Rugby

Preview: Tri Nations Test No. 1 – Wallabies v. Springboks

Preview: Tri Nations Test No. 1 – Wallabies v. Springboks

This feels like a funny start to the Test season. The Super finals kept us occupied to the death, and then suddenly the Wallabies were going into camp. There’s been none of the usual tours from northern hemisphere teams, just a one-off Test match with Samoa that delivered a brutal wake-up call. Now, not even a full week later, we’re about to start the Tri Nations series. Usually this tournament (and the embedded contest for the Bledisloe Cup) is the peak of the rugby year. But it just feels like the Tri Nations has slipped down everyone’s priority list in this World Cup year.

And that brings us to South Africa’s controversial tour squad selection policy. I’m not concerned with the rights and wrongs of it, but I reckon it’s one more factor that’s taken some of the excitement away from tomorrow night’s series opener. Then again, considering the problems that the Samoans highlighted last week, I reckon we’re fortunate to be facing an understrength foe. This match is where we have to get our shit in a pile and our ducks in a row and our house thoroughly in order — because in our next game, in two weeks’ time, we meet the All Blacks.

The Boks have made a change to the team announced earlier in the week: the returning veteran Johann Muller is out and the two-metre Shark lock Alistair Hargreaves will wear the No. 5 guernsey. Sharks back-rower Ryan Kankowski is the bench lock, at least notionally. The scrum may be rejigged if he comes on. That bench holds a fair bit of talent, actually.

On our side, Quade Cooper has been sick for a couple of days and that must have spoiled preparations, especially with an unfamiliar 12 installed outside him. But it could be said that Pat McCabe’s chief role in attack is to be cut out by passes directed beyond or behind him, and as long he understands that all will be well.

Truth to tell, I’m not worried about the backline. Given front-foot ball Quade will have them all going to the right places. The burning question is whether the forwards will win him that kind of ball at the breakdown. I’m sure they can, but not at all certain that they will. Expect Bam Bam Pocock to get there first, of course, but Kev Horwill and his sidekick Rob Simmons need to arrive behind him and start chucking bodies around — every time.

Scrum-time is going to have us on the edge of our collective seat. Our front-rowers haven’t formed as a proper unit yet, but the same is probably true of the Bok combination of John Smit and the Bulls bookends. The respective performances of Will Genia and Ruan Pienaar around the scrum base will be a match highlight, at least.

If it weren’t for the fresh memories of last weekend’s horrors I would be confident tipping this Wallabies lineup to outclass the visitors by three tries to nil. They will win, but I suspect Morne Steyn will get adequate chances to keep the Boks in touch and the margin will be slim. That’s if Quade doesn’t spear-tackle him again and get suspended.

Wallabies to win by six points and two tries to one.

Australia v. South Africa at ANZ Stadium, Sydney, Saturday 23 July, 8:00pm

Australia: 15. Kurtley Beale, 14. James O’Connor, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Pat McCabe, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia, 8. Ben McCalman, 7. David Pocock, 6. Rocky Elsom (c), 5. James Horwill, 4. Rob Simmons, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Sekope Kepu. Reserves: 16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Pek Cowan, 18. Nathan Sharpe, 19. Matt Hodgson, 20. Scott Higginbotham, 21. Nick Phipps, 22. Anthony Faingaa.

South Africa: 15. Gio Aplon, 14. Bjorn Basson, 13. Juan De Jongh, 12. Wynand Olivier, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Morne Steyn, 9. Ruan Pienaar, 8. Ashley Johnson, 7. Danie Rossouw, 6. Deon Stegmann, 5. Alistair Hargreaves, 4. Flip van der Merwe, 3. Werner Kruger, 2. John Smit (c), 1. Dean Greyling. Reserves: 16. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17. CJ van der Linde, 18. Ryan Kankowski, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Adrian Jacobs, 22. Pat Lambie.

Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)
Assistant Referees: Keith Brown (NZ), Vinny Munro (NZ)
Television Match Official: Matt Goddard (Aus)

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