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Jon Cardinelli

Hooper holds key to upset


Michael Hooper Michael Hooper

The Springboks must nullify the Wallabies pack and Michael Hooper in particular if they hope to win in Perth this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The pressure is on the Wallabies to deliver. They are yet to beat the All Blacks or the Springboks since Ewen McKenzie took over the coaching reins in the 2013 Rugby Championship.

They may have consolidated their position at No 3 in the IRB rankings with a successful tour of Europe in November, and a 3-0 series win against France in June. But in this, the world's toughest annual international tournament, they still have plenty to prove.

The Wallabies held the All Blacks to a 12-12 draw in Sydney, but few will argue that the torrential rain during this fixture contributed to that scoreline. Indeed, a week later, the gulf in class was made patent when the All Blacks thrashed the Wallabies 51-20 in Auckland.

They will be looking to bounce back in Perth. Unfortunately for the Wallabies, the Boks have also struggled in recent games, and will be anything but complacent this coming Saturday.

Following the Boks' failings at the set piece in the two Tests against Argentina, the scrum has received due attention in training. The Bok lineout should also be boosted by the return of Victor Matfield, who brings a wealth of knowledge and as many as 113 caps to that No 5 position.

The Wallabies are not renowned for their scrummaging, and the Boks have also confirmed that they will target the Aussies at lineout time. That said, they should also be wary of the Wallabies at the breakdown, and their standout player, Michael Hooper, in particular.

Israel Folau has shown that he can be a match-winner for the Waratahs and the Wallabies. The multi-talented fullback will be helped by the fact that he's playing alongside a number of Waratahs teammates, including the newly promoted halfback pairing of Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley.

But Folau and company will not flourish if the Wallabies forwards don't provide a decent platform. The hosts will also be counting on Hooper to generate turnovers and counter-attacking opportunities.This will allow them to run at a fractured Bok defence.

Hooper is currently tied with the Boks' Francois Louw and the All Blacks' Richie McCaw and Brodie Retallick for the most turnovers in the competition (two). He has made the second most tackles in this year's tournament. There's no questioning his work rate.

While he is a talented and influential player, he can be contained. The All Blacks successfully nullified the Wallabies pack, and Hooper, in the most recent game in Auckland. This paved the way for a six-try triumph.

The Bok forwards must follow suit, and they must win the tactical-kicking battle. In this respect, the return of flyhalf Morné Steyn will be significant.

Steyn steered the Boks to a narrow 33-31 win against Argentina in Salta. It was not only his tactical kicking that made a difference in the second half of that fixture, but his cool goal-kicking under pressure. If not for a 77th-minute penalty by Steyn, the Boks would have slumped to their first-ever loss to the Pumas.

The Boks will hope that it doesn't come to that this weekend, but they will be tested during the latter stages by the Wallabies. McKenzie has selected six forwards on the bench, which suggests the Wallabies feel they can outlast the Boks.

It may very well come down to three points or one kick, with Steyn asked to clinch the result for the visitors.

HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Wallabies 33, Springboks 44, Draw 1
In Perth: Wallabies 3, Springboks 3, Draw 1

HOOPER'S STATS THAT MATTER
124 – The number of metres he's made in this year's Rugby Championship (Rank 10)
16 – The number of carries he's made (Rank 4)
27 – The number of tackles he's made (Rank 2)
5 – The number of tackles he's missed (Rank 2)
2 –  The number of turnovers he's won (Rank 1)
22 – The number of turnovers he won in Super Rugby this year (Rank 2)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App

Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Subs: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Nic White, 23 Kurtley Beale.

Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Damian de Allende.

Preview: All Blacks vs Argentina

Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

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