GRANT BALL says Australia blew their chance at breaking the highveld drought and another loss in Bloem will follow.
The contest to avoid the wooden spoon produced a loose affair last week, a game that suited the visitors in their quest to break a 47-year losing streak at altitude. They dominated possession in the last half hour, especially, but still botched it.
The tourists have spoken about the self-belief gained from their start, but it’s more likely that lost opportunity will haunt them and only serve up more mental demons. Reversing the result this Saturday after the nature of the Loftus blowout will take massive character from this Aussie unit, but they don’t appear to have the necessary mental fortitude to win in tough conditions, or when they’ve got themselves into commanding positions (for example, 21-7).
If the Boks allow the Wallabies a similar buffer in Bloem it will only highlight their defensive and tactical frailties, but as poor as the Boks have been throughout the competition, you can’t see that happening again.
Robbie Deans’ response has been to make three changes to his pack, two of them clear acts of desperation. Ben McCalman is selected to bring some physicality, but picking a lock at No 8 for his first Test start is a gamble at altitude. The Boks will adopt their kick-chase approach, and McCalman’s tactical nous at the back and his covering skills will be tested to the limit. Mark Chisholm displaces Dean Mumm in the second row, but whether Chisholm is the answer is highly debatable – he’ll play his first Tri-Nations Test this year after last featuring in Australia’s unconvincing win over Ireland in June.
The elevation of hooker Stephen Moore is no surprise, but it again highlights how big an opportunity the Wallabies wasted in Pretoria. Saia Fainga’a's lineout throwing faltered and he didn’t offer much in the loose, but Deans failed to bring on Moore and other substitutes when individuals were tiring.
The Boks have neglected the opportunity to blood new players and have made just one change – promoting Danie Rossouw – before the majority of the players undergo a conditioning camp. Whether their minds are on the break or what will be the final Test of the year for some will go a long way to determining the performance.
The standard of their showing is important in gauging whether the Boks have stagnated or regressed over the past six internationals, while their competitors have advanced. If the Boks can re-produce a similar set piece display as Loftus, and then replicate the team breakdown performance, they’ll have the quality possession needed to dominate the fragile Aussie defence.
It’s no surprise Morne Steyn had his best Test of the year, as did Jean de Villiers, against an Aussie midfield of Quade Cooper, Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper. As dangerous as that trio are with ball in hand, if the Boks get front foot ball, they should look no further than attacking No’s 10, 12, and 13.
A possible second win out of six will get De Villiers crowing once more (who knows what he could say post-match), but it may just serve to lead to complacency and unfounded confidence that the Boks are on the right track under their eccentric coach.
Prediction: Boks by 10
Springboks – 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Gio Aplon.
Australia – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (c), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Mark Chisholm, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Anthony Fainga’a.