Tri-Nations - behind the lens

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The Independent Online

They spend their lives hidden away from public view, beyond the eyes of the adoring public and their fans.

But what do the rugby stars of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia get up to amid the intensity of the southern hemisphere's prestigious Tri-Nations competition? How do they prepare, how do they handle the intensity of media questions, how do they have fun in whiling away the hours before a Test match actually begins?

Some of the answers are to be found in this photo shoot, taken over a period of four weeks during the Tri-Nations internationals in New Zealand and Australia . The Springboks confronted the mighty All Blacks twice, in Wellington and Dunedin before heading westwards across the Tasman to meet the Australian Wallabies in Perth .

Photographer Hannah Bills went with them. She endured the full might of a massive southerly storm which hit Wellington just two hours before kick-off, soaking everyone at the Westpac Stadium and turning the pitch into a quagmire. She was there with them in the build-up to that Wellington Test and in the aftermath of their defeat. On Sunday morning, she photographed injured Springbok captain John Smit and full-back Percy Montgomery as they took coffee in the lounge and digested the lessons of their team’s defeat the previous night.

She photographed them at training each week before the Tests and attended the 90th birthday celebrations for Nelson Mandela, in Perth, just before the Australia-South Africa game at Subiaco Oval for the Nelson Mandela Plate.

The photos reveal the rugby players of all three countries away from public scrutiny. Some, like All Black centre Ma’a Nonu, are shown happily accepting the photographer’s wish to photograph their dreadlocks and tattoos, others show the scars of battle in the photographs taken.

These are pictures the public do not generally see. The live images of Test matches are a familiar sight to rugby followers the world over, but pictures of the Springbok captain taking a Sunday morning coffee and reading the papers the night after a game are different.

Likewise, the shots of the Springboks’ management, looking bored to tears, at a press conference a couple of days before the Test match in Perth. Manager Andy Marinos, coach Peter de Villiers and captain Victor Matfield all look asleep under media questioning.

In Sydney , our photographer was with the Wallabies as they performed a public signing session one lunchtime in the city’s Martin Place, in the heart of the city. Coach Robbie Deans is seen smiling broadly, relaxed and signing autographs for fans. What is more revealing is the image of Deans in the immediate aftermath of the Wallabies’ upset Test win over the Springboks at Perth. You can see the intensity writ large upon Deans’ face in the photograph.

These pictures, such as those of All Blacks coach Graham Henry frowning, of Springbok wing Bryan Habana laughing his head off at the Mandela birthday party, and of the new Wallabies coach Robbie Deans in a variety of guises, reveal the unseen images behind the tough Tri-Nations rugby tournament of 2008.