Preview: Wallabies vs Springboks

Keo.co.za previews the Tri-Nations Test in Perth on Saturday.

Victory would see the Springboks take a significant step to securing the Tri-Nations title, but that victory won’t be easily attainable, despite the Wallabies’ struggles with injuries to key players.

Furthermore, coach Peter de Villiers has complicated an already arduous task by axing in-form fullback Frans Steyn for Ruan Pienaar. De Villiers explained Pienaar’s inclusion saying, ‘We want to keep his interest levels high and we can’t afford to lose Ruan.’

Lose him to what? A European contract seems the only logical conclusion. Are the title ambitions of the Springboks not more important than placating individuals?

However, despite that perplexing selection, the Springboks will still be too good for the Wallabies, but don’t expect as polished a performance as those they delivered in their last two Tests.

The two-week break would have hampered their momentum, while the reduced preparation time in Perth (they effectively had just three days to prepare as a squad) won’t do them any favours. Add to that the mental demands of being away from home and you should realistically expect an ugly rather than an emphatic win.

Thankfully for the Springboks the Wallabies have been hit by injuries to key players, which would have adversely affected their preparation. They have lost second-row stalwart Nathan Sharpe to a shoulder injury. That’s 79 Test caps watching from the stands and one can equate that to the Springboks losing Victor Matfield in terms of the leadership he brings. Consider that they lose 68 caps with Al Baxter benched, and a further 80 with injured captain Stirling Mortlock sharing a coffee with Sharpe on the terraces, and you realise that the likes of Matt Giteau, George Smith and Rocky Elsom will have to carry this side.

Don’t expect the Springboks to change a game plan that has proved so successful to date, and in this regard one should be braced for a kick-fest directed by the brilliant halfback pair of Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn. The kick chase is vital to the success of this game plan, as is dominance at the collision points and breakdown, and the Springboks will have to excel in those facets of play if they hope to come away with the points. The breakdown, in particular, will feature an enticing battle between Heinrich Brussow and George Smith, with the victor making a significant contribution to the success of their side.

The Springboks have the added benefit of having an idea of how the Wallabies will play. They have to score a bonus point victory to have a realistic chance of claiming the title, and the failure to execute an expansive game accurately will play into the visitors’ hands.

Having said all this, set phase dominance must never be discounted. The Wallabies pressured the Springboks at scrum time at Newlands, but whether they’ll be able to replicate that performance without Baxter and Sharpe remains to be seen. They’ll struggle at the lineouts though, with Matfield ruling the air. This places added importance on the Springboks achieving parity or bossing the scrums, because if they can rob the Wallabies of an attacking platform from first phase, half the job is done. Let’s not forget that it is also an area of the Wallabies’ game where they have conceded a number of penalties throughout the tournament, and the white hot Steyn hasn’t look like missing a penalty all year.

The Wallabies’ woes extend to their back division. Flyhalf Matt Giteau has been uncharacteristically poor of late, and he’ll miss Berrick Barnes at 12. The Reds man acts as a second pivot and takes pressure off Giteau because of his kicking and distribution skills. Barnes’ replacement Adam Ashley-Cooper is better suited to the space and time afforded at fullback and outside centre, while Ryan Cross, in at 13, hasn’t started a Test against world-class opposition in some time.

There’s plenty of pace on the wings and a prodigious talent in James O’Connor at fullback, but between them they have just 27 Test caps, compared to the Springbok back three, who boast 112 and three World Cup winner’s medals. Expect the Aussie trio’s aptitude under the high ball to be tested all evening, but one cannot help but think this will be a vulnerable area.

With a further four World Cup winners on the wood, including Schalk Burger, the Springboks should pose a sustained threat.

Everything points to a Springbok victory. However, the Wallabies will be fuelled by the desire to grab a win that keeps them in the competition, and that in itself is a massive motivation that will ensure they’ll be very difficult to beat.

Prediction: Springboks by 12

Wallabies – 15 James O’Connor, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 11 Peter Hynes, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Richard Brown, 7 George Smith (c), 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 James Horwill, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Al Baxter, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 David Pocock, 20 Will Genia, 21 Quade Cooper, 22 Drew Mitchell.

Springboks – 15 Ruan Pienaar, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 John Smit (c), 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Adi Jacobs, 22 Frans Steyn.