JON CARDINELLI says the Springboks will battle for momentum during the early stages but should still be good enough to beat the inconsistent Wallabies at Kings Park.
I wrote on Thursday that the Boks will battle for synergy in the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s Test, and that many of the returning players would take some time to readjust to the intensity of Test rugby as well as the new defensive patterns.
My sentiments haven’t changed following the announcement of the Bok 22, and my pick is based on the experience of the hosts as well as the Wallabies’ tendency to fade in the closing stages of a big contest.
Robbie Deans’s selections suggest that he’s aware of the fact that the Wallabies are not great game finishers. He’s included five forwards on the bench in the hope that the visitors will maintain their forward intensity for the full 80 minutes.
The Wallabies will be dangerous after last week’s loss to the All Blacks. They were beaten by the All Blacks at the point of contact, and that more than the result or anything else would have brought them back to reality. The Bok side that starts in Durban will differ greatly to the Bok side that started in Sydney, and if the Wallabies don’t front physically, they will have no chance of scoring an upset.
The Boks boast plenty of experience but not much game time, and will take some time to get into the Test. If the Wallabies can take an early lead and maintain that momentum into the crucial periods before and half time, they will fancy their chances to win.
Their cause will be aided by the return of Nathan Sharpe, a lineout exponent held in high regard by Victor Matfield, the lineout king himself. The Boks will be the favourites in this department given they have four world-class jumpers (Danie Rossouw will play a Juan Smith-type role at the tail), but much will depend on the lineout-throwing accuracy of John Smit.
Deans has also picked some powerful ball-carriers, and Scott Higginbotham will be expected to pick up from where he left off in Auckland. Fetcher David Pocock represents the biggest threat to the Boks, and that ball stealing or momentum-slowing threat at the ruck will be amplified if the Wallabies dominate at the collisions.
Peter de Villiers will hope that his forwards respond to the Wallabies’ combative attitude early on and provide the platform for Heinrich Brüssow to flourish. With the current law set allowing for more of a breakdown contest, Brüssow will be a factor. Just how much of a factor will depend on the work of the Bok heavies as a collective and Brüssow’s own ability to adapt to Bryce Lawrence’s refereeing style.
The Boks will favour a game plan that resembles that of the Stormers. They have two of the finest defensive exponents in midfield, and the premier defensive flyhalf in Butch James. Unlike the Stormers, the Boks have the tactical kickers to dominate the Wallabies in a battle for territory, but the question remains if the Boks have had enough time to adjust to these new tactics. Saturday will represent their first run in a match situation.
While the lack of game time is a concern, one should not overestimate the Wallabies. They lack an accurate goal-kicker, and flyhalf Quade Cooper has proved that a fine Super Rugby player doesn’t necessarily translate into a fine Test player. The Boks would do well to target the Wallabies’ pack and Will Genia behind it. If they succeed in nullifying these threats, the dangerous Wallabies’ backline will be rendered impotent.
Providing the Boks negotiate that opening quarter without sustaining too much damage on the scoreboard, they should be good enough to beat the Wallabies. They will get better as the game progresses and while it would be unfair to expect a sharp showing in their first hit-out as a collective, we should still expect an experienced Bok side to win at home.
The potential pitfall is their coach. De Villiers is not known for his technical nous and notorious for his dubious management of the bench when the game reaches the second half. If De Villiers fails to get this right, it could give the Wallabies a further opportunity to steal an upset.
Prediction: Boks by 5
Springboks – 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Morne Steyn, 22 Gio Aplon.
Wallabies – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (c), 5 James Horwill, 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Salesi Ma’afu, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Anthony Faingaa.