Everybody wants to be the underdog

New Zealand are claiming the Wallabies to be favourites ahead of Saturday’s Vodacom Tri Nations opener. The visitors think it is ridiculous that they arrive in New Zealand expected to win.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry was forced to admit, though, that with 18 tests wins in succession at home his team would start as the favourite.

“We’ve got no complaints about the weekend. We don’t want the underdog tag, we’ll go out and play as best we can,” Henry told the media. “We haven’t played well in the last three games but we’ve played with some character and some backbone and you can’t buy that. We’re trying to develop as this Tri-Nations goes on.”

Then he added: “We want to peak at the right time. We’re probably under-done for the weekend, which is understandable.”

Ah, all of which suggests he feels they may be the underdog, even if the bookies won’t buy into that.

All week it has been a battle for the underdog status, despite Henry’s latest acceptance of the All Blacks being the favourites. In the build-up Wallabies coach John Connolly has described the All Blacks as the best team in the world. Henry has called the Wallabies the form team in the world. Scott Johnson says the All Blacks strength (depth in numbers) could also be their weakness. The Wallabies assistant coach believes they don’t know who their best team is and that he says is a weakness. Steve Hansen says Australia has the edge over the All Blacks in the lineout, but believes his team has the edge over the Aussies in the scrums.

Both teams claim to have the best flyhalf in the world.

Connolly claims to have spies in the New Zealand squad. Henry dismissed that as a barb aimed at getting a reaction.

The All Blacks team was leaked from within the squad, something which annoyed Henry. The All Blacks coach gave his team a tongue-lashing last Thursday about complacency and confirmed a few truths were spoken when the squad assembled. Henry said the team had not lost in a year and that was a dangerous thing because young players easily started believing their own press and the hype. He reminded them they were only as good as their last outing, which was not very good.

The Wallabies take a settled team into the tournament opener, while the All Blacks starting XV has never played a game together in that formation.

It has made for a fascinating week in Christchurch and it should be a fascinating Saturday at Jade Stadium.

Last year the All Blacks hammered the Wallabies three times, although they leaked four tries in the 34-24 Tri Nations clincher in Auckland. They also gave up a 20 point advantage in conceding 19 unanswered points. The Wallabies, with the more intelligent backline and greater midfield skill, will feel they can mix it with the All Blacks. And the feeling you get from the noises coming from New Zealand is the Kiwis know it.

There is not the confidence coming from the All Blacks that you expect from a team that has gone 18 matches without defeat. You also get the feeling it would come as some sort of relief to their coaching staff to drop one game and get the unbeaten monkey off their back. Bizarre that really. Teams play to get on a winning roll. And when they do they can’t wait to lose one?

The Crusaders have made it almost impossible for touring teams to win in Christchurch. There are doubts in New Zealand, the All Blacks can continue that dominance on Saturday.

That’s the beauty of rugby. The rubble of six months ago are the red hot favourites. And the Invincibles of the Grand Slam are suddenly very vulnerable. How much more will change in the next 15 months before the World Cup? That’s why it is ludicrous to start calling anyone favourites to win the World Cup when there’s still two Tri Nations, one Six Nations, end of year tours, European Cup and Super 14 rugby to be played.