South Africa and Australia come into this game in vastly different situations. Both had plenty of pressure on them prior to the tournament, but while the Wallabies have struggled to two losses to their arch rivals from across the Tasman, the Springboks are two wins from two having overpowered the Pumas on consecutive weekends. Form might dictate an easy win for the Springboks, but the reality of where the Mandela Plate ends up is likely to be a lot closer.
Just when they needed it the least the Wallabies have been struck the cruelest of injury blows – skipper James Horwill has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. The talismanic lock is one of the most senior members of the Australian squad and offers so much more than just leadership. Kane Douglas, his replacement, has been challenged by Ewen McKenzie to seize this opportunity. The Waratahs lock started all three Lions tests under Robbie Deans, but since the Queensland man’s ascension to the top he has had to make do with a spot on the bench. He will be keen to make his mark, not least in the line-out where he will be charged with disrupting the fabled Springbok unit, as well as showing his ball-carrying prowess.
Of course no preview of this Australian team would be complete without mention of Quade Cooper. How interesting it is that he has been reinstated after the NZ tests – one wonders if perhaps McKenzie had seen how he had capitulated against them in the past, and decided to hold him back for the Boks. Still, with the likes of Louw, Alberts, Vermuelen and De Villiers in the Springbok ranks, Cooper will still be in for a rough ride. If he survives, and he can get his partnership with Genia going, the two of them are capable of magic.
Heyneke Meyer’s team selection seems to reinforce the notion that the Sprongboks will largely follow their normal blueprint – keep it tight and strangle the Aussies into submission. Despite opening up at times over the summer, and against Argentina, against a superior opponent like Australia they will not look to play it too loose too early, especially with the firepower their opposition have out wide. The selection of Zane Kirchner points to a territory-dominated game, with his boot, along with those of fellow tactical-kicking-experts Steyn and Pienaar, keeping South Africa in the right areas of the pitch.
Up front there is a typically monstrous pack, with the iconic Bismarck du Plessis returning to partner his brother in the front row at the expense of the unlucky Adriaan Strauss, who has been in excellent form. The only other change comes in the form of Flip van de Merwe, who starts in the place of Juandré Kruger.
All Eyes On
Rugby league convert Israel Folau has made a fairly middling start to life in the Rugby Championship, with a try and a couple of offloads to his name, after bursting onto the scene over the Lions tour. This week he has been shifted to fullback, where he has played most of his rugby this season for the Waratahs. There’s not much he can’t do – kick, pass, run, sidestep, tackle – it’s all in his repertoire. It will be fascinating to see how he copes with being the last line of defence, as well as fielding the Boks’ excellent kicking game.
In recent seasons François Louw has transformed himself into a vital cog in the Springbok machine. He wears the six jersey, which in South Africa makes him openside, meaning he spends a lot of his time in and around the breakdown. His time at Bath, where he has spent a lot of time at no.8, means his ball carrying and general link up play around the paddock are exemplary. If he has a good game the Aussies will find it tough going.
Head-to-head: Will Genia v Ruan Pienaar
This will be a fascinating battle between two completely different scrum halves. Genia’s ability to snipe around the fringes, not to mention make lung-busting 70m breaks, make him the most dangerous attacking scrum half in world rugby. Ruan Pienaar’s defensive game – usually excellent – will have to be flawless to keep his diminutive opposite number shackled. The Springbok himself is more of a conductor, using his intelligence and pinpoint boot to direct his team around the park. If he can keep Genia under wraps whilst still controlling his team’s play, the Springboks will come out on top.
Do not be deceived by Australia’s run of three straight losses – they are far from a bad team. If they can gain something like parity up front with the renowned Springbok pack, it will be a very tight affair. If, however, the Boks dominate in this area as expected, they should have too much for the Wallabies. The loss of James Horwill so late in the day just swings it in the Boks’ favour. South Africa by 5.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images