Boks eye up wounded Wallabies
October 6, 2011
The tournament-ending injury suffered by Drew Mitchell against Russia was the last thing the Wallabies needed © Getty Images
Defending champions South Africa tackle Tri-Nations title holders Australia at the Wellington Regional Stadium on Sunday in arguably the pick of the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
A meeting between the Springboks and the Wallabies in the last eight has come as huge surprise - but a most a welcome one for the neutrals. And indeed those affiliated with countries from the northern hemisphere. It's fair to say, though, that neither the Springboks nor the Wallabies are too enamoured by the timing of this southern hemisphere showdown.
The Aussies are to blame, of course, after suffering a shock defeat by Ireland in the pool stages. They bounced back with predictably comfortable wins over USA and Russia but were still forced to settle for second place in their group behind the Irish, who despatched Italy in impressive fashion in their crunch clash in Dunedin last weekend.
Worse still for the Wallabies, their victories over the Eagles and the Bears came at a heavy price as they saw Wycliff Palu and Drew Mitchell sustain tournament-ending injuries and a plethora of other players pick up serious knocks. The likes of Berrick Barnes have shone in the absence of some first-team regulars and, crucially, David Pocock made his return to action against the Russians, but the plain truth of the matter is that the Aussies are going into a monumental showdown with the Springboks with doubts remaining over the fitness of several key men.
The Boks have had their own injury problems, albeit to the same extent as that of their opponents. However, the loss of Frans Steyn to a shoulder problem picked up against Samoa last Friday is a colossal blow. Aside from being an exceptionally talented and versatile back, Steyn is also in possession of one of the biggest boots in world rugby. He is virtually irreplaceable.
The good news for the Boks is, though, that fitness concerns over other star performs have eased. They have also emerged battled hardened from Pool D after some titanic tussles with Wales and Samoa. Their demolition of Fiji aside, the Boks have not found any great fluency or cohesion in the play but their doggedness and will to win remain very much in evidence. Once again, they have shown that they know how to get the job done, which is ominous for the wounded Wallabies.
Australia - Player to Watch: Can winger Digby Ioane make a dream return from injury and get among the tries?
Australia - Team News: Fullback Kurtley Beale, wing Digby Ioane and centre Pat McCabe all return from injury. Beale replaces injured wing Drew Mitchell, with James O'Connor relocating back to the right wing, while Ioane resumes in the place of stand-in Radike Samo, who switches back to No.8. McCabe gets the nod over Berrick Barnes who drops to the bench. Samo's return to the pack is one of five changes to the forwards, with flanker Rocky Elsom, second row Dan Vickerman, tight-head prop Ben Alexander and loose-head prop Sekope Kepu all backj on duty.
South Africa - Player to Watch: Flanker Heinrich Brussow is set to be all over the breakdown like a rash but will he get everything his own way?
South Africa - Team News: John Smit gets the nod over Bismark du Plessis at hooker for South Africa. Gurthro Steenkamp packs down at loose-head in the place of Tendai Mtawarira while Jean de Villiers fills the void at inside centre left by Frans Steyn who suffered a tournament-ending shoulder injury in the game against Samoa. Danie Rossouw and Victor Matfield will forge the second-row partnership this weekend after Bakkies Botha was ruled out of the rest of the World Cup.
Key Battle: This game sees the best No.9s in the world go head-to-head. Both South Africa's Fourie du Preez and Australia's Will Genia make their sides tick but who will have the greater say in this contest?
Stats: South Africa fly-half Morne Steyn is the tournament's top points scorer, with 53 points to his name
Trivia: The Springboks and the Wallabies have met twice before in the World Cup, in 1995 and 1999, and on both occasions the victors went on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup
"We've gone with the players, and the combinations, which have served us best through the year to date."
"They are confrontational in their forwards and get it right for most of the game. They never, never give up. And then their exciting backs, if you give them a sniff or space or the ball, they will run and take you to pieces."
Prediction: The Aussies defeated the Boks twice during the Tri-Nations but the momentum which they took with them to New Zealand has been halted by injuries and a shock defeat by Ireland. They now look vulnerable and South Africa, who remain masters of winning ugly, look perfectly placed to take advantage.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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