Rocky Elsom and Adam Ashley-Cooper believe that defence will hold sway on Sunday as it has for much of the 2011 World Cup.
The Wallabies possess some of the most exciting attacking players in world rugby. Will Genia and Quade Cooper are widely acknowledged as the most potent halfback pairing in the game, while winger Digby Ioane provides the backline with both physicality and pace.
Add to that the individual stepping brilliance and vision of Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor, and it’s fair to say the Wallabies are the most dangerous side from an attacking perspective.
In a tournament like the World Cup, however, a great attacking game isn’t sufficient. History will show that the strongest defensive teams have often gone on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup. On Tuesday, Wallabies flanker Rocky Elsom said that 2011 wouldn’t be too different from past competitions.
‘You can’t win a game by relying solely on attack or defence, but if you’ve watched the games at this tournament you will notice that the obvious difference between these matches and others [non-World Cup games] is that there’s a bigger emphasis on defence,’ Elsom said.
‘The Tri-Nations is a different setting and you need to play a different game, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t adapt to the way the game is played [in the World Cup] or that South Africa [the Wallabies' quarter-final opponents] can’t adapt either.’
The Boks have struggled in this department in recent years, conceding as many as 22 tries in the 2010 Tri-Nations. Their first-string side delivered a better showing in the last two games of the 2011 tournament, and the Boks maintained these standards in their World Cup pool matches as far as tries conceded were concerned, leaking just two in four games.
Bok assistant coach Gary Gold believes the team has made massive defensive strides since 2010, although he maintains that not a whole lot has changed with regards to their structure.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Wallabies centre Adam Ashley-Cooper also felt the current Bok systems are indeed similar to those of 2010.
‘I don’t think there have been any changes to their defence over the last few years,’ Ashley-Cooper said. ‘It was more about our great shape and execution [when Australia scored a host of tries against the Boks in Pretoria and Bloemfontein].
‘They have a great D line and we will have to show the same focus and accuracy [that we did in 2010]. We have to ensure we run square and get over the advantage line.’
The Boks believe they have improved with every pool match, but Elsom argued that momentum and form are irrelevant when a tournament of this nature reaches the play-offs.
‘You don’t really talk about momentum at the business end of a tournament like this. It’s more like you need three big games. Win, lose or draw, you will have to start afresh next week, because you will either be going home or preparing for a semi-final. That semi will be an entirely new game.
‘We will have a clearer view of where world rugby sits after this game.’
By Jon Cardinelli, in Wellington