JON CARDINELLI analyses the key match-ups and picks the winner of the clash at Newlands.
My, how the tables have turned.
In the build-up to the Test in Brisbane, it was Ewen McKenzie who played down the Wallabies' record at Suncorp Stadium, and it was Heyneke Meyer who reminded everybody that records were there to be broken.
Three weeks later, the head coaches of Australia and South Africa have swapped roles. The past week has seen Meyer tempering local expectations, while McKenzie has all but begged not to be written off in spite of the Wallabies' poor record at Newlands.
The Test match in Brisbane was perception-changing. It saw the Boks announce themselves as a team of power and substance. It also witnessed a disintegration on the part of the Wallabies, from their performance up front to a team game plan that was beautifully outdated.
Those contrasting performances at Suncorp Stadium should be kept in mind ahead of the return fixture at Newlands this Saturday. And make no mistake, the recent results in Auckand and Perth will also have a bearing on the clash in Cape Town.
The Boks may have lost to the All Blacks at Eden Park, but there is a sense in South Africa and New Zealand that it was never a fair contest after Bismarck du Plessis was erroneously red-carded in the 42nd minute. What this means in the context of the next match is that Boks have lost little if any momentum or confidence. At the same time, a loss is still a loss, and the Wallabies will feel the backlash of a Bok side determined to get back to winning ways.
I have my doubts that the Boks will get it completely right this Saturday. All the talk in the build-up, by the media and public at least, has been about the four-try bonus point. The All Blacks are four points clear at the top of the tournament log, and are expected to claim five more in La Plata this weekend. The Boks are under pressure to stay in touch with the All Blacks, and while they should do enough to beat the Wallabies comfortably, they may fall short of the bonus point.
On Thursday, McKenzie rolled his eyes when he was asked about the Boks' approach. McKenzie knows that the Boks won't gamble on an expansive approach, as a high-risk game plan could leave them susceptible to the counter-attack, an area of the game in which the Wallabies are especially proficient. McKenzie is expecting no favours.
The Boks will stick to a formula that works. After all, this formula has yielded six wins in seven Tests already this season.
McKenzie has taken umbrage with the local assumption that the Wallabies will lose. Indeed, most South African journalists have been speculating about scorelines and bonus points. Few, if any, are contemplating a win for the underdog Aussies.
It's not really surprising. Considering McKenzie's selections up front, you have to wonder how the Wallabies plan to live with the Boks this Saturday. McKenzie himself didn't exactly instil confidence when he said 'We've picked the best available side'. What an indictment on the quality of forwards in Australia.
Don't expect any razzle-dazzle from the Boks during the early stages of Saturday's encounter. The Wallabies possess game-breakers in players such as Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper, but neither of them will come to the fore if their tight five do not at least match that of the Boks.
If the Boks replicate their forward showing in Brisbane, then Fourie du Preez and Morné Steyn will play the hosts into good field positions. If ever there were two players who have never concerned themselves with the counter-productive, headless-chicken, run-from-your-own-deadball-line fascination, they are Du Preez and Steyn.
That said, Du Preez can be devastating when he does attack the space around the ruck (inevitably from within the opposition 22), as was evident in that 2007 World Cup group game against England. Expect the veteran to have a big game alongside his long-time halfback partner this Saturday.
Steyn has been in excellent kicking form, and the Boks will rely on his accuracy in front of goal to generate the early scoreboard momentum. The Boks should dominate up front, but I suspect the Wallabies defence will be harder to breach than was the case in Brisbane, particularly in midfield where McKenzie has favoured some big bodies.
Newlands has witnessed some great contests between these two sides in the past, and it has often been left to one act of Bok brilliance to decide the outcome.
The Wallabies were written off ahead of the 2007 Tri-Nations Test in Cape Town. I remember former Bok prop Ollie le Roux telling me in the build-up the tourists would get murdered, massacred, and even something else that I can't print.
Nevertheless, the Wallabies defied the odds to not only match the Boks, but take the lead as the game approached a climax. It took two drop goals by Frans Steyn to clinch victory for the hosts.
I get the feeling that Saturday's Test could present a few more challenges than most would suspect, and that the Boks will have to work hard for every one of those 80 minutes.
McKenzie has selected a relatively strong bench which suggests that the Wallabies will look to take the game deep. It's for this reason that the Boks cannot afford to take anything for granted.
In the 2012 Test staged in Perth, the Boks threw away a 10-point half-time advantage to lose to the Wallabies. They reversed the trend in 2013 when they tackled the Wallabies in Brisbane, keeping their foot on the Wallabies' throat and finishing with a 38-12 scoreline. A similar combination of power and mettle will be required this Saturday.
MY CALL: Boks by 10
Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Juandré Kruger, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Chris Feauai-Sautia.
Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
All Blacks continue to soar
It’s frightening to think how strong this All Blacks side may become in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.
What we’ve learned
Five lessons from the Rugby Championship match between the Springboks and All Blacks at Ellis Park, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.
Bok attack fails to inspire
The Springboks' attack is in crisis, writes RYAN VREDE from Ellis Park.