Rugby: Boks on top, and settled there
- Ken Borland
- 11 Sep 2013 (South Africa)
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is a big believer in continuity of selection, even when his team has lost, so there was little doubt he was going to name an unchanged side on Wednesday to take on the All Blacks in Saturday's crunch Rugby Championship decider. By KEN BORLAND.
Thanks to the bonus point they obtained in finally shaking off their Brisbane hoodoo in emphatic fashion, the Springboks are top of the Rugby Championship log and are, for once, the most settled team in the competition.
Their opponents on Saturday, New Zealand, have lost their talismanic captain and key loose forward Richie McCaw to injury, and still seem to be finding their way under coach Steve Hansen and his desire to play an expansive, high-tempo game in all circumstances.
The fall-out from the Wallabies' worst home defeat against South Africa has been dramatic and captain Will Genia has lost his place in the starting team, with coach Ewen McKenzie making three other changes for their match against Argentina in Perth that should go a long way to deciding who finishes last in this year's Rugby Championship.
The Pumas, similarly winless but not as clueless as the Wallabies have looked, have also made five changes to their team.
And New Zealand also made five changes to their starting team, with the inexperienced Sam Cane replacing McCaw, the most-capped All Black, as the openside flank.
While the home side are, like the Springboks, unbeaten this year, they have failed to reach the high standards of their last match against their old rivals, the 32-16 hiding at Soccer City last October, and Hansen has tinkered with his side throughout the year.
But they are still the number one team in world rugby for a reason, as Meyer knows, and the return of players like centre Ma'a Nonu and blindside flank Liam Messam will add experience and an abrasive edge to the side.
"You have to be at your best in every facet of the game to beat the All Blacks," Meyer said on Wednesday. "They have a brilliant running game, a brilliant kicking game, they can defend well, they scrum well and they are good in lineouts. That's why they are world champs and have been together for quite some time.
"There is experience there so you can't gamble, you have to go with the best you believe in and you can't just focus on one area."
But the scrums are perhaps one area where the Springboks might be able to gain a foothold and they will be encouraged by the way the Pumas gave the world champions some problems in that set-piece last weekend. Hansen has freshened up his front row by choosing young Dan Coles at hooker, but Tony Woodcock is at loosehead and Keven Mealamu is the replacement rake, great players but ageing veterans both.
And the Springboks, however buoyant they are after the brilliant Brisbane performance, need as much encouragement as they can get because they are playing the All Blacks at the most daunting venue of all - Eden Park in Auckland.
New Zealand have won 32 consecutive matches at the venue of the 2011 World Cup final and the last time the Springboks beat them at Eden Park was in 1937, under the captaincy of Danie Craven - and that was considered one of the most brilliant South African teams ever.
"The most positive thing to have here is the mindset. As a coach last week I had to convince the guys that it is possible away from home, especially where we haven’t won in ages.
"This week suddenly they start to believe that, so I don’t have to go back there and convince them again when it comes to venues where we haven’t won in a long time,” Meyer said.
“Still, it isn’t any easier, as they are a great team and there are still a lot of things that we need to improve on. There are a lot of places we can do better and we are a team that wants to do better each week.
"Brisbane was a win to celebrate but it is now past and the ultimate challenge is on Saturday. It is another week and we have flown a lot, so the odds are against us, but the guys are focused and ready and I like that.”
Meyer's Australian counterpart, McKenzie, is in a far less happy place and has even resorted to the huge step of changing his captain, demoting one of his senior men at the Queensland Reds.
With Genia relegated to the bench, Brumbies eighthman Ben Mowen takes over the captaincy, a prestigious honour for someone who has been playing Test rugby for less than three months and only has six caps.
But apart from his defensive lapses and uninspiring play in Brisbane, Genia also made some strange calls as captain.
At the start of the second half, with the Wallabies trailing 6-16, the Springboks were under severe pressure after conceding a ruck penalty in the shadow of their own poles. With referee George Clancy keeping a strict hand on proceedings, the visitors were obviously going to have to be extremely careful so close to their own tryline if Australia had taken a tap penalty and set up another ruck, but instead Genia opted for the kick at goals, which did bring three points but also allowed the South Africans to exit their own half.
While his back-pedaling forwards certainly don't make his life any easier, Genia has been strangely hesitant and definitely needs to sharpen up his game.
Another Brumbies star, Nic White, will make his bow as the starting scrumhalf but he will be targeted by the Pumas, who are extremely disruptive around the rucks, as Ruan Pienaar found out three weeks ago in Mendoza.
South Africa: 15-Zane Kirchner, 14-Willie le Roux, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Flip van der Merwe, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements - 16-Adriaan Strauss, 17-Gurthrö Steenkamp,18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Juandré Kruger, 20-Siya Kolisi , 21-Jano Vermaak, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein.
New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma'a Nonu, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Dan Carter, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read, 7-Sam Cane, 6-Liam Messam, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Tony Woodcock. Replacements - 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Charlie Faumuina, 19-Steven Luatua, 20-Matt Todd, 21-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22-Beauden Barrett, 23-Charles Piutau.
Australia: 15-Israel Folau; 14-James O'Connor, 13-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12-Christian Leali'ifano, 11-Nick Cummins; 10-Quade Cooper, 9-Nic White; 8-Ben Mowen, 7-Michael Hooper, 6-Scott Fardy; 5-Kane Douglas, 4-Rob Simmons; 3-Ben Alexander, 2-Stephen Moore, 1-James Slipper. Replacements - 16-Saia Fainga'a, 17-Scott Sio, 18-Sekope Kepu, 19-Sitaleki Timani, 20-Ben McCalman, 21-Will Genia, 22-Matt Toomua, 23-Tevita Kuridrani.
Argentina: 15-Juan Martin Hernandez, 14-Horacio Agulla, 13-Gonzalo Tiesi, 12-Felipe Contepomi, 11-Juan Imhoff, 10-Nicolas Sanchez, 9-Thomas Cubelli; 8-Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7-Pablo Matera, 6-Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 5-Julio Farias Cabello, 4-Manuel Carizza, 3-Juan Figallo, 2-Agustín Creevy, 1-Marcos Ayerza. Replacements - 16-Eusebio Guiñazu,17-Nahuel Lobo, 18-Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19-Mariano Galarza, 20-Benjamín Macome, 21-Martín Landajo, 22-Santiago Fernández, 23-Lucas González Amorosino. DM
Photo: South Africa's Duane Vermeulen (C) avoids a tackle from Argentina's Juan Manuel Legizamon (7) during their Rugby Championship test match in Mendoza August 24, 2013. REUTERS/Daniel Salvatori