No bullseye on halfback hotshots

Bakkies Botha says there is no directive to target Australia’s halfback pair of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, stressing the importance of collective synergy on defence.

Genia and Cooper have been instrumental in Australia’s recent dominance over the Springboks, the former orchestrating play with consummate skill, while the latter has consistently brought his strike runners into play, or dazzled with individual brilliance. He leads the tournament in try and linebreak assists and is placed eighth in the tournament for the most metres gained when running.

However, Cooper has also grown his repertoire of skills appreciably in the last year, and is now also adept at playing the percentages, as he exhibited often with the Reds and Wallabies, particularly against the elite defensive teams. To underline his adaptability, he is in the top 10 for kicks and the top three for most kick metres.

Nullifying them begins with dominance in the pack, Botha said, but he added that there was no plan to physically intimidate the duo into submission.

‘This Test will be won and lost up front and if we do well there then their backline will be less of a factor. There isn’t a plan to target individuals,’ Botha explained.

‘The key for us will be to work together in the [defensive] system and to work hard within that system. If the guy to your left and right is on the same page we’ll do well.’

Botha identified the set piece and breakdown as the key facets of play. He refuted the suggestion that Ireland exposed vulnerabilities in the Wallabies’ scrum and added that their lineout was one of the few that could compete with the Springboks’.

‘I think they’ll play Sharpy [lock Nathan Sharpe] this weekend to try and test Victor [Matfield], who is the best lineout lock in the world,’ he said. ‘They also have Dan Vickerman, who is a world-class player. I think the team that [gets a good launch] from lineout and scrums could come away with the win.

‘They’ve also increased the physicality of their pack under Robbie Deans and in recent years they have become one of the most physical teams in the game,’ he continued. ‘That has a lot to do with their backline being able to play the way they do. We’ll have to bring our best game at the breakdown to try and stop their flow.’

Matfield echoed his long-time second row partner’s thoughts. ‘The Australian set piece is very good. They have three or four locks who really know how to run a lineout. Their scrum struggled against Ireland but when they’ve played us they were solid. The basics of rugby stay important. Hopefully we can put them under pressure,’ he said.

The Wallabies have beaten the Springboks in five of the last six meetings. Botha predicted that they wouldn’t veer from the formula that has worked for them, but warned the Springboks were a far more cohesive unit now than they have been in the recent past.

‘They won’t change much in terms of the way they play. The only difference will be that we’ve had seven or eight weeks together now where in the past we haven’t had that much time to prepare,’ he said.

‘They’ll stick to what they do best and we’ll do what we think has worked for us against them in the past. Then it comes down to who handles the pressure of a quarter-final better.’

By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.

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