David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Hot air about Tri Nations obscures the big picture

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The All Blacks training at Rugby League Park. Photo / Getty Images
The All Blacks training at Rugby League Park. Photo / Getty Images

So, a pile of South African players have either been in a secret squirrel training camp or they are rehabilitating as a "single high performance entity".

While a Springbok B team travel around Australasia for a dumbed-down Tri-Nations, the bulk of South Africa's leading players are getting over a range of injuries, accompanied undoubtedly by sick notes confirming the nature of said injuries.

South African rugby's chief executive Jurie Roux entered the brouhaha yesterday (his is the entity line) trying to put the matter to rest, something his coach, the curious Peter de Villiers, has been singularly unable to do.

Roux's point was that you fix injured players in the proper, professional environment.

Would New Zealand or Australian Rugby Union bosses do it any differently? No.

And in any case, so what if the Matfields, Habanas and du Preezs are running around near Rustenburg boning up on their set piece drills and box kicking? Or frolicking on poolside loungers taking in the winter sun, while burning meat on a braai and swilling cans of Castle Lager?

Who actually cares about this?

An awful lot of hot air has been expended on what seems off-hand treatment of a three-sided competition which should probably have been shelved in World Cup year - and certainly should be from here on in, for as long as it exists.

It would have been better by far to leave the three countries to their own devices, to work their pre-cup schedule out to suit themselves instead of oblige them to do another round of the same-old, same-old.

Ah, but it's in the contract. Yes and if the broadcasters who agreed to this in World Cup year and expected the three management teams to doff their caps and maintain with a straight face that yes, of course they'd fulfil requirements to field their best teams, they're naive.

The simple point about this year is that the Tri-Nations was always going to be a preparatory event to the big show.

Sanzar bosses can bang on all they like about the value of the Tri-Nations and the obligation of the three countries to treat it seriously but it doesn't matter a hoot.

Put it this way: in a couple of years' time are you going to reflect on how well, say, the Wallabies did to win the 2011 Tri-Nations, even though they flunked the World Cup exam?

There is only one matter of business at hand for Robbie Deans, Graham Henry and de Villiers. Two of them will finish the year disappointed.

Which makes it entirely natural that they should want to tailor their World Cup preparation as best they see fit for their particular group of players.

What may work best for the Springboks, for example, could be entirely the wrong approach for the other two.

You'll notice Henry didn't seem either surprised or concerned about whatever is going on at Rustenburg. Nor should he.

He's got rather more important matters on his mind.

Does it really matter if all the "injured" Springboks are fit enough to be here and playing tonight? No.

Is sending Kieran Read, Keven Mealamu and Brad Thorn home for another week's rest instead of being on hand for tonight's test really that different from what de Villiers and co have done apart from the scale?

So let's just get on with it, treat the shadow boxing and subterfuge for what it is and look ahead.

The real business is just around the corner.

- NZ Herald

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