Boks and Wallabies have nothing to lose
August 27, 2010
Victor Matfield will win his 100th cap on his home ground this weekend © Getty Images
The All Blacks' thrilling, perfectly plotted charge to the Tri-Nations title has left both South Africa and Australia frantically scrabbling to make up ground, with the Springboks in dire need of a pick-me-up after their big day out at Soweto's FNB Stadium was ruined by a combination of Richie McCaw and Israel Dagg last weekend.
At Pretoria's fearsome Loftus Versfeld on Saturday they face a Wallabies side equally anxious to silence their critics after back-to-back losses to the champions washed away the positivity generated by a comfortable 30-13 victory over the Boks in Brisbane on July 24. A victory on South Africa's high veldt - it would be their first since 1963 - would go a long way towards adding some substance to their claims of progress. For the home side, they've nothing to lose after a miserable run of four consecutive losses.
South Africa - Player to Watch: Victor Matfield. The giant Bulls lock will claim his 100th cap on his home ground, where in the colours of the Bulls he has won every domestic honour available to him. The home faithful worship Matfield and after John Smit's missed tackle on Ma'a Nonu consigned his century celebrations to the scrapheap last weekend, there's room for some good news. Should the Boks pull this one out of the fire Matfield will become their first successful centurion after Smit joined Percy Montgomery in losing his 100th Test.
Australia - Player to Watch: Quade Cooper. The Australian media loves a good publicity storm and Cooper has provided in spades since his name was first linked with a lucrative move to the NRL several weeks ago. While he has sensibly remained quiet on the subject of the Parramatta Eels, there is a nagging thought that his mercurial footballing skills should be enjoyed while they're still part of the 15-man-code.
The Key Battle: It's said before every Test match, but the breakdown is where this game will be won and lost. South Africa were transformed last week by the return of Juan Smith from a long-term hiatus and the Cheetahs skipper showed every drop of his class and power by hauling his side kicking and screaming onto the front-foot. Both he and Schalk Burger will be after the Wallaby with No.7 on his back, David Pocock. Built like an Action Man doll who has taken a mallet to the head, Pocock's skills over the ball will test the Boks in the absence of their own specialist fetcher, Heinrich Brussow.
Trivia: The last man to captain Australia to victory on the high veldt was the remarkable John Thornett. He was at the helm when the Wallabies picked up an 11-9 victory at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in 1963. During his Test career, Thornett won caps in all three rows of the scrum. He started in the back-row 15 times, at flanker, the second-row on 10 occasions and rounded off his career at the coal-face, securing 12 caps at prop - both loose-head and tight-head.
Stats: Wallabies centre Matt Giteau needs 14 points to overtake Stirling Mortlock as his country's leading scorer against South Africa. He currently sits third on the list with 137 points from 19 Tests, three behind fullback Matt Burke and 13 behind his former skipper, whose current tally came from 18 outings.
The Odds: If you've got some cash burning a hole in your pocket, Stan James are offering a Wallaby win at 2/1 or a draw at 22/1. They fancy the Springboks at 4/11. An Aussie win by 6-10 points comes in at 13/2, with the Boks by the same margin a 4/1 punt. For those optimists out there, a big away win, by 21-25, is a tasty 33/1.
Prediction: South Africa by a nose. With their favourite son winning his 100th cap the Loftus faithful will be at their vociferous best and the Springboks have every reason to cut loose after a demoralising campaign. If this becomes an arm-wrestle, there's only one winner.
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