Dick Muir says Australia’s selections suggest they’ll play a more direct game against the Springboks in Bloemfontein.
In the build-up to the Loftus Test, the visitors didn’t hide their intent to adopt a blueprint that brought them success in Brisbane. Although playing wide immediately worked to a large extent in Pretoria, costly mistakes towards the end of the match meant they didn’t secure what would have been a famous win.
While their width-based approach succeeded at Suncorp as the Boks didn’t employ a fetcher, the hosts’ change of mindset and intensity at the breakdowns also helped thwart the Australians’ wide attacks in the return match. The influence of Juan Smith instead of Ryan Kankowski must also be noted.
Coach Robbie Deans has responded to the Loftus defeat by making three changes to the team, in promoting forwards Stephen Moore, Mark Chisholm and Ben McCalman. Quade Cooper and Will Genia are the play-makers in the Australian line-up, and their attacking the advantage line will suit these forward runners.
‘We’re expecting them to be a bit more direct,’ said the Bok backline coach. ‘If you look at their selection changes, they’ll try muscle up to us and be more physical.’
Many critics have questioned the intensity of the Loftus Test, where missed tackles and the frantic nature of the match led to a loose contest, but Muir felt otherwise. As the Australian approach last week aided in the helter skelter match, Muir suggested it could be different in Bloem if Australia try keep the match tighter, although it’s unlikely they’ll change their ball in hand game.
‘Last week the opportunities lent themselves to that type of play. You can also only play as your opponents allow you to. It was a great festival of rugby.’
In response to Bryan Habana’s waning form, Muir spoke some sense compared to Peter de Villiers. The Bok coach was on the defensive regarding Habana’s continued selection and chose to make sarcastic comments, while Muir gave a rugby answer. He said for a player of Habana’s stature, criticism is expected and that they were trying their best to find ways to break the try-scoring drought (his last three Test tries have come in 10 Tests and have all been against Italy).
‘All great players have these spells where they lose form. Bryan has set the bar very high, so we probably notice it more. He’s one of the most dedicated players and he’s working hard to get back to his best, so I’m not overly concerned about his form.
‘I don’t think breaking the try-scoring record [Habana is equal with Joost van der Westhuizen's mark of 38] is having any effect on him. He’s bigger than that and he plays for the team.
‘I’ve encouraged Bryan to come off his wing and look for work, and he’ll be rewarded. If he makes one glaring mistake, everyone jumps to conclusions that he’s off form.
‘That’s the business we’re in, we get criticised. It’s about being bigger than that and working hard to rectify it.’
By Grant Ball, in Bloemfontein