Neither the Wallabies nor the Springboks have the confidence of their public
It will be a moment of truth for both teams when the Wallabies take on the Springboks at Patersons Stadium in Perth on Saturday.
Truths will be announced in the two Rugby Championship matches played this weekend. We shall know how good the Pumas are and whether the Springboks have any chance of winning the competition. (It is already known that the All Blacks are likely winners and the Wallabies certainly not winners.) The Wallabies may not be winners but that does not mean that the Pumas and the Springboks are likely to be. Saturday will tell.
Neither the Wallabies nor the Springboks have the confidence of their public. Both have coaches subject to criticism and both sides have an unsettled look with questionable selections - problems the All Blacks just do not have.
The Wallaby backs are unsettled and so is the Springbok pack. Packs probably matter more because of the ball they provide - from set pieces and from the tackle. Tackles are a vital lifeline for a side because of the modern penchant to 'take the tackle', one-off charges which count as a phase.
For Saturday's clash both sides, with several line-out players, should win their own line-outs. The Wallabies' scrumming is likely to be more rickety than South Africa's but it may not be significant enough to turn a match. That leaves the tackle, and so far in the Championship the Wallabies have looked far better at the tackle than the Springboks who were beaten by the Pumas in that phase of play. In their second Test again New Zealand, the Wallabies showed great improvement here in their collective endeavours - faster, more aggressive and more cohesive..
In addition the Wallabies have two fast specialists in ball grabbing - Michael Hooper and, off the bench, Liam Gill. The Springboks have nobody like that - certainly not with the injury to hooker Bismarck du Plessis. Mind you, they may bring Francois Louw off the bench to do that sort of thing. Their big hope for consolidating their own ball and perhaps nabbing the Wallabies' ball is in the strength of their arriving players and they have strong men all right.
Attacking? The four matches so far have produced just 10 tries. The Wallabies have scored one, the Springboks four. The defences may be too good, the style of play may be too predictable and the backs may be too ordinary. But we know the New Zealand backs are certainly not ordinary even though they have managed just three tries. Clearly the Wallabies' defence is excellent. The Springbok defence should be good, though it has not been as tested as that of the Wallabies.
Because tries have been few, goal-kicking has counted all the more. Berrick Barnes has done the kicking for Australia and has not missed a kick. That said he did not get a single pot at goal in the 22-0 defeat. But in the first Tests he kicked five out of five.
Springboks, the two Steyns, missed no kicks at Newlands, but four in Mendoza.
Discipline counts. In their two Tests the Wallabies were penalised 22 times, the Springboks 17 times. And Will Genia was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes. His offence? Gross silliness at a tackle.
It could be an intriguing match, the spoils going to the team that gets its gameplan working better.
Players to Watch:
For Australia: Michael Hooper for sure. Will he gorge on tackle ball, darting about amongst the mastodons with predatory intent? He could be a big part of his team's success. You would watch Kurtley Beale whose performances in the first two Tests of the competition were erratic enough to invite pressure from Springbok kickers and the thundering boots that support them. The Wallaby halves - Quade Cooper and Will Genia. The All Blacks kept them confined but will they find the bigger Boks easier to deceive.
For South Africa: The Springboks would hope for a meaningful contribution from big Frans Steyn and hope that Morné Steyn is as good as his management says he is going to be.
Head to Head: There is always in a Test the coming together of the front rows ands how they perform. In the four Tests so far there has been no grievous problems. The Wallabies have been penalised three times at the scrum, the Springboks once. The contest between the four wings - energetic, committed Bryan Habana against strong, fearless Digby Ioane and speedy Dom Shipperley against energetic, unpredictable, fearless François Hougaard. Berrick Barnes will try to contain Frans Steyn, but Barnes is brave. Then there are the steady, staid Springbok halves against the mercurial Wallaby duo. When it comes to the charging of the forwards it would seem that the Springboks are more like wildebeest than the Wallabies are.
2011: Australia won 11-9 at Westpac Trust Stadium, Wellington
2011: Australia won 14-9 at Kings Park, Durban
2011: Australia won 39-20 at Stadium Australia, Sydney
2010: Australia won 41-39 at Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
2010: South Africa won 44-31 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
2010: Australia won 30-13 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Prediction: There is not much to choose between the two countries. South Africa has beaten Australia 41 times and Australia has won 32 times but Australia has had the better of recent history, including victories in the last four matches in a row.
The Wallabies may look wobbly at present but they will still be a force to be reckoned with. The Springboks have looked a wonky lot in any case, playing just one good half out of four in their two matches with the Pumas while the Wallabies suffered in ways described as 'the worst since...'
Travel may have some effect. The Springboks went from Mendoza to Johannesburg via BA and then from Johannesburg to Perth but they had two weeks to do it in. The Wallabies had to get from Auckland to Perth in two weeks, much the easier ride,
We have to predict. Our prediction is - the Springboks by eight points or more.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Dominic Shipperley, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (captain), 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Scott Higginbotham, 19 Liam Gill, 20 Nick Phipps, 21 Mike Harris, 22 Anthony Fainga'a.
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Francois Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Patric Cilliers, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Francois Louw, 20 Johan Goosen, 21 Patrick Lambie, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.
Date: Saturday, 8 September 2012
Kick-off: 18.00 local time (12.00 SA time; 10.00 GMT)
Venue: Patersons Stadium, Perth, Western Australia (Patersons Stadium was formerly known as Subiaco Oval)
Expected weather conditions: Clear with a high of 25°C, dropping to 10°C and no chance of rain
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
By Paul Dobson