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Preview: Australia v South Africa

Fri, 05 Sep 2014 06:22
Hooper-v-de-villiers
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It could just be an intriguing contest and potentially an exciting one if the rain forecast does not dampen the players' ardour.

For both sides their match in Perth is something of a reality check - for Australia to find out if they are really as bad as their last match in the full knowledge that they will not win the 2014 Championship unless miracles occur and for South Africa to see if their two wins against Argentina were a foundation to build the Championship on.

Neither side could be entering this match feeling cock-a-hoop.

The Wallabies were thumped by the All Blacks and the Springboks escaped with a skinny two-point victory over the Pumas.

Both sides know that they need focus. Both sides know, for example, that they need to bolster their scrumming.

The Pumas destroyed the Springbok scrum in an embarrassing fashion. Once they world's best scrummagers, but now the Springboks no longer possess the awesome power the world admired. Now they may even struggle in the land of the falling scrum. It would be humiliation, even in this post Bill Young era, if they could not stand up to the Wallabies.

The line-outs could be a different matter.

The Springboks have five players they could use in line-outs, including the best the world has even known in Victor Matfield, old but still athletic.

The Wallabies' trio of jumpers will find that hard to deal with.

It is not just the tight forwards who need to improve.

The Springboks were beaten for the tackle ball by the vigorous, numerically superior Pumas.

What tight forwards do is so important to the performances of loose forwards and then the backs.

Just somehow, the Wallabies' backs seem to have the edge over the Springboks' backs, partly because of quicker and more sympathetic passing, partly because of greater strike power and the angles that they run. Positioning is a vital part of back play.

It will be interesting to see how the Springbok centres work out with their left-right positioning, which is seen my some as an anachronism.

It was used by that excellent pairing of John Gainsford and Ian Kirkpatrick, but those were the days when there was a distinction between forwards and backs and an outside centre had so much further to run to get into position.

It is not as important now with all the phases, for now backs will fan out right and stay there while forwards fan out left. There is less running.

Both Jean de Villiers and, more so, Jan Serfontein are inside centres.

Serfontein's was a star at inside centre at school, but since then he has been confined to the bash role.

Even his replacement at the Blue Bulls, Burger Odendaal, is expected to tuck the ball under an arm and charge at an opponent.

Every Australian back can beat a man. They dodge, not just bash.

Players to Watch

For South Africa: You will watch Bryan Habana and wish him well as he wins his 100th Test cap. At fullback Willie le Roux is the most exciting player in his team. He can change a game. You will want to see how the left-right Springbok centres - Jean de Villiers and Jan Serfontein - perform. It seems strange that Bismarck du Plessis is not playing, but a rest is his due after this year's nonstop exertion. The same could be said of brother Jannie but he props on.

For Australia: You want to see how South Africa cope with the strength of Tevita Kuridrani. Israel Folau is Australia's most exciting player and also a man who can change a game. The most obvious forward will be Michael Hooper, looking as if he would be more at home on Bondi Beach, but a brilliant rugby player - such strength, vision and acceleration. He could probably do all of that just as well with his socks pulled up.

Head to Head: It will be interesting to compare the effect of each fullback - Israel Folau (Australia) and Willie le Roux (South Africa) - on the game. Nick Phipps versus Ruan Pienaar. They both have footballing skills but Phipps looks so much sharper. Strong, driving Wycliff Palu against strong, driving Duane Vermeulen, huntsman Michael Hooper against huntsman Francois Louw and Sekope Kepu against Tendai Mtawarira.

Recent results
2013: South Africa won 28-8, Cape Town
2013: South Africa won 38-12, Brisbane
2012: South Africa won 31-8, Pretoria
2012: Australia won 26-19, Perth
2011: Australia won 11-9, Wellington
2011: Australia won 14-9, Durban
2011: Australia won 39-20, Sydney
2010: Australia won 41-39, Bloemfontein
2010: South Africa won 44-31, Pretoria
2010: Australia won 30-13, Brisbane

Prediction: Hard to call. The Wallabies did well in their first match and poorly in the second match of the competition and the same is true of the Springboks. The Wallabies have homeground advantage in that is it on Australian soil, but all but two of the bench players - prop Pek Cowan and rugged, dogged flank Matt Hodgson - come from the far east of the fat country. It takes about four-and-a-half hours to fly from Sydney and about twice that from Johannesburg. It's not a massive advantage to the Wallabies. The crowd will be largely behind the Wallabies but there are many expat South Africans living in Perth and likely to make their nostalgia noisy. Rain is expected and that brings the two sides closer to the same level. That means it could be exciting but we believe that the Springboks are too good to be as bad as they were in Salta and will win by about five points.

Teams
 

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Nic White, 23 Kurtley Beale.

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Lodewyk de Jager, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Damian de Allende.

Date: Saturday, September 6
Kick-off: 18.05 (12.05 SAST, 10.05 GMT)
Venue: Patersons Stadium, Perth
Expected weather: Overcast with showers in the afternoon, a high of 20°C and a low of 13°C
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

By Paul Dobson

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