All eyes (in this household, anyway) will be on Brisbane late this evening as the All Blacks and Wallabies conclude their Rugby World Cup preparations. Sure; there is the small matter of this match being the Tri-Nations decider, but this year, there is really only one trophy which will be remembered.
Both countries are taking near full-strength teams into the match, and that's hardly surprising; it's the last chance that the players will get to run together before the RWC starts in just 13 days time. The RWC squads have been finalised, so for the All Blacks, there will be no shadows of doubt hanging over them in terms of cup selection.
The All Black team tonight has a seasoned, experienced look to it. There are a few changes from the team which comprehensively beat the Australians in Auckland. Adam Thompson replaces Jerome Kaino at blindside; Kaino is at home on parental leave. But the other changes are far more positive. The inclusion of Cory Jane and Zac Guilford on the wings gives the All Blacks added pace and vitality. Sivivatu and Gear were adequate against the Wallabies, but this combination has a much more dynamic look to it. And Tony Woodcock will be better for the run in Port Elizabeth, but more importantly, has had the acid on the Wallaby scrum for several seasons.
The choice of Piri Weepu at halfback is interesting. He had an excellent game against the Wallabies in Auckland, and gave Dan Carter a terrific ride. And Carter, Nonu and Smith thrived on the service from within. Weepu revealed during the week that Will Genia brings out the best in him.
The All Blacks put huge pressure on Genia and Quade Cooper in the Auckland match, and they will be looking to do likewise tonight. Putting a dent in Cooper's confidence tonight could have big implications if and when the two teams meet in the latter stages of RWC. The Australians will also miss James O'Connor's blistering pace as he sits this one out, reflecting on the wisdom of a night on the turps.
This match has the makings of a great contest, but it would surprise us if the All Blacks do not come away with a victory. Both teams have a lot to lose tonight, but it must be remembered that Robbie Deans' Wallabies have only beaten Graham Henry's All Blacks twice in the last four years. We don't see that changing tonight.
Let's get this match out of the way, and then everyone's focus can shift to what we have all been looking forward to since that awful Sunday morning in Cardiff four years ago.