"With the changes in the laws, the line-outs will be more significant than the scrums from now on. That is an area where the Australians can expose the All Blacks because the New Zealand locks are not outstanding. The kicking game is a big part of the Wallabies approach and if they do that well and create a lot of line-outs deep in New Zealand territory, that becomes a winning factor."
But Jones offered a word of warning for Deans’ Australians. If they don’t kick accurately, the All Blacks’ back three has the pace and vision to hurt them on the counter attack. That, he suspects, may be an area where New Zealand will look to expose the Wallabies.
Last year’s result in this fixture, a 39-10 hammering for the Wallabies by the hosts, has little relevance this Saturday, according to Jones. "They were last year’s teams; these are this year’s. A lot has changed since then. That won’t have any bearing at all on Saturday’s result."
This weekend’s outcome could be close, very close, he thinks. Yet he still tips New Zealand to land their fifth successive Tri-Nations title.
Why? It’s to do with that ability to travel with greater conviction than either Australia or South Africa.
"New Zealand will win it because they are better away from home than the other two teams even though maybe they are not all-round as strong as the others. South Africa are very hard to beat at home but it is whether they can snatch a win away from home. New Zealand don’t have that problem, they travel well away from home and that gives them the advantage in the Tri-Nations. That ability to win away from home is priceless."
Why is it so? "New Zealanders just travel well. You see that with their players playing for clubs overseas; traditionally, they do well. They don’t find it difficult to adjust to different countries. As for the others, Australia traditionally haven’t liked touring South Africa. And South Africans don’t travel well for cultural reasons.
"It all comes down to the strength of your team. New Zealand has had the strongest teams over the years, mentally as much as physically."Reuse content