JON CARDINELLI previews the Rugby Championship battle at Loftus Versfeld and picks a winner.
How can we lose to this Wallabies side? Yes, I know, it was the same question I asked when I previewed the Test in Perth. But come on, how did the Boks blow a 13-3 advantage and lose to a side sans so many Test stars?
Surely it can’t happen again. For starters, the Wallabies are even worse off in terms of personnel, as Will Genia and Quade Cooper are no longer available. Then there’s the welcome fact that this Test will be played at Loftus, a venue that has never witnessed a Wallabies victory.
So let’s rephrase the question. Instead of asking, how the Boks can lose to this rudderless bunch of B-teamers, let’s ask, what makes this Wallabies side believe they can win at Loftus for the first time in 50 years of trying?
Do they have the pack? Certainly not. The statistics show that they are one of the weakest and most penalised teams in the competition as far as scrumming is concerned. They may boast a lineout master in Nathan Sharpe, but that set piece is not exactly spoiled for options and Tatafu-Polota Nau is notorious for failing to find his jumpers.
How about the breakdowns and mauls? The Boks have lacked discipline in this area if we consider the overall stats for the tournament, but there was a marked improvement in that previous Test in Dunedin. They seem to be settling as a forward unit, and produced a far more powerful and accurate showing in this area.
They will threaten the Wallabies when they maul from the lineout. And now that they’re fielding a more balanced back row, they will enjoy dominance at the collisions on attack, and trouble the Wallabies when the visitors take the ball into contact. In this respect, except the versatile Francois Louw to thrive as a ball-stealer and momentum-killer.
The performance of the pack is all important. The Boks need to establish dominance up front and slow the Wallabies down if they are going to record their first win against Australasian opposition in 2012. There should be no change in tactics, no matter who starts at flyhalf. Playing expansively will only play into the Wallabies’ hands.
The spotlight is on Johan Goosen when it should really be on the Bok pack as a collective. If they can overpower their Aussie counterparts, and men like Louw can prevent the Wallabies halfbacks from getting quick ball, then the Boks will have the opportunity to implement their game plan.
The Bok pack laid this platform in Dunedin, and were unfortunately let down by their halfbacks. Ruan Pienaar and new flyhalf Goosen will need to deliver a sharper showing at Loftus, both in terms of option-taking and execution. They should look to steer play into the opposition half, and when they do move the ball, Goosen will be under pressure to create space for his outside backs.
It’s is so damn obvious it’s almost a crime to say it, but the Boks need to take their opportunities this weekend. The Wallabies are the cockroaches of Test rugby (and I mean that as a compliment). They’re the kings of ugly wins. They’re capable of sustaining the most savage of beatings up front and somehow surviving to eke out undeserved victories.
The bottom line is that the Boks must kick their goals and convert their try-scoring chances. In this respect, Heyneke Meyer will be asking for more of the same from his forwards, that is a performance that will lay the platform, and far more from his halfbacks Pienaar and Goosen.
The Boks shouldn’t lose this game, but it is a possibility. They blew two great opportunities to win Down Under, and it is because of those mental lapses that they won’t take anything for granted at Loftus.
I’m not excusing those soft moments, but I am saying that the second-half performance in Pretoria will be under scrutiny. Playing in front of a partisan crowd should help in the last minutes of the game, as no matter the scoreline, a contest with Aussies is always in the balance until the final whistle.
But I believe they will pass the test. There is too much quality in that Bok side, and a fair bit of experience, for them to lose at home. To what degree they win is the real question. I’m not expecting a clinical performance, but I am expecting them to do enough to give South African supporters a reason to smile for the first time in two months.
PREDICTION: Boks by 10
Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermuelen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Marcel Coetzee, 20 Elton Jantjies, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Pat Lambie.
Wallabies – 15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Dominic Shipperley, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson
Subs: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Scott Higginbotham, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Anthony Fainga’a