In the court of public opinion, Wallaby captain Rocky Elsom would be an ‘also-ran’. He would be dropped from the starting XV for this Test.
By far the most popular choice to replace him at No. 6 is Scott Higginbotham, to combine with David Pocock and Radike Samo (8) as the loose forward troika.
The likelihood of Rocky’s being dropped anytime soon is, of course, remote. Robbie Deans has nailed his colours to the mast with regard to Elsom’s captaincy so I think we all need to move on.
Anyway, we should remember that Elsom has played only four games of rugby in 2011. I’m prepared to cut him some slack so that he can run himself into peak match fitness and form. At his best, he’s a world-class loosie.
And despite reports coming out of the Brumbies bunker about attitudes and commitment during the Super Rugby season, he is in my opinion still the best man to lead the Wallabies, fitness and form dependent.
One of the reasons I can say this is that the leadership group surrounding Rocky is of top-notch quality and includes ‘Big Kev’ Horwill, Will Genia, David Pocock and Nathan Sharpe.
So it’s not as though he’s on his own. Any one of these guys could do the job. We’ve seen evidence in the games so far how they have collectively contributed to running the show.
But, as a unique group, time’s well and truly running out for the Wallabies. Deans has made some necessary changes in this important Tri Nations fixture (and RWC precursor) and now it’s time to deliver.
I think the ‘bigger picture’ campaign will certainly be in some trouble if we lose on Saturday. The record to date is:
- lost at home to Samoa (there were eight players in the starting side against Samoa that are starting on Saturday plus two on the bench);
- won at home against a Springboks B team (who have two starters on the weekend); and
- lost emphatically away to a full-strength and committed All Blacks team in Auckland.
Durban is our most comfortable away venue. We’ve won three and lost three at Kingsmead/Kings Park since 1933.
Overall however, of the 20 Tests played in South Africa since 1992 we’ve only won four: 1992 in Capetown (26–3), 2000 in Durban (19–18), 2008 in Durban (27–15) and last year in Bloem (41–39).
Stephen Moore, Rocky Elsom and James Horwill are the only Wallabies who played in that 2008 win. There are nine starters this weekend from our success in Bloem.
There are two changes to the run-on side from last week. Rob Simmons is replaced by Nathan Sharpe in a direct swap. Coach Deans said that Simmo has a shoulder niggle and it’s a good time for him to have a rest.
I agree with Sharpie’s selection in the First XV, not only for his lineout prowess (Simmo is no slug here either) but he’s a workhorse whose prepared to truck it up all day. He usually gets over the gain line and with his recent ups and downs I’m sure he’s primed for a big one. Geez, he was one of the best locks in the Super competition.
Scott Higginbotham finally gets a start — this time at No. 8. It’s a popular and deserved choice. He’s been on the fringes all year and his physical impact late in games has been impressive. He replaces Ben McCalman who, although a big-hearted workhorse, hasn’t been able to match the physicality of the opposition.
Another much called-for selection sees the evergreen Radike Samo on the bench. He last featured for the Wallabies seven years so this is an Indian summer for him. Fit and hugely motivated when Link called him up, he was a revelation for the Queensland Reds. Defensively he can put in some big hits and is a powerful ball-runner in the loose.
Salesi Ma’afu is recalled for Pek Cowan now that he’s back to full fitness. I’ve never rated the guy at international level but it’s probably not a bad idea to have a specialist tighthead with his sort of bulk on the bench, since we are going up against a typically sizeable Springbok pack.
OK — there is no No. 7 backup. What’s that all about? Sort of an ‘all your eggs in one basket’ thing, I suppose. Having McCalman, Samo and Sitaleki Timani together is a bit perplexing but size does count.
The 5/2 forwards-to-backs mix is probably a no-brainer but I’m disappointed that again Anthony Faingaa doesn’t get a start in the centres. The McCabe/AAC pairing was anonymous last week. There is plenty of utility value in most of the selected backs.
Like the All Blacks last week, the Springboks have chosen their most experienced team ever, with 810 caps.
Heinrich Brüssow and Fourie du Preez are back from long-term injuries; Pierre Spies and Danie Roussow have been declared fit. There are only two starters from the B team that took on the All Blacks and Wallabies a few weeks ago.
The Boks appear to be underdone but at least they have had rest and recuperation to get over all their ‘injuries’. They will be refreshed.
Tactically, this team looks like it’ll rumble and box kick its way up the field like the days of yore. That might be a little bit passé now but conservative is usually the name of the game-plan with Coach Crazy and they play to their strengths. They would have seen how Samoa and the All Blacks physically dealt with the Wallabies. They called in Stormers and Western Province defensive coach Jacques Nienaber this week to stiffen up their defence.
The forecast holds a 40 per chance chance of rain on Saturday, although it’s been fine all week. The temperature will be 15-21 degrees, with a 26–32km/h wind — maybe not ideal conditions for rugby.
I think the Wallabies will struggle to win this one, despite their superior match fitness. And the knives will be out for Robbie Deans if there’s the smell of failure…
Wallabies: Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock, Rocky Elsom (c), James Horwill, Nathan Sharpe, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu. Reserves: Saia Faingaa, Salesi Ma’afu, Sitaleki Timani, Radike Samo, Ben McCalman, Luke Burgess, Anthony Faingaa.
Springboks: Frans Steyn, JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Butch James, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Danie Rossouw, Heinrich Brüssow, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Jannie du Plessis, John Smit, Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira. Reserves: Gio Aplon, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Jean Deysel, Gerhard Mostert, Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence
*Note: For the non-Van der Merwes, shebeen is a South African saloon