Australia hosts the Springboks in round three of the Rugby Championship this weekend, and a crunch match it is set to be. Let’s take a look at some of the key areas and match-ups and see if we can select a winner based on that.
Before we start, I have to note that is the toughest match of the tournament so far for the Springboks, having faced the Argentinians in the first two rounds. Even though the Boks beat the Argies comprehensively in South Africa, they struggled to a win in Argentina. The first victory may seem comprehensive, but considering the Argentinians are ranked tenth in World Rugby, the result should have been expected.
Australia comes off two losses against New Zealand, and even though their confidence might be low, they will know they have faced the toughest opposition already, and the matches from here on in will only get easier. Facing the Springboks in Brisbane, where the Wallabies have never lost to South Africa, will give them the belief that they can uphold that record and get on the board with their first win of the tournament.
Starting in the front, we have to compare packs. The Springbok pack is known to be big and tough, with plenty power and will be expected to dominate. While I agree that the Springbok front row with Beast, Bismarck and Jannie is stronger than the opposition, as well as the second row being better thanks to James Horwill being injured, the loose forward battle is a much closer contest.
In my mind, the Australian loose forwards of Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper and Ben Mowen are more mobile and better on the ground than the South African trio of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen. Louw may be the best South Africa have to offer in terms of a fetcher, but Hooper is most likely the best in the world and has the added benefit of being faster than Louw. Alberts is a wrecking ball, but we have seen how he can be targeted with smarter players and become wholly ineffective. As for the two eighthmen, Mowen is a more complete player, even though I am a big fan of Vermeulen.
As soon as we start looking at the backline, we will see the odds shift firmly in favour of the home team. Will Genia is the world’s best scrumhalf, there is no doubt, and South Africa are stuck with Ruan Pienaar, who may be solid, but will be under the cosh from early in this match. And we all know what happens when Pienaar is under pressure, he buckles. And a buckling scrumhalf will do the rest of the backline no favours.
Ewen McKenzie has opted to start Quade Cooper in this match, and even though he is as predictable as the weather on a Durban summer’s day, he has a point to prove. His elusive running style will haunt the South African defence and is sure to keep the back three guessing in terms of his tactical kicking game. A back three that has been shuffled and includes Zane Kirchner who has played very little rugby, might I add.
The Australians are sure to have a better kicking game on the night, having two flyhalves in Cooper and Lealiifano, both able to step into the channel to clear. The Boks have countered that to a certain degree, having two fullbacks in the back three.
Matching up the midfields we have the experience of Jean de Villiers and the brute strength and pace of JJ Engelbrecht facing up to a flyhalf in Lealiifano and a wing in Adam-Ashley Cooper. Cooper is a strong runner though, similar to Engelbrecht, with Cooper definitely the stronger on defence.
That leaves us with the back three. This is where the Aussies have got it right for this match, selecting Israel Folau at fullback. This shift from wing will give the ex-league star so much more space on attack, and with the Springboks’ game plan of kicking away possession, Folau is set to run at them all day. The wings are no slouches, with James O’Connor, yet another with flyhalf experience, as elusive as Beale on the run, and a flyer in Nick Cummings, who has pace to burn. The same can be said about the South Africans though, with Willie le Roux as elusive as his counterpart, equally quick as well. In Bryan Haban, the Boks have a try scoring machine with a nose for the tryline. A very equal back three, but with the varying game plans to be employed, I suspect the Wallabies will get to run a whole lot more.
All in all, two very talented teams, but I fear that looking at the overall picture, the Australians are set to have just too much for the Springboks. The Bok pack might be able to get the upper hand, but whether the Boks run the ball or kick the ball, the Wallabies will have both areas covered in terms of their loose forwards and attacking counter attack from the back.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Adam-Ashley Cooper, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 James O’Connor, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (captain), 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper
Substitutes: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Jesse Mogg
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Juandré Kruger, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan SerfonteinTweet