x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

World's top three teams play with an eye on the World Cup

Australia, South Africa and New Zealand will try and get the measure of each other as they prepare for the bigger prize, the World Cup in 2011.

World ranking: 3 History: The Wallabies have won the once-every-four-years global showpiece, the World Cup, as many times - twice - as this annual, three-team tournament. They have been without a Tri Nations title since 2001. Expectations: Another season without silverware will not necessarily be the end of the world for Robbie Deans, the coach.

However, the Wallabies - the only Tri Nations side to lose to northern opposition lately - need to show they have muscle to go with their flair. Ahead of the World Cup: They need to locate some fit and able prop forwards. Led by Quade Cooper and Will Genia, Australia are likely to be the most attractive attacking side at next year's tournament. It will count for nothing if their pack remains this limp. Hopefully: Cooper, the box-office fly-half, will be able to locate gaps in the two thriftiest defences in world rugby and unleash his exciting outside-backs.

World ranking: 1 History: The All Blacks would probably swap most of their nine Tri Nations titles for one more world crown. They have won the Sanzar competition nearly twice as many times as their two rivals combined.

Expectations: New Zealand sides struggled in this season's Super 14s and the national team endured a rare fallow campaign in last year's Tri Nations. However, Dan Carter, the fly-half, has bounced back to life in fine fashion in recent Tests. Ahead of the World Cup: They might as well put their feet up. All Blacks supporters know only too well strong form pre-World Cup counts for nothing when it starts. They did, however, win their only World Cup on home soil. Hopefully: The selectors might remember who Hosea Gear is. At the moment, the powerhouse winger cannot even make the squad. He should not be ignored for much longer, after his sublime hat-trick against England for the NZ Maori.

World ranking: 2 History: For all their global success, as well as the recent dominance of their top Super 14 franchise, the Bulls, South Africa have underachieved in the Tri Nations. They have three titles in 15 years.

Expectations: No reason to expect anything less than the title. South Africa's formidable credentials are based on the strength of their imposing pack of forwards. A back row of Pierre Spies, Schalk Burger and Francois Louw is fearsome. Ahead of the World Cup: The Springboks will just be happy for a bit of attention again. Even John Smit and his teammates have been caught up in the buzz of football's World Cup, as they tooted vuvuzelas in support of their compatriots.

Hopefully: Gio Aplon will get the chance to show his wares. The Stormers winger first caught the eye on the international stage when his blistering pace won the 2008 Dubai Rugby Sevens for the Boks. Now he is showing he can cut it at the very top level. * Paul Radley