Australia aren’t spooked by the challenge of having to match the Springboks physically. They’re relishing the battle.
Nullifying the Springboks’ strike runners has always been the root of victory. The defending champions rely heavily on the space and time created by dominating the gainline to successfully employ their kick-chase approach and the Wallabies are acutely aware of the importance of denying them that platform.
While their back division gets the most press, Robbie Deans and his coaching staff have built a pack who have bested the Springboks in recent years, and one whose threat is amplified by their intelligence. Hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau says how they fare in the forward exchanges will be decisive to the outcome, particularly if the torrential rain and strong winds that have lashed Wellington persist.
‘It would favour the Boks if it rains, but if it does become a forward-orientated battle our attitude is “bring it on”,’ Polota-Nau said. ‘We’ll have a tougher job getting the backs space though. On defence, we’ve had good success in stopping them behind the advantage line and we have to get that right again. If its clearer we’ll probably have the edge.’
The forecast is for clear skies and light winds, but the nation’s capital has consistently defied predictions. Star flyhalf Quade Cooper said conditions would dictate their tactics to some degree, but added that they were loathe to veer too far from their preferred expansive approach.
‘If it stays [wet and windy] it will required some tactical adaptation, particularly from 9,10 and 15,’ Cooper said. ‘It was interesting in training today, a few of the kicks went backwards and there was sideways rain around. You don’t often get these type of conditions but if they stay around we’ll have to adapt.
‘But I don’t think we’ll change our game radically. We have to work to our strengths. We don’t want to go into our shell and play a game that doesn’t suit us.’
Goal kicking is likely to be a central feature in the match. Springboks flyhalf Morne Steyn – the tournament’s most successful player in this regard – said on Tuesday that the Cake Tin was the most difficult venue for kickers because of the swirling wind. James O’Connor concurred, and added that he hadn’t enjoyed much success at training thus far.
He explained that he was working closely with former Springboks flyhalf Braam van Straaten (kicking consultant) to remedy his struggles. ‘Braam has been massively influential in my kicking. He’ll stay out there all day if you can kick that long. I’m surprised the Springboks haven’t snapped him up, but I’m just happy we got in first.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.
Follow Ryan’s World Cup coverage on Twitter