Tri Nations: New Zealand v South Africa
Can this man Steyn New Zealand's superb home record?
Their world No. 1 status owes a lot to the standard of their opposition...
This opening match could have a huge impact on the outcome of this year's edition and the fact of the matter is, an away trip against this All-Black team isn't quite the nightmare prospect it might first seem, offers Geoffrey Riddle.
So much rests on Saturday's opening encounter of the 2010 Tri-Nations that it could almost be construed as a microcosm of the tournament itself. New Zealand host South Africa in Auckland for the first of their two consecutive head-to-heads, and it really could be a matter of the team who wins them both wins the tournament.
Everyone seems to be trotting out the ridiculous statistic that the Springboks haven't won at Eden Park since 1937. The two teams haven't met there since 2001, when South Africa were a shambles under Harry Viljoen, and before that it was 1997. They've only played there eight times in total anyway, so it really means very little.
New Zealand coach Graham Henry has unveiled the most experienced line-up in All Black history, with the starting XV boasting an incredible 671 appearances. It's a bold statement from the shrewd Aucklander, but if you look carefully at the team, experience does not necessarily equate to ability.
Which of the current crop of players would you put into an All Black all-time XV? Although there is not the room to debate such a question here, when you think about it, perhaps only Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are worthy of even mentioning in the same breath as the likes of Colin Meads, Josh Kronfeld, Sean Fitzpatrick, Jonah Lomu, Wayne Shelford and Andrew Mehrtens . This is by no means a vintage New Zealand side, and last year they were beaten three times by the Springboks, and once by the French.
Their world No. 1 status owes a lot to the standard of their opposition, who, since they ceded last year's Tri-Nations to the Springboks, have taken on Australia, Wales (three times), England, France, Italy and a 14-man Ireland. In contrast, South Africa embarked on their November tour having seen off the British and Irish Lions before taking their first Tri-Nations title since 2004.
And it is clear that the layers have priced up the visitors on last year's form, with a match handicap on Betfair being chalked up at 4.5 in the Springboks' favour. Since the start of last year's tournament, New Zealand have been handicap winners in half of their 14 games, while their bitter rivals have been more profitable with nine handicap wins in their last 13. The handicap line was at a similar level last year when Peter de Villiers guided his side to a sensational 32-29 victory in New Plymouth, which suggests that if you do want to get involved in the handicap market, the South Africans might just be the bet.
That New Plymouth fixture may hold the key to squeezing a profit out of Saturday's crunch showdown. Since that free-scoring match, both sides have continued to score points for fun. Both teams have averaged over 30 points in their subsequent matches, which goes to show that despite the tweaks in the laws, they have adapted their attacking strategies accordingly.
Total points have been priced up at 43.5 on Betfair, and since 2000 these two teams have busted over that mark 14 times from 24 outings. Both fly-halves, Dan Carter and Morne Steyn, are capable of playing both tight and loose, but it was heartening to see Steyn break free to score two tries last time out against Italy. Of course with so much on the line there is a danger that both teams might play out a cagey tournament curtain-raiser. Both pivots are kicking well at goal, however, which keeps the scoreboard ticking over and with Steyn's record this season reading an astonishing 17 from 19, every little helps, as they say.