Date: 23rd July 2011
Kick-off: 11:00 (BST)
Venue: ANZ Stadium
A depleted South Africa squad will travel to a soggy Sydney this weekend to face Robbie Deans’ Australia side. The withdrawal of an astonishing 23 players has robbed coach Peter de Villiers of many front-line stars, but Australia have problems of their own after a humiliating home defeat at the hands of Samoa last weekend. Scepticism surrounded South Africa’s decision to side-line many of their stars for the squad, and that Australia led the calls for a subsequent probe into the matter may add spice to the occasion.
After being humbled by Samoa last week, Robbie Deans announced a number of changes to the side that will host the Springboks. Matt Giteau is the most notable casualty from the side, dropping out of the match-day squad completely, with Quade Cooper taking his place at fly half. Elsewhere there are places for James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and David Pocock. Queensland’s impressive second row duo James Horwill and Rob Simmons will also start. Last week’s loss, billed as one of the biggest shocks in Australian rugby for decades, provided precious few positives for Deans aside from seeing first hand that his squad depth may not be as strong as he would have hoped. This side, however, is significantly closer to full strength.
When Peter de Villiers announced his injury list for the tour of Australia and New Zealand, a fair few eyebrows were raised. A subsequent SANZAR probe found no wrongdoing, though their still seems to be an element of resentment in the Australian camp at what they believe are underhand tactics to rest certain players. Nevertheless captain of the squad John Smit has roundly dismissed suggestions that this is South Africa’s ‘B’ team. With the World Cup fast approaching and positions being keenly fought, it is likely that, regardless of injury, any South Africa side will prove formidable opponents at the moment.
What to expect
The rain has battered Sydney over the past few days and with further downpours forecast, this match will be tight. Though Quade Cooper played with the sort of elegance throughout the season that would make the tag of ‘mercurial’ slightly unfair, the presence of rain places added pressure on the fly half. As such, his partnership with fellow half back and club-mate Will Genia will be crucial. With Danie Rossouw and his cohorts in the back row already targeting this area at the behest of de Villiers, Cooper and Genia must be on top of their game. Meanwhile the returning David Pocock will lead a back row battle of his own against Rossouw, and expect the Australian pack to provide fierce confrontation up front against the ‘Boks. Both sides possess dynamic back-lines; though expect early play to centre on the stronger runners before the likes of O’Connor of Australia and Bjorn Basson of South Africa can be released.
All eyes on
Despite many questions clouding over Pat McCabe after the Samoa loss, the Brumbies utility back has retained his place at inside centre. McCabe runs strongly and perseveringly, and his ability to play across the outside backs makes him a strong candidate for World Cup selection. He will need to prove himself at international level soon though, and these conditions could be suited to a strong running inside centre.
With the set piece set to play a huge part in proceedings on Saturday, John Smit faces a tough examination of his ability to throw under pressure. The Saracens-bound hooker is probably facing his last days as a Springbok and will want to end on a high at the World Cup. His control of the line-out is not only important for South Africa, but also for the selectors’ assessment of Smit’s own performance.
Head to Head: Quade Cooper vs Morne Steyn
If it could be suggested that the Queensland Reds came of age in this year’s Super 15, then so too did Quade Cooper. Excellent play has characterised his last two years in domestic competition and he now knows that this will be his chance to show that he’s ready to lead Australia into the World Cup. Blocking his path will be Morne Steyn, the metronomic points machine from Cape Town. While a descent into swamp-like conditions may hinder Cooper’s attacking instincts, Steyn will happily kick for both points and territory. Playing behind a pack containing some notable debutants, Steyn’s control of the game will be very important.
Such were the changes after the Samoa game, claims that many of the players will need to prove a point this weekend may be wide of the mark. They will however treat this match with utmost importance, ensuring that they will be too much for this inexperienced outfit. Should the rain fall heavily then the presence of Ruan Pienaar along with Morne Steyn may put the ‘Boks at an advantage, but the pack experience should see Australia win by eight points.