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David Jones/PA Archive/Press Association Images James O'Connor follows through, so to speak.
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A Bluffer’s Guide to… the Tri-Nations Series
The Tri-Nations Series kicks off tomorrow with Australia v South Africa at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney. Get the low-down on what’s happening and who’ll be making the happenings happen with our latest Bluffer’s Guide.

What is it?

The Tri-Nations Series is a rugby union tournament that takes place every year between the three strongest teams in the Souther Hemisphere (and the world): South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

In marked contrast to the increasingly labourious and attritional Six Nations, the Tri-Nations is usually showcase of open, running rugby.

This year’s tournament has the added interest (or disinterest: I’m looking at you, South Africa!) of taking place in a World Cup year, meaning that the three nations will use the competition as a barometer of the their progress towards WC readiness.

The tournament’s opening match, between Australia and South Africa, takes place in Sydney this Saturday.

Where is it happening?

In the Southern Hemisphere, obviously. Because it only involves three teams, the Tri-Nations can afford to  spread the rugby around. This year’s tournament will zig-zag between Sydney, Brisbane, Wellington, Auckland, Durban and Port Elizabeth.

Due to the fact that rugby has a nasty habit of leaving players with lasting injuries, this year’s competition has been truncated from the usual nine matches to a symetrical six, lest the IRB’s showpiece find itself ruined by the absence of one of its biggest names.

Who’re the favourites?

With Australia casting about for a functioning half-back partnership in the aftermath of their embarrassing defeat to Samoa at the weekend and South African coach Peter deVilliers left with a suspiciously depleted squad (21 players have been excluded due to “minor” injury concerns), New Zealand should be clear favourites.

Rugby is rarely that simple, however, and the All Blacks’ apparently comprehensive victory over Fiji on Friday morning included long periods of dominance from the Pacific islanders.

Should the return of Quade Cooper and David Pocock to the Australian starting line-up for Saturday’s opener against the untried South Africans have the desired effect, widespread unrest surrounding the relegation of Matt Giteau from the Wallabies’ squad could become a distant memory very quickly indeed and (maybe) leave them with some dangerous momentum.

Though unlikely to emerge overall winners, South Africa could well pose a tougher test than most are anticipating. Rather than consciously saving themselves for the World Cup, the Springboks’ rag-tag group of youngsters and outcasts will largely be playing in the hope of winning a seat on the plane to New Zealand in the autumn.

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Anyone to look out for?

James O’Connor (Australia) At only twenty-one years of age, O’Connor has already become a fixture on the Australian team. Fast, skillful and a tenacious tackler, he’s capable of playing just about anywhere in the back-line.

He scored a hat-trick against Italy to mark his debut for the Wallabies in 2008 and was the top try-scorer at last year’s Tri-Nations. Should Quade Cooper wear the Australian no.10 jersey during the tournament, look for O’Connor to assume kicking duties.

Dan Carter and Colin Slade (New Zealand) Having spent the Super Rugby season reviewing tapes and spreadsheets, the All Blacks’ technical staff claim to have finally unlocked the mystery behind their 2007 exit from the World Cup.

Famously averse to drop-kicks, their all-new game plan is thought to incorporate an added emphasis on measured attempts at goal. Quite how all this will work in practice is open to some debate, but look for the gameplan to be come into its own against a disciplined Springbok defence.

Don’t be surprised if Dan Carter’s new first understudy, Colin Slade, makes an appearance or two at fly-half.

How can I watch?

Coverage of Australia v. South Africa begins on Saturday at 10.55am (Sky Sports 4): be there or be free of Rupert Murdoch’s shadowy influence.

WATCH: Clinical All Blacks romp past Fiji

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