Ned Hanigan says the Wallabies have what it takes to match the Springboks and secure a morale-boosting result on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Port Elizabeth.
The Wallabies coaches and players attended a function hosted by the mayor of Port Elizabeth on Sunday evening. The Boks were also in attendance and there was, according to Hanigan, a few awkward moments as players on both sides sized one another up.
The teams will clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday. The Boks will go into that game on the back of a win against the All Blacks in Wellington – their first victory in New Zealand since 2009.
While the Boks lost to the Wallabies in Brisbane three weeks ago, they will feel that a victory against Michael Cheika’s side is within their reach. The Boks haven’t lost to the Wallabies in South Africa since 2011. The Wallabies will have a point to prove after losing to Argentina on the Gold Coast in round four of the Rugby Championship.
Hanigan and Allan Alaalatoa appeared to be in good spirits when they fronted the media in Port Elizabeth on Monday. The two forwards made it clear, however, that there is a lot of pressure on the side to succeed after a string of disappointing results in 2018.
Perhaps that’s why the Wallabies didn’t spend too much time chatting to the Boks at the function on Sunday evening. Come Saturday, the players will go to war.
‘It was a weird situation,’ said Hanigan. ‘There are five days to go before the game, which is a fair amount of time, but you’re still wary of getting too friendly at a function like that. So you nod and say “G’day”, but it’s not all hugs and kisses.
‘It was very much a formal event. You wave across to them and keep walking. There was certainly no buddying up to them.’
Hanigan is expected to start in a back row that may include Michael Hooper and David Pocock. There will be several changes in the wake of a poor showing against Argentina, and in anticipation of what the belligerent Boks can bring to the party.
As the flanker told SARugbymag.co.za, the Boks certainly made a statement with that recent performance in Wellington.
‘I’m sure the Boks will hang on to the tactics that brought them success against the All Blacks. That was one hell of an achievement. We will try to counteract that. We have to pick out a few little things from that game and make the necessary adjustments.
‘We can definitely take some heart from that performance against the Boks in Brisbane, though,’ he said of the 23-18 win. ‘There are few things in that game that didn’t work so well, and perhaps we need to make a few changes. On the other hand, we can build on what worked and take some confidence out of the result.
‘We’ve had a lot of hard conversations since the result against Argentina. You can’t leave what happened there behind completely,’ he added. ‘There are some learnings that have come out of it. We can’t kick stones [in the buildup to the next Test], we have got to grab the situation by the balls and turn things around.’
The recent result against Argentina saw the Wallabies bowing out of the Rugby Championship title race. A relatively small number of Australian journalists have made the trip to Port Elizabeth to cover the Test.
Cheika and his players have come in for fierce criticism in recent weeks. On Monday, Alaalatoa said that the Wallabies’ last two games of the campaign – in South Africa and Argentina – will give the side an opportunity to escape the media glare and perhaps secure a couple of positive results.
‘Being away from Australia can be good for us,’ the prop said. ‘It will give us a chance to connect a bit more. I’m sure this will bring us closer together.’
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) September 24, 2018
Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images