The Springboks will wage war on the Wallabies at Newlands on Saturday, hoping to combine sheer hunger and determination with accuracy and cohesion. By KEN BORLAND.
As ever, this war will mostly be decided amongst the forwards, where there will be no room for complacency, however favoured the Springboks are against an Australian pack that many seem to be writing off without much caution.
Sure, the Springboks did thoroughly dominate the Wallabies pack in their previous meeting, three weeks ago in Brisbane, but the Australians will field a beefed up side on Saturday. The battle-hardened James Horwill, an inspirational captain and lock, is back and will make a difference, while experienced prop Benn Robinson has eventually returned to international action, even though he will start on the bench.
The danger for the home side is that their minds might be more on making up for the robbery in Auckland by securing a bonus-point win against the Wallabies, than on ensuring they follow the same processes, laying the same platform, that they did in Brisbane on their way to running away with the game in the final quarter.
Tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis spoke this week of the Springboks relying on the same desperation they brought to the game in Brisbane, at a venue where they had never won, but they would be well-advised to focus instead on precision.
“We knew that not a lot of teams win in Brisbane, not even our SuperRugby sides have great records there, so we trained with desperation that week and then when we got on to the field we played with desperation. That is the challenge for Saturday, to get that same desperation going and play like that for 80 minutes.
“But that is what the Wallabies will be doing too because that is what test rugby is all about – trying to inject that desperation into your game every time you play. Where the challenge comes in is that you have to try and be desperate while being accurate at the same time. It’s all about imposing your plan on the game,” Du Plessis said.
And that Springbok game plan will be the same as in Brisbane – to force the Wallabies on to the back foot through dominating the set-pieces and the collisions. They will rely on Morne Steyn, Zane Kirchner and the added kicking skills of Fourie du Preez to keep the opposition in their own half and then try and capitalise on the mistakes as the visitors stick to their fondness for spreading the ball, even if it is well behind the advantage line.
Given front-foot ball and space, we know we can rely on a rapidly improving Springbok backline to score tries, but the foundation has to be laid for them first.
The Wallabies do have some dogged players like Horwill, Stephen Moore, Ben Mowen and Michael Hooper, but they will have problems matching the sheer mongrel brought by players like Eben Etzebeth, Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen and both hookers, Adriaan Strauss to start and Bismarck du Plessis to explode off the bench.
While Australian coach Ewen McKenzie has pointed to their last two victories on South African soil being sealed in the dying stages, and has accordingly included plenty of experience on his bench in the form of scrumhalf Will Genia, loosehead Robinson and loose forward Ben McCalman, the Springboks can surely match that late intensity by bringing on Du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Siya Kolisi and Jan Serfontein.
“Even if he is on the field for just two minutes, Bismarck will fire, that I can promise you, because after 80 minutes against the All Blacks he felt responsible for the team’s defeat,” the hooker’s brother, Jannie, said this week.
“He never intended to be malicious, but he did intend to hurt the player [Dan Carter] in that tackle that saw him yellow-carded, if I can say that. We do play a physical sport, and that is what you try to do at the end of the day – impose yourself physically on your opponent. But I don’t think there was any malice in it or anything sinister.
“That does not change the fact though that he feels that by being sent off he let not just the team but also the whole country down. We know how important that game was for us. So I know he would really want to come out and play out of his skin on Saturday and make a big difference.”
But again, the incredible weapon that is Bismarck du Plessis’ body needs to be fired with accuracy and control; trying to just blast the Wallabies to smithereens won’t do the job on Saturday.
“All I am hearing and reading is how much the Boks are going to win by, so I am looking forward to the opportunity to challenge that,” said Wallabies coach McKenzie.
Despite their struggles this season, the Australians still have some super rugby players: streetwise front-rankers Moore and Ben Alexander haven’t survived in international rugby and beaten the Springboks on several occasions by being poor players; Hooper, given the chance, could make life very frustrating for the hosts at the breakdown, while there is much to love about the play of Quade Cooper, Israel Folau and Adam Ashley-Cooper when they are on song.
They are the most skilful players in the Wallaby backline and there is also plenty of physicality in centres Christian Lealiifano and Tevita Kuridrani and wing Joe Tomane, and scrumhalf Nic White has a fine kicking game.
With plenty of rain having fallen in Cape Town recently, the Newlands pitch will be soft underfoot and the ball could well be slippery, making running rugby difficult anyway, and perhaps playing into the Springboks’ hands as it should keep them focused on getting the basics right first and laying a solid foundation.
“I have told the players to focus on the basics and forget about the bonus point,” Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said this week. “We can’t look past this game, if we don’t at least win it then we are out of the championship.
“There are a lot of scenarios but if you try to work them all out, add and subtract bonus points, then you lose focus on what is important which is working hard on our own game.”
Let’s hope the players heed their coach’s warning and concentrate on executing their skills, physical and mental, with accuracy and let the result then take care of itself.
South Africa: 15-Zane Kirchner, 14-Willie le Roux, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Fourie du Preez, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Flip van der Merwe, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements – 16-Bismarck du Plessis, 17-Gurthro Steenkamp, 18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Juandre’ Kruger, 20-Siya Kolisi, 21-Ruan Pienaar, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein.
Australia: 15-Israel Folau, 14-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13-Tevita Kuridrani, 12-Christian Lealiifano, 11-Joe Tomane, 10-Quade Cooper, 9-Nic White, 8-Ben Mowen, 7-Michael Hooper, 6-Scott Fardy, 5-James Horwill, 4-Rob Simmons, 3-Ben Alexander, 2-Stephen Moore, 1-James Slipper. Replacements – 16-Saia Fainga’a, 17-Benn Robinson, 18-Sekope Kepu, 19-Sitaleki Timani, 20-Ben McCalman, 21-Will Genia, 22-Matt Toomua, 23-Chris Feauai-Sautia. DM
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