There is no denying the Springboks' hunger for Wallaby meat as they take on Australia Saturday in a Rugby Championship Test at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria after losing their last five matches. But are the Boks' eyes bigger than their proverbial stomach? By KEN BORLAND.
It is a run of defeats that South African captain Jean de Villiers has admitted rankles him, the veteran of 79 Tests having played against far better Wallabies teams since making his debut in 2002.
Australia's five straight wins against South Africa is a record for them, but they have also won seven of the last eight meetings.
De Villiers said Friday that that record is "simply not good enough. That can never be acceptable and this team has now inherited that record, so it's our job to rectify that."
De Villiers also added that the 2012 Springbok class is a distinct team to last year’s, pointing out that they were responsible for six of those seven defeats. But there was more than just a hint of mental block when South Africa thoroughly dominated the Wallabies in the first half in Perth but failed to put them away.
What sets Saturday’s Springbok side apart from the teams that have lost in previous years is the presence of Johan Goosen at flyhalf.
The 20-year-old has the all-round game to trouble the visitors with ball-in-hand, he engages the defence and seems to have a marvellous temperament for one so young. Plus he is in good form with the boot and a strong defender.
If the Springbok pack once again gives 100 percent and plays like they did in Dunedin against the All Blacks, then Goosen should have the platform to enjoy a successful debut start.
De Villiers admitted on Friday that the forwards were doing most of the hard work lately and that it was time for the backline to contribute.
“The forwards have really stood up, even though they are the less experienced players, they got us close in the last two Tests and the backs now need to catch up,” he said.
While the hunger of the team is not in doubt, they will obviously require more than that to beat a team with the smarts of Australia. The inexperience of the forwards suggests they could fall prey to the trap of trying too hard and making mistakes as a result.
The challenge, de Villiers said, is not get too excited.
“That was probably shown by Dean Greyling against the All Blacks. He really wanted the opportunity to show what he could do, he was so psyched up and he really got the guys going in the changeroom before the game. But then he came out and made one or two poor decisions,” De Villiers said.
South Africa have played well enough to beat both Australia and New Zealand away from home, but it is the decision-making of the Springboks (and missed kicks) that has prevented them from turning their dominance into points on the scoreboard.
“We need to step up for 80 minutes, some soft moments cost us in the other games. The margins are very small in Test rugby, one or two mistakes and you find yourself 10 points behind.
“We’ve definitely created opportunities to score, but I believe playing for 80 minutes is the problem. We need to improve on those small mistakes,” the captain said.
Lady Luck will also no doubt have her say in what is expected to be a fast-paced game that will fully test the bodies of the Springboks.
The Australian pack has shown the ability to absorb the physicality of the Springboks and then up the pace and spread the ball in the latter stages, and nobody will be surprised if their new starting flyhalf, Kurtley Beale, dashes and darts from the outset in an effort to move the home side around as much as possible.
“Beale is a classy player and it’s quite a tantalising prospect to see him and Johan Goosen against each other in their first starts at flyhalf. Kurtley has shown what he can do at Test level and he’s also shown what he can do at flyhalf in SuperRugby. We need to be up for it defensively because he’s definitely going to test us,” De Villiers admitted. DM
South Africa: 15-Zane Kirchner, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-Jaco Taute, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Francois Hougaard, 10-Johan Goosen, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Andries Bekker, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16-Tiaan Liebenberg, 17-Pat Cilliers, 18-Flip van der Merwe, 19-Marcell Coetzee, 20-Elton Jantjies, 21-Juan de Jongh, 22-Pat Lambie.
Australia: 15-Berrick Barnes, 14-Dominic Shipperley, 13-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12-Pat McCabe, 11-Digby Ioane, 10-Kurtley Beale, 9-Nick Phipps, 8-Radike Samo, 7-Michael Hooper, 6-Dave Dennis, 5-Nathan Sharpe, 4-Kane Douglas, 3-Ben Alexander, 2-Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1-Benn Robinson. Reserves: 16-Saia Fainga'a, 17-James Slipper, 18-Rob Simmons, 19-Scott Higginbotham/Mike Harris, 20-Liam Gill, 21-Brett Sheehan, 22-Anthony Fainga'a.
Photo: South Africa's Springboks' Morne Steyn (2nd L) is tackled by Australia's Wallabies' Berrick Barnes (L), Adam Ashley-Cooper (2nd R) and Michael Hooper during their Rugby Championship test match in Perth September 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bill Hatto