Two great rugby nations stand at a crossroads. They face each other at a perfect time and both must use the opportunity to step up. Will we look back and say “I was there when the style of Australian and South African rugby stood up and never looked back”?
The Wallabies – not good enough. Well discussed 3-0 to England at home and the Bledisloe Cup is growing roots in New Zealand. There have been concerns as to whether the Michael Cheika game plan is working. Fans can be unforgiving but it is to be expected that the Wallabies are settling down and that effective rugby is ahead.
The Springboks – not good enough. An unconvincing series win over Ireland and one each to Argentina in the Rugby Championship. There have been concerns as to whether or not Allister Coetzee has a game plan. Fans can be unforgiving but it is to be expected that the Springbok clash of styles – which might be called Lions v Stormers – is morphing into something more cohesive. And stronger. And more fluent.
The Springboks have won only one of nine games at Suncorp Stadium.
Most of the Aussie foreign legions are back in Europe and the squad has needed expanding to make up for injuries.
Cheika continues with the Pooper and the double 10. Fardy is dropped with Mumm starting at 6. Reece Hodge gets his first start on the wing. Arnold takes a spot on the bench.
Adriaan Strauss announced he is retiring from the Springbok captaincy at the end of the championship, noting his main role at the moment is assisting transformation.
He may be glad that the Springboks have used the extra week to distance themselves from African scrutiny and set themselves up early for training in Brisbane. With the exception of the centre pairing – de Jongh and Jesse Kriel (previously on the bench) – selections are largely stable. Hougaard replaces the injured Combrinck (fractured leg) which swaps Bryan Habana to right wing.
There are striking similarities in a number of areas for these teams.
Hooker/Captains Moore and Strauss have not been performing at their best.
Neither team features a specialist THP on the bench.
Faf de Klerk is a live wire at half. Genia provides accuracy in the pass and a good box kick, but at the expense of stepping before passing. Service slows as the game develops. de Klerk gets a bit more erratic.
Jantjies at fly half leads a free flowing style of rugby that African fans long for. So far it hasn’t gelled with Coetzee’s more conservative game plan. In the background Ackermann (Lions coach) is calling for Jantjies to be given flexibility to play. Sounds like Cooper, Deans and home commentary by McKenzie? Let’s hope that the Springboks have a better resolution than we did.
The Springbok 10-12-13 (Jantjies, de Jongh, Kriel) combination is new and rusty. Likewise the Wallaby 10-12-13 (Cooper, Foley, Karevi) combination.
Hougard is better known at scrum half but starts at wing. Phipps possibly played his best game off the bench at wing this year and it is possible it could happen again.
Coleman at lock has been given an enforcer role – aggression which has strayed into deserved card territory. We won’t win with 14 players on the field. For the Springboks this role appears to be Mahoje at 7 – his enforcement has also slid to wrong side of “gentlemanly”.
Line out – Etzebeth, Whitely, De Jager and du Toit all feature in the top 10 Lineout takes in the Rugby Championship. Australia has only one – surprisingly Dean Mumm with 7 takes.
Adriaan Strauss hits his line out target 95% of the time. In the championship Moore has only managed 57%. He simply must do better.
The Wallabies spent four weeks tiring themselves out in the name of fitness and establishing a strategy that could not cope with the All Blacks in game 1. The second Bledisloe game read like a team changing quickly, but caught between two different setups with players tired and confused. Bernard Foley has said that they will be sticking with their structures and strategies. Let’s hope that there has been enough time now to make sure the whole team understands the positional play and that it is getting closer to being second nature.
The double 10 is meant to create a second playmaker and flexibility between Foley and Copper to allow sharpening the attack and driving the back line. And tactical kicking. There is every chance it can do this. The weakness is the defensive structure, and changing set ups between defence and attack. This dichotomy may not be as severely tested by the Springboks – but it will be tested.
The Springboks hope that de Jongh can add some stability and leadership to the flamboyant Jantjies. It’s a role not unlike Foley to Cooper.
Coetzee’s game plan at the Stormers was a version of 10 man rugby built off a solid set piece. Outside backs were chasers. If that set piece and 10 man strength can be locked in, and de Klerk/Jantjies can ignite the backline, we could see a new form of Springbok game plan developing.
Australia’s less than proven defense is just the place for the Springboks to test it.
The Wallabies need to muscle up in the tight five. This has to be so good that it counters the downsides of the Pooper. Turnover ball must be more prevalent than the last game against the All Blacks (we cop the weakness, surely there must be an upside!). The Springbok traditional tight five and balanced loose forwards may be just the place to test our unconventional pack.
Despite the doom prevalent around rugby tragics the Wallabies have every chance here. We look for both teams to pull together the ability they possess and produce, robust energising rugby. If the Springboks destroy the Wallaby line out; if the Springboks force big tackle numbers through our 10-12 channel, they should win.
I’m hopeful that Cheika is learning. I’m hoping for effectiveness and that the team is working back to it’s identity. In a developing game plan.
With the Suncorp home advantage: Wallabies by eight.
Wallabies: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Samu Karevi, 12 Bernard Foley, 11Reece Hodge, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore C, 1 Scott Sio
Bench (one to be omitted): Tatafu Polotu-Nau, James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Lopeti Timani, Sean MaMahon, Nick Phipps, Tevita Kuridrani, Drew Mitchell
Springboks: 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whitely, 7 Oupa Mahoje. 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Straus C, 1 Tendai Mtawirira
Bench: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jaco Kriel, Morne Steyn, Lionel Mapoe
At Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane (8:05 PM Saturday AEST)
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes, Pascal Gauzere
TMO: Ben Skeen