Boks look to get title challenge back on track
September 26, 2013
Tendai Mtawarira will provide plenty of power for the Springboks © Getty Images
South Africa host Australia in Cape Town on Saturday as they look to keep the pressure on the All Blacks who are sitting pretty at the top of the Rugby Championship table.
The Springboks fell to the Kiwis in the last round of the Championship in a match dogged by Romain Poite's decision to sin-bin Bismarck du Plessis in the first-half for what was a legal tackle on Dan Carter. Du Plessis was then issued another yellow in the first couple of minutes in the second 40; the Boks were reduced to 14 men and the game was over.
South Africa v Australia
The International Rugby Board apologised for Poite's error but that will do little to quell the feeling of injustice within the Boks' camp. They will be smarting from the loss and will be going all out to get their Championship campaign back on track against the Wallabies on Saturday. A win would take the competition to the final match with the Boks hosting the All Blacks in Johannesburg next Saturday.
And they will have the round three victory over the Wallabies for inspiration. They swept aside Ewen McKenzie's charges in Brisbane with a performance packed with power and precision.
The Wallabies have since bounced back and recorded their first win under the new coach when they narrowly beat Argentina 14-13 in dreadful conditions in Perth in round four of the tournament.
But they will have to cope without James O'Connor after he was 'stood down' by the Wallabies after being escorted from Perth Airport on the Sunday following their win with reports claiming he was intoxicated.
And, it remains to be seen if their Brumbies contingent will be distracted by the events in Canberra this week which have seen coach Jake White leave the Super Rugby runners-up in favour of a return back to, of all places, South Africa.
South Africa - Player to Watch: The man formerly regarded as the world's best scrum-half is back and Fourie du Preez starts for the Boks for the first time since the 2011 World Cup. He featured in their demolition of the Pumas in round one of the tournament - a selection allowed by the Boks' agreement with his club side Suntory Sungoliath which frees him for South Africa's home Tests - but this is the first time he will get a chance to showcase his huge array of talents from the outset. It will be great to see him back in the half-backs.
South Africa - Team News: South Africa change two for the Test with Du Preez replacing Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half and Adriaan Strauss getting the nod in place of Bismarck du Plessis at hooker. Both Du Plessis and Pienaar are on the bench with Heyneke Meyer claiming a rotation policy is the reason behind those selection calls.
Australia - Player to Watch: It will be intriguing to see what Tevita Kuridrani brings to the Wallabies' centres. This is his run on debut for McKenzie's men and the South Africans will know exactly what to expect from the Brumbies centre after he scored the winning try against the Bulls in the closing stages of the Super Rugby semi-final.
Australia - Team News: James Horwill is named in the second-row after recovering from a hamstring injury. He takes on the captaincy from Ben Mowen. In other changes to the side, Kuridrani starts at outside centre with Adam Ashley-Cooper shifting to the wing to replace the injured Nick Cummins. Joe Tomane is called upon to step into the suspended O'Connor's shoes on the other flank. Nic White keeps his place at scrum-half with Will Genia still relegated to the bench. He will be joined in the replacements by Benn Robinson and Chris Feauai-Sautia with the latter set to make his Test debut if he gets the nod from the bench.
Australia celebrate Israel Folau's try against Argentina © Getty Images
Key Battle: Bryan Habana comes up against Adam Ashley-Cooper on the flank. It will be power and pace against tactical astuteness. Ashley-Cooper last played on the wing for the Aussies in November 2012 but due to his unrivalled versatility across the back five, he will slot into the No.14 shirt seamlessly.
Trivia: After the fandango regarding Poite's call in Auckland, there will be another French referee taking charge of Saturday's game - Jerome Garces. This will be his first Test involving the Springboks.
Stats: The Du Plessis brothers will become the first set of South African brothers to play in 50 Tests for their country on Saturday with Jannie bringing up his half century. In the process, they become the fifth pair of brothers worldwide to achieve the feat. The others are Italians Mauro and Mirco Bergamasco, Scots Scott and Gavin Hastings, Italians Massimo and Marcello Cuttitta and Kiwis Robin and Zinzan Brooke.
Betting: If you fancy Australia to make it two from two, you can get odds of 4/1 with bet365. But if you reckon South Africa will replicate their 26-point win like they did in Brisbane, odds of 11/1 are on offer.
"They have endured through difficult times but have shown a lot of resilience and that is why they have made it to this special milestone. It's well-deserved and a privilege only a very small percentage of Springboks have achieved."
"Two wins in a row would be significant for this team, especially winning in South Africa given their current circumstance. We've got a great opportunity to be a thorn in what they are trying to do."
Prediction: South Africa will bounce back from their loss to the All Blacks and tee up a title decider in Johannesburg next week with a bonus-point win.
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.