Bewdy! After a few weeks of meaningless test matches, the international rugby season kicks off in earnest in Auckland tonight, and we're hanging out for it! We might have to have a nana-nap later in the day after another disturbed night so that we can be at peak viewing fitness.
Perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves, but we're less pessimistic about retaining the Bledisloe Cup this season than we are of another Tri-Nations victory. The draw favours the All Blacks over Australia this season, with two home matches. Next week's trip to South Africa for back-to-back matches will be a huge test for Richie McCaw's All Blacks.
We're picking a close All Black win tonight. The return of McCaw and Rodney So'oialo will make a big difference to the All Black forwards, and their combination with Jerome Kaino was one of the high points of last season. The tight five will be under pressure to step up, buit there's plenty of experience to call on. In particular, we'd expect a big game from Tony Woodcock tonight.
Steven Donald's form at first-five is a bit of a worry, but at least he has been playing there all season, unlike the other option, Luke McAllister. Jimmy Cowan is going to have to lift his game tinight, but he went into last year's Tri-Nations under pressure and really stepped up. The respective midfields are well matched, so it's vital that Cowan gives Donald a decent platform. And there's an element of common-sense in the selection of Corey Jane on the right wing ahead of Joe Rokocoko - Robbie Deans-coached teams play a game of field position, and Jane's fullback skills give the All Blacks another defensive option.
There was rain in Auckland overnight, but the forecast is for a dry night. That's good news, and hopefully the capacity crowd at Eden Park will get a better game than was the case of the France and Italy games. And as an aside, the Cricket Ave terraces will be demolished next week as part of Eden Park's RWC revamp. We've watched many tests from the Eden Park terraces, dating back as far as 1977, and whilst it'll be sad to see them go, their replacement will enhance Eden Park as a venue - if only one could get there!