Test match rugby is back tonight, with two mouth-watering clashes in the offing. Sometime in the early hours of tomorrow morning, South Africa goes up against Argentina at Newlands in Cape Town.
The addition of Argentina to the Rugby Championship will breathe life into the Tri-Nations. Three matches against each side was getting tedious, but now we are back to a straight home and away. And whilst Argentina will be competitive on the road, they will be very hard to beat at home. We will predict now that the Pumas will win at least one of their home matches this season.
But first-up, there's the none-to-small matter of a Bledisloe Cup test against the Australians at Sydney. It's been a tough year for Wallaby rugby; only the Reds made the Super Rugby play-offs (and they went out in the first weekend), and the Wallabies have a record of a loss to Scotland and two unconvincing wins over Wales.
But Australia is a different beast against New Zealand. There's likely to be no shortage of passion and intensity in the Australian side tonight. They might still be a player or three below full strength, but they won't die wondering.
On the other hand, it's all but a full-strength All Black side. Conrad Smith is absent, but Cory Jane returns on the wing, adding plenty of experience and big-match temperament. The midfield combination of Williams and Nonu will be where all eyes are focused, and we'll be watching closely to see how Aaron Smith fronts up against Will Genia, one of world rugby's better halfbacks.
We're pleased to see Luke Romano starting ahead of Brodie Retallick. Romano shapes up as a potential long-term replacement for Brad Thorn; the rock of the second row. The All Black scrum needs that power to function at its best, and we reckon that it is more likely to come from Romano. Kieran Read will be fresh after an injury-enforced break, and it's great to see Keven Mealamu back in the starting lineup.
The battle in the loose will be crucial. We hope that Liam Messam can pick up where he left off in the third test against Ireland where he grew in confidence as the game progressed. With Read and Richie McCaw around him the pressure on him, whilst it may not be eased, will be a burden shared with the best in the world.