Australia vs South Africa | Saturday 18 July | Suncorp Stadium | 12:05
Mid-day braais and beers will be in evidence throughout South Africa on Saturday morning as the Springboks come up against the Wallabies in the second Castle Rugby Championship game of the weekend. Both sides have fared better than their Argentine and New Zealand counterparts in terms of the fixtures draw. Meyer and Cheika’s charges will have the luxury of two home games, with the latter side’s second home game coming on the eighth of August against the All Blacks. The South Africans will travel back home after this encounter to prepare for the All Blacks who come to town next Saturday. With the tournament shortened to three rounds and each team only coming up against each other once, there will be a lot riding on the outcome of the game at Suncorp. Early points for either side could see their chances of claiming the Rugby Championship trophy greatly enhanced whilst a loss may leave them with little to play for.
To Win (80mins)
South Africa 14/10
Australia (-3.5) 9/10
South Africa (+3.5) 9/10
Michael Cheika will either look like a genius or a mad man come the final whistle on Saturday. Cheika has decided to take a gamble by opting to bring veterans Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau back into the Australian set up from the wilderness of French club rugby. With both players not tasting international rugby or Super Rugby for the past few years they may be physically undercooked to take on the rigours of a Test against the ‘Boks. The recall of Mitchell and Giteau are not the only roll of the dice that Cheika has thrown, he has also included the Reds halfback pairing of Quade Cooper and Will Genia in his starting line-up.
Cheika’s mantra of fielding physical and confrontational forwards is in evidence in the makeup of his pack for this weekend. The lock combination of Waratahs juggernaut Will Skelton and Reds lineout king Rob Simmons will offer plenty of physicality up front, as well as cause a nuisance factor at lineout time. The key man for the Australians in this encounter will be turnover machine Michael Hooper. Hooper was a handful at ruck time for most teams that came up against the Waratahs earlier this year and will want to continue churning out like performances. On to the backs and as mentioned earlier it’s the return of the Reds with Cooper and Genia taking the place of last year’s half back incumbents, Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps. The Reds duo didn’t enjoy a successful Super Rugby campaign; Cooper was injured for the majority of it whilst Genia struggled to find any form behind an often retreating forward pack. Despite these factors, the dynamic duo who have played together since their schoolboy days can turn a game on its head in an instant. Another man capable of turning the tide in favor of the Australians is fullback Israel Folau. With his ability to launch counter-attacks from deep inside his own half, Folau is probably the biggest attacking threat to the Springboks, particularly if Handre Pollard’s kicking out of hand is not up to scratch.
After a decent performance against a defensively threadbare World XV the Springboks will head to Australia in a buoyant mood. Heyneke Meyer’s call to bring Jesse Kriel into the side looked a masterstroke, as the Bulls youngster put in an impressive shift at Newlands last weekend. The Springboks will have to be prepared for a much more testing encounter come Saturday, with the Aussies being more structurally sound than Robbie Deans’ World XV. This will be the Springboks’ only away game in the Castle Championship; victory for Meyer’s men would go a long way to enhancing their chances of winning the extended tournament for the first time.
In terms of team selection the South Africans have opted to keep things much the same as they were last weekend, with the only change to the starting fifteen seeing Schalk Burger coming in at eighthman for Warren Whitley. Whilst the starting lineup has little alteration to it, the composition of the bench sees four adjustments. Props Heinke Van Der Merwe and Frans Malherbe will offer decent options to bring on as the all-Natalian front row tires. They are joined by Cheetahs youngster Lood De Jager and Sharks speedster Lwazi Mvovo on the pine.
The Springbok pack are in for a much more physical test this weekend with Wallaby coach Michael Cheika famed for his confrontational approach to forward play. Skipper Victor Matfield will have to ensure that the Du Plessis brothers remain cool, as the Aussie forwards will try their utmost to get under their skin. The ‘Boks forwards won’t be the only ones facing a challenge on Saturday. Handre Pollard and his fellow youngsters in the centres will have to ensure they shut down the space when defending Quade Cooper so as to keep the Australian outside backs quiet. If they manage to do this then the inexperienced trio may just book themselves a first-class ticket to England and a starting berth at the World Cup.
VERDICT: South Africa 14/10
The odds are firmly stacked against the Springboks in this one; incumbent skipper Jean De Villiers has been left at home, their scrum didn’t look great against the World XV and they will have to contend with a pedantic Northern Hemisphere ref in the shape of Nigel Owens. Despite all these handicaps I can see Heyneke Meyer’s men pulling off a famous victory against an undercooked Wallaby side in Brisbane.