The 19-0 loss to the All Blacks two weeks ago was a wake up call for the Springboks, but more importantly to coach Peter de Villiers.
The Boks have got an amazing team, full of world class players. They’ve just won the world cup. They’ve proved that they are a global force in world rugby once again. However, during the course of this Tri-Nations the Springboks have proved that they are less than invincible.
The pack more or less picks itself. The injured dynamic duo of John Smit and Bakkies Botha would obviously slot straight into the current team, but Bismarck du Plessis and Andries Bekker have proved to be solid deputies. The back row of Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies and Juan Smith is frankly awesome – with very good deputies in Luke Watson and Joe van Niekirk.
However, for one reason or another, this pack has been unconvincing when dealing with the brute force that the All Blacks and Wallabies have thrown at them during the competition to date. This is in stark contrast to the rampant Springbok pack we all witnessed in France during the world cup.
The backs, again, pick themselves. You have to feel sorry for Ricky Januarie who has played a blinder so far in the competition, particularly with that memorable try against New Zealand in the House of Pain, but in Fourie du Preez, the Springboks have the best scrum-half in the world. Fact.
Butch James at 10, is solid. A good kick, adequate distribution and a stout defender – he’s the best the Boks have at 10, but with the promising Francois Steyn constantly improving, it’s only a matter of time before James gets usurped.
The centre pairing of Jean de Villiers and Adrian Jacobs is immense – one of the best centre pairings in world rugby at the moment, but, surprisingly, it is the back three that is proving to be South Africa’s Achilles heel at the moment.
Conrad Jantjes has been inconsistent at fullback in place of Percy Montgomery, and de Villiers has seemed unwilling to test the mercurial Ruan Pienaar there in this series. In addition, the loss of Bryan Habana has highlighted the issue of South Africa’s strength in depth – Jongi Nokwe was good enough against the hapless Argentines, but is he good enough to make the grade against the resurgent Aussies?
It’s difficult to stray any further than the coach – is he really a better coach than Jake White?
In contrast to the Springboks, Robbie Deans has re-moulded the Wallabies into a new entity. His experimentation in the backs with Matt Giteau at 10, and Berrick Barnes at 12 looks inspired, but it’s his confidence to let loose dynamic young players such as Luke Burgess, Ryan Cross and Peter Hynes which has set him apart from the other coaches in the Southern Hemisphere.
Even the Aussie scrum is looking stable – stable enough to bring Matt “Jelly Belly” Dunning back into the front row for Saturday’s clash. All in all, Aussie fans can look at this Tri-Nations as a success following their poor showing at the world cup.
The Springbok have had a mixed tournament – can they summon enough momentum to see away the Aussies and reverse the 16-9 defeat they suffered in Perth?
South Africa: Conrad Jantjes; JP Pietersen, Adrian Jacobs, Jean de Villiers, Jongi Nokwe; Butch James, Fourie du Preez; Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger; Victor Matfield (capt), Andries Bekker, CJ van der Linde, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Brian Mujati, Joe van Niekerk, Luke Watson, Ricky Januarie, Frans Steyn, Percy Montgomery.
Australia: Drew Mitchell, Peter Hynes, Stirling Mortlock (capt), Berrick Barnes, Lote Tuqiri, Matt Giteau, Sam Cordingley, Wycliff Palu, George Smith, Rocky Elsom, Daniel Vickerman, James Horwill, Matt Dunning, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson.
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Al Baxter, Hugh McMeniman, Phil Waugh, Brett Sheehan, Timana Tahu, Ryan Cross
By John White