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Jon Cardinelli

A Tale of Two Mindsets

Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia

Saturday's Test at Suncorp Stadium will witness a clash of cultures as much as playing styles, and it could be that the Wallabies are the more desperate for victory, writes JON CARDINELLI in Brisbane.

Who wants this one more? I've always hated the simplicity of the question, although I find it particularly apt ahead of the Castle Rugby Championship Test in Brisbane.

The Springboks will not admit it, but they don't need to win this game – at least, not as much as the Wallabies.

Yes, there is a need for the Boks to break their duck at the Brisbane stronghold at some point. However, to do so with a team vastly inferior to the side that last visited Suncorp Stadium in 2010 would be a remarkable over-achievement. A defeat for a Bok team in just the second year of their development would not signify disaster.

So perhaps I should rephrase the question: Do the Boks need a win as much as the Wallabies? Having spent time in both camps over the past week, I have to say no.

Who wants to be remembered as the team that relinquished a long-standing record of seven straight victories over the Boks at what has become a fortress?

The Wallabies have endured a terrible season to date, but they are yet to hit rock bottom. The right decision has been made to appoint a new coach, and the right call has been to hand this job to Ewen McKenzie.

Nevertheless, the former Reds mentor has been under incredible pressure from the outset. McKenzie has been instructed not only to produce results, but also to renew the public's faith in what's becoming an unpopular code Down Under.

Even in far-removed South Africa, it is well known that union struggles to compete against the bigger codes of Australian rules, rugby league and even soccer for media coverage and sponsorship.

My experiences in Brisbane this past week have done nothing to contradict that widely held view. Most of the newspapers have focused on the results, player movements and even the scandals of popular codes such as league. The fact that the second-biggest clash on the union calendar will be taking place at this Aussie fortress has received comparatively little coverage.

And don't underestimate the public's indifference. On Monday, I was on my way to a press conference when I happened upon the Wallabies hooker Saia Fainga'a in the elevator. As I and a South African colleague stepped into the lift and weighed up the expressions of the four other passengers, it was disturbing to note that nobody but we knew who Fainga'a was.

As the doors closed, one of the passengers guessed that Fainga'a was, at least, somebody famous.

'Which team do you play for?' he asked.

Fainga'a responded patiently, 'Australia.'

'Oh,' said the passenger, evidently unimpressed. 'Cricket or rugby?'

My colleague and I had a good laugh, and to his credit, Fainga'a also saw the lighter side of the exchange. When I thought about it later, however, I had to wonder if this was but one of many examples of Australian rugby union players going largely unnoticed.

How much interest is there in rugby in this part of the world, and how much pressure is on the Australian Rugby Union and, indeed, men like McKenzie to renew the public's interest in the code?

Well, if the line of questioning this past week has been anything to go by, it's far more than we South Africans might expect.

McKenzie is well and truly under the pump. The locals want an expansive and free-flowing game. They have no time for explanations of the inhibiting breakdown laws laid down by the IRB, nor the fact that modern trends demand that the best teams kick the ball as much as they run it.

They've also been at McKenzie for the Wallabies' one-from-five record in 2013. It's not McKenzie's fault that the Wallabies lost a series to the British & Irish Lions, and yet, if the national team loses another game, McKenzie will have to answer for the poor results.

Everything is in the Wallabies' favour this weekend. Ironically, this will only serve to increase the pressure on McKenzie and company. By contrast, the Boks have little to lose.

Heyneke Meyer has been playing his cards close to his chest regarding the reasons for recent team selections. He has made what many would describe as a conservative choice at fullback and at No 5, but I wonder if he has resigned himself to the fact that the chances of victory are slim.

Is it really worth gambling all his key players at this point of the season? The Bok team doctor recently confirmed that, statistically, a side picks up two injuries per game. The Boks have been fortunate in this regard over the past few weeks, although it could be that they are due an injury sooner rather than later.

One player they cannot afford to lose is Juandré Kruger, the only decent No 5 in the Bok squad at present. It may be prudent to play Flip van der Merwe at No 5 now, and save Kruger for the home Tests.

The Boks stand a far greater chance of beating Australia at Newlands and New Zealand at Ellis Park in the final two games of the Rugby Championship. It was always going to be a tough ask for them to win at Suncorp Stadium and Eden Park.

The desperation in the Wallabies camp has been tangible. Victory won't come easily against what is a physical and well-organised Bok unit, but it is still more likely than defeat.

A positive result would provide McKenzie with some breathing room. It would give Australian rugby a reason to smile.

It would be a disappointing outcome for the Boks in the sense that it would see another tombstone in the Suncorp Stadium graveyard. But considering their long-term ambitions and where they are as a team at this point, it's a defeat they can well afford.

Photo: Mark Kolbe/Gallo Images

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