Preview: Australia v South Africa

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 07:52

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND THREE: In Brisbane on Saturday two teams will meet that are at present suffering louder and louder criticism at home.

The Wallabies have played five matches this year and lost all five.

The Springboks have played five and won three.

The Wallabies played England and New Zealand, tougher opponents than Ireland and Argentina, and in the three matches the Springboks won against Ireland and Argentina they were fortunate as their opponents in each match were better than they were.

It's odd to think of these two great sides wobbling the way they are - the Wallabies second in last year's World Cup, the Springboks third.

They are certainly capable of much better than this year's performances suggest.

So they are two teams hoping for redemption and affirmation, which may amount to desperate emotion, which may not last for 80 minutes.

In the Rugby Championship the Wallabies at least know that the worst is behind them, playing the seemingly invincible All Blacks.

For the Springboks this awesome task is yet to come.

Both Wallabies and Springboks have their backs to the wall - probably a good place for proud teams to be, certainly a better place than swaggering onto the field with a fatal dose of overconfidence.

Each team has made a forced change on the wing - Reece Hodge for French-owned Adam Ashley Cooper and Francois Hougaard for injured Ruan Combrinck.

The Wallabies have dropped Scott Fardy, as if he were the main culprit of their woes, and brought in Dean Mumm to try to get their line-outs to work.

The Springboks have dropped both centres and are starting with Lourens Adriaanse at tighthead for Vincent Koch.

The essence of the two teams remains the same, though the burden of the fear of defeat may well be weighing more heavily.

For both coaches, Michael Cheika of the Wallabies and Allister Coetzee of the Springboks, this is a tense time.

For both of them it can surely not be a pleasant prospect nor will it be a match to enjoy, even for the winner whose strongest emotion will probably be relief.

In fact it's going to be hard for anybody, be he ever so impartial, to watch this match and not back a side and share the tension.

Players to Watch

For Australia: You would certainly want to watch Israel Folau and wonder if the South Africans will indulge in the full folly of kicking on him. Of course, the halfbacks will be of interest, especially after the way Will Genia lifted his game for the second All Black Test, and there is always an interest in Quade Cooper and his penchant for the weird. In the pack there is that duo of thieves - strong David Pocock and speedy Michael Hooper ready to steal the tackled ball and burst away with it. They could have a profound effect on the outcome of the game.

For South Africa: The Springboks have experienced Francois Louw to counter Pocock and Hooper but he is going to need help, the sort that Bismarck du Plessis could have given. It's the Springbok backs that will elicit most interest, especially the new centre pairing of Jesse Kriel and Juan de Jongh. Will the wings now get a pass? And will the halfbacks get their chance to be creative? Will their be greater confidence in the backs and so see them running the way we know they can? In the pack there will be extra interest in Eben Etzebeth, who becomes the youngest Springbok to play 50 Tests. It seems only yesterday that no Springbok had played fifty test and now suddenly a "beginner" reaches the golden number. And, of course, people will, again expect bits of magic from Warren Whiteley.

Head to Head: There is expected to be a battle in the line-outs where the Wallabies have been weak but now have Dean Mumm to help them. That gives them three jumpers - Kane Douglas, Adam Coleman and Mumm. The Springboks have been able to use five jumpers - Etzebeth, Lodewyk de Jager, Louw, Teboho Mohoje and Whiteley. There is the battle for the tackle ball where the Wallabies seem to have the better manpower in Pocock, Hooper and Stephen Moore. Samu Kerevi, strong and hard, against Jesse Kriel, a relative neophyte who has also played fullback and wing and looks more athletic than powerful. Halfbacks vs halfbacks - Cooper and Genia against De Klerk and Jantjies. They are the men who more than others run the match. There are things that energetic De Klerk can learn from masterly Genia about being a scrumhalf - line clearing quickly and accurately. Locks versus locks and here the Springboks look better off with their two men who combine strength and mobility - perhaps more of both virtues than Coleman and Douglas. Goal-kicker vs goal-kicker: here the Wallabies through Bernard Foley have a more reliable man than Elton Jantjies and Johan Goosen. Australia are certainly better scrummagers than they used to be but even here the Springboks could do a little more than hold their own. After all they more than coped with the notorious Puma scrum. Bench vs Bench: This could be crucial in the match. Coetzee has chosen six forwards, which means he can replace almost his whole pack and do so with outstanding players, including Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jaco Kriel, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane and Franco Mostert who would be starting choices in many people's minds. Coetzee would look to them to renew the intensity he wants from his players. It looks a stronger bench than the Wallaby bench.

Recent results:
2015: Australia won 24-20, Brisbane
2014: South Africa won 28-10, Cape Town
2014: Australia won 24-23, Perth
2013: South Africa won 38-12, Brisbane
2013: South Africa won 28-8, Cape Town
2012: South Africa won 31-8, Pretoria
2012: Australia won 26-19, Perth
2011: Australia won 11-9, Wellington (World Cup quarterfinal)
2011: Australia won 39-20, Sydney
2011: Australia won 14-9, Durban

Statistical review: South Africa have won four of their last six games against Australia, though the Wallabies will be aiming for back-to-back wins against the Springboks for the first time since 2012 after a 24-20 win in their last encounter. Australia have won six of their last seven games against South Africa when playing on home soil, including each of the last two such iterations of this fixture. The Wallabies have won only two of their last seven games at Suncorp Stadium, though their most recent victory there was a 24-20 triumph over South Africa. Overall, the Wallabies have won eight of their nine games against South Africa at Suncorp Stadium, including their biggest ever victory over the Springboks in July 2006 (49-0). Australia need only two more for 100 tries at Suncorp Stadium, only at two other venues (Ballymore Stadium & Sydney Cricket Ground) have they managed to crack triple digits. South Africa will be looking to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since losing four on the bounce between November 2014 and August 2015, which included a defeat to Australia at Suncorp Stadium. The Springboks have won just three times away to Australia since the turn of the century, those victories coming four years apart in August 2005, August 2009 and September 2013. Bryan Habana has scored 65 tries in a 119 Test career; his next try against Australia would see the Wallabies become the first opposition against whom he has scored 10 tries or more. Habana's try against Argentina meant he overtook David Campese (64) as the top try scorer for any Tier One nation and he sits just four tries behind Daisuke Ohata (69) as the top international try scorer ever. David Pocock has won five turnovers in the competition so far, two more than any other player.

Prediction: The match is at Suncorp Stadium where the Springboks have not had much success. One can be aware of all of this and deny any bias, but remain incapable of believing that the Springboks will not win. Belief in Springbok invincibility is ingrained and so we predict a Springbok victory by six points.

By Paul Dobson

* Statistical data provided by Opta Sport

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Team P W D L Pts
New Zealand 6 6 0 0 28
Australia 6 2 2 2 15
South Africa 6 2 2 1 14
Argentina 6 0 0 6 0