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Rugby Championship: Australia v South Africa Preview
The Rugby Championships' two under-performing sides square off at the Suncorp Stadium this Saturday.
So it’s the winless Wallabies versus the struggling Springboks this Saturday in a game that both sides need to win to keep their faint hopes of 2016 Rugby Championship glory alive. The hosts for this one are coming off the back of two consecutive defeats to the All Blacks while the visitors are fresh off the back of only their second ever defeat to Argentina.
So which of these two laboring sides will grab the win in Brisbane? Let’s see if we can find out.
Australia v South Africa | Saturday 10 September | Suncorp Stadium | 12:05
To Win (80 Mins)
Australia 6/10 | Draw 25/1 | South Africa 27/20
Australia (-3.5) 9/10 | South Africa (+3.5) 9/10
The Wallabies' two displays against New Zealand were so poor that it no longer seems right calling them the defending champions. Their showing in the first Test, where they got hammered 42-8, will forever live in ignominy. And while they were better in the second Test, you just felt the All Blacks were content to take their bonus point victory rather than stick the knife into Australian hearts.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. After all, the Australians were taking on the best team on the planet as well as the world’s form rugby player. This is not to say there aren’t some deep-rooted problems for the Wallabies, however.
It must have been highly frustrating for Micahel Cheika to have witnessed the simple errors his forward pack made during the championship opener in Sydney. While his backline was always going to struggle to maintain their structure after losing three centres within the first 40 minutes of the game, his pack really should have presented sterner opposition for the Kiwis.
The Australian big men did front up a bit better during the second Test with the line out no longer resembling a bunch of kids chasing after a balloon. Their loose trio also looked a lot more balanced with Scott Fardy – who played off the bench in the first Test – renewing his partnership with Pocock and Hooper.
With Fardy once again relegated to the bench – Dean Mumm gets a start on the flank due to Cheika wanting to target the ‘Bok lineout – Pocock and Hooper will have vital roles to play. The duo’s ability to turnover ball at ruck time and subsequently provide their backs with quick ball may well allow the Wallabies to catch the South African’s on the counter.
While the ‘Boks have shown a hell of a lot guts on defence, their defensive structure is a real worry. The Argentines were able to expose the brittle first line during the Mbombela Test and had it not been for some courageous last ditch tackles, the Springboks may well have come into this game without a win to their names.
Michael Cheika has made one further change to the starting XV with Melbourne Rebels utility back, Reece Hodge, coming if for Adam Ashley-Cooper who has returned to his French club Bordeaux.
It is not exactly panic stations time yet but Allister Coetzee’s men really do need to turn the corner this weekend. The Springboks desperately need to find their identity and settle on a playing style. While I’m all for having a plan B, C and even Z - if that’s how far you need to go to win a game – plan A needs to be the main focus. You simply can’t go into a Rugby Championship match caught between two strategies.
The man who has be hindered the most by the Springboks identity crisis has been Elton Jantjies. The pivot has failed to produce the same kind of form he exhibited during the Lions Super Rugby campaign but there have been mitigating circumstances; like Damian de Allende’s inability to shift the ball onto the men outside him.
I know it’s pretty unreasonable to single de Allende out for the ‘Boks' struggles on attack but you cannot help but feel the South Africans would be a much more potent force with ball in hand if the ball was actually moved past the twelve channel.
It’s not only on attack where the Janjties/de Allende axis has been found wanting, though. Janjties has never been the strongest of tacklers and really needs a hard hitting man outside him - an enforcer if you will – who can read the game like a newspaper editor. While de Allende weighs in at a hefty 101 kilograms, he doesn’t seem to have the defensive awareness as a Jean de Villiers or even Rohan Janse van Rensburg. He often gets caught in no man's land, shifting on to the outside runner rather than focusing on the man he’s marking.
Allister Coetzee has addressed bringing Juan de Jongh into the starting XV in place of de Allende. Coetzee has also opted to replace Lionel Mapoe with Jesse Kriel while Francois Hougaard starts on the wing in place of the injured Ruan Combrinck.
Coetzee has also made a change to his starting pack with Sharks tighthead Lourens Adriaanse joining teammate Beast Mtwarira and Adriaan Strauss in the front row.
The Stats That Matter
The last five contest between the sides have seen two Australian victories and three wins for South Africa. The Australians have won their last two home matches against South Africa with the ‘Boks last victory Down Under coming in Brisbane back in 2013.
South Africa have averaged 2.8 tries per game over the last five fixtures while Australia have averaged 1.4 tries per game.
These games tend to end with a total combined score line in between 36 and 44 points.
Verdict: Australia 6/10
It’s definitely not a game to wager a large stake on as there is really not much between these teams with both struggling for any real cohesion. My feeling is that the Wallabies will sneak it by a point or two. Small stake on this one!