JON CARDINELLI analyses the key match-ups and picks the winner in Saturday’s Test.
Will it matter? Will it matter how the Springboks win this Saturday in Perth?
The Boks desperately need a start; they need a win, however ugly, against top-flight opposition.
They’re playing in a city that has been kind to visiting South African teams in the past, and that will inspire them to believe another win is possible.
However, they haven’t beaten Australia or New Zealand Down Under since September 2009, and haven’t beaten Australia since September 2010. Those are facts and statistics that would shake the confidence of any team, especially one that is short on synergy and experience.
Coach Heyneke Meyer has made some prudent changes, but this new side cannot be expected to gel immediately. It is for this reason that the Boks may stick to their simple game plan, despite the calls to vary their play.
Execution has been a problem as has consistency over the past five Tests. The Boks can be brutally effective when they get it right, and this was evident, albeit in short bursts, during the series against England. They will need to be clinical at the breakdown against Australia, and will need to show more grunt at the collisions than they did against Argentina.
The Boks aren’t anywhere near their fearsome best, but then neither are the Wallabies. It’s for this reason that a trend-breaking win is not impossible for South Africa, especially when one looks at the make-up of both forward packs.
Duane Vermeulen should have been a Springbok three years ago, and deserves his place at No 8. He’s played several matches for Western Province since returning from a serious knee injury, and some feel that he should be gradually introduced to Test rugby. Wrong.
Vermeulen is the kind of player that needs to start, he is not a man to play from the bench. He is best utilised when the game is tight, he is a powerful player that will get you over the gainline in a tight scrap. His momentum-halting defence is just as valuable in such a physical clash. On top of all of that, he’s a great option at the tail of the lineout.
David Pocock isn’t playing in this match. I repeat, David Pocock, the best openside on the planet, the bane of the Boks’ existence over the past three seasons, is not playing in this match. Stow the infantile Bryce Lawrence rhetoric and embrace the fact that Pocock cost the Boks a place in the World Cup semi-finals.
That special player isn’t available to the Wallabies this Saturday, and that is a massive plus for South Africa.
I’m not convinced that Michael Hooper will translate his Super Rugby form to the Test stage. For this reason, the Wallabies should be worried, because Hooper cannot play more than one role.
Hooper is an out-and-out fetcher, and you won’t seem him defending or carrying the ball like Pocock or the Boks’ Francois Louw. It will be a problem for the Wallabies, especially if their pack as a collective does not dominate the collisions.
Radike Samo was fantastic in the 2011 Super Rugby tournament, but his age has started to show in 2012. Like Hooper, Dave Dennis has yet to prove that he belongs at this level.
Willem Alberts will be back at his favourite position of blindside flank, and determined to replicate his performances against England. Marcell Coetzee will also be looking for a better showing, and with Vermeulen now in the mix, it looks to be the most balanced back row the Boks have fielded this year.
Meyer has decided to back Coetzee as a starter, but Louw should be introduced at some stage. It could be that Coetzee shifts to blindside and Alberts to No 8 in such event. The pressure will be on Meyer to make the right calls in terms of new combinations in the second half. There are some talented players on the Bok bench, and how Meyer deploys them (ie in which combination or role) will play a big part in the final result.
While the Wallabies are lacking a few big name players, they will always be favourites at home and it’s going to be another tight scoreline. It won’t be enough that the Bok forwards dominate, the halfbacks will need to take the right options, and Morné Steyn will have to kick his goals.
How will Meyer react if Steyn has another off night with the boot? It will be interesting to see if he brings the uncapped Goosen right into the mix, or trusts in Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar or another reserve in Pat Lambie to shoot for goal. This is another big call that will need to be made if Steyn suffers another mental lapse.
It’s going to be desperate, its going to be ugly, but it’s going to be a start. This Saturday, winning is all that matters, and the Boks should do enough to achieve that objective.
JC’S CALL: Boks by 3
Wallabies – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Dominic Shipperley, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 James Slipper, 18 Scott Higginbotham, 19 Liam Gill, 20 Nick Phipps, 21 Mike Harris
Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Francois Louw, 20 Johan Goosen, 21 Pat Lambie, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.