Preview: South Africa v Australia

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 09:24

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP, ROUND FIVE: Dit is die maand Oktober, die mooiste, mooiste maand.

The Afrikaans poet C Louis Leipoldt said that October was the most beautiful month of the year - spring on the Highveld when the first rains changed the veld's complexion.

In Pretoria it is the month when the jacarandas bloom, turning the city a rich blue.

Lots of South Africans would believe Leipoldt if only the Springboks would enhance spring with a bounding victory over the Wallabies on Saturday.

The nation aches at the Springbok drought - too long, far too long.

The Championship may be won and lost, but for these two teams there is still a Test match to be played with all the national pride at stake.

And this Test is in passionate Pretoria where winning a rugby match counts for so very much, and not just victory but a convincing one - unlike the two victories over Ireland and the win over the Pumas in Nelspruit, not like those when the better team lost each time, and certainly not like the miserable succession of defeats in Salta, Brisbane and Christchurch.

The teams that will start in Pretoria are much the same as those who started in Brisbane.

The Wallabies have two changes in the pack with Sean McMahon at No.8 after the injury to David Pocock and Rob Simmons at lock.

South Africa has five changes - Pat Lambie at fullback, Morné Steyn and Rudy Paige as halfbacks, Pieter-Steph du Toit at lock and Vincent Koch at tighthead.

None of the Springbok changes are due to injury.

For both coaches - Allister Coetzee of South Africa and Michael Cheika of Australia - and their helpers their credibility is riding on the outcome.

There was not much in it at Suncorp Stadium.

The difference was six points - two penalties as each side scored two converted tries.

The Springboks won two Wallaby line-outs but the Aussie's had better of the scrums.

Australia kept possession better while the Springboks helped Israel Folau retain his reputation of the best catcher of an air kick in the rugby world.

But then Steyn is a better kicker than Elton Jantjies. But then again South Africa still has five backs playing out of position.

Players to Watch:

For South Africa: Pat Lambie - in the hope that he has recovered fully from the head knock that has kept him out of six Tests. And then there is the energetic, skilful Pieter-Steph du Toit, whose grandfather Piet, the great Springbok prop, would have loved to see him play. Francois Louw is the other player in the side that is the grandson of a Springbok, and Jan Pickard would have been so proud to see him play.

For Australia: Of the Wallabies, you would want to watch smooth Israel Folau, eccentric Quade Cooper and the genius returned - Will Genia.

Head to Head: Rookie Rudy Paige versus veteran Will Genia. There is always a tussle between scrumhalves even though neither of these is remarkably cocky. Staid Morné Steyn versus quirky Quade Cooper. Francois Louw versus Michael Hooper at the tackle. Athletic Pieter-Steph du Toit versus aggressive Adam Coleman. Front row versus front row - Vincent Koch, Adriaan Strauss and Tendai Mtawarira versus Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore and Scott Sio. In Brisbane Lourens Adriaanse was twice penalised in his battle for survival against Sio. This time Vincent Koch is there with strong Julian Redelinghuys as back-up.

Results at Loftus Versfeld
2012: South Africa won 31-8
2010: South Africa won 44-31
2005: South Africa won 22-16
2001: South Africa won 20-15
1997: South Africa won 61-22
1963: South Africa won 14-3

Recent results
2016: Australia won 23-17, Brisbane
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

Statistical review: After victory against the Springboks in Round Three, the Wallabies will be looking to defeat South Africa twice in a calendar year for the first time since 2011, when they did so three times. The Springboks have won their last three games against Australia on home soil, keeping the Wallabies to 10 points or fewer in each of those three fixtures. The Springboks have hosted Australia at Loftus Versfield on six previous occasions, winning each of those games, and they haven't tasted defeat at the venue against any team since New Zealand visited in 2006 (W7 since). South Africa have scored four tries in the opening 20 minutes of games so far in this tournament, more than any other team and half of their overall total. Only Daisuke Ohata of Japan (69) has scored more international tries than South Africa's Bryan Habana (66). Francois de Klerk has assisted three tries already this campaign, the equal second most of any player and more than any other non-All Black. The Wallabies have the worst discipline in the 2016 tournament thus far, conceding a tournament-high 53 penalties and three yellow cards. Australia have been forced to make more tackles than any other team so far in this tournament (525); their 131 tackles per game is 15 more than any other team. Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi has gained 8.1 metres per carry from 26 carries so far in this campaign, the best rate of any player who has made at least 10 carries. Michael Hooper has made 10 more tackles (53) than any other player in the 2016 edition of The Rugby Championship, he has also won the joint-second most turnovers (six).

Prediction: Now it is the Springboks' turn to be at home, a traditionally supportive home. The Springboks have won only once at Suncorp; the Wallabies have not won at Loftus Versfeld - though at this stage, as Japan, Argentina and Ireland know full well, the Springboks of late have established several adverse records. Home ground certainly plays a role. In the last eight matches, the Springboks have won once in Australia while Australia have not won in South Africa. Given the closeness of the score in Brisbane, the home-ground advantage this time and the fervent belief that the Springboks will improve, we suggest a Springbok victory by 10-15 points.

By Paul Dobson

*Statistics 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