The Springboks need Bismarck du Plessis to set the physical tone against the Wallabies in Brisbane on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
In 2013, the Boks recorded their first-ever victory at Suncorp Stadium. While the visitors racked up four tries in the 38-12 win, it was the forwards rather than the backs who received most of the plaudits in the aftermath.
Forwards coach Johann van Graan revealed that Du Plessis made a breakdown steal early on in that contest. That steal set the tone for the rest of the game. The Bok forwards went on to dominate the collisions and rucks. This ensured that the Wallabies loose trio and dangerous backline remained on the back foot, and enjoyed little influence on the game.
One would expect the Boks to use the very same formula when they visit Suncorp Stadium this Saturday. Of course, what will limit their hitting power at the gainline is the absence of two key men: Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts.
Marcell Coetzee has been tasked with filling Alberts' boots at blindside flank, while Schalk Burger will strive to emulate Vermeulen at No 8. The former, of course, is not in that Incredible Hulk category. What this means is that other players in the Bok pack will need to contribute at the gainline.
Du Plessis will have an important job to do at the set pieces, and we can expect him to play an influential role at the breakdown. What will also be needed by the hooker is a ground-gaining performance with ball in hand.
The Wallabies are once again the favourites to win this fixture. Clear conditions are expected this Saturday, and the hosts will be looking to play the game at pace. If the Wallabies forwards stand up to their South African counterparts, that star-studded backline will prove difficult to contain.
That said, an aggressive forward and defensive performance by the Boks will shut down the space of the Wallabies. And as we have seen on so many occasions in the past, halfbacks Will Genia and Quade Cooper have no answer when their pack is back-pedaling. Israel Folau is another who goes missing when there is a shortage of front-foot ball.
If Du Plessis and the Bok pack fires, the backline should thrive. Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel will be playing in their first Test as a midfield combination. Their success will depend on the success of their pack. If the Bok pack fails, the inexperience of that combination will be exploited, especially on defence.
The pressure is also on flyhalf Handré Pollard to deliver. He missed four of his seven goal attempts in the match against the World XV last week. The game against the Wallabies promises to be a close contest, so the Boks will need their flyhalf to produce a more accurate goal-kicking performance.
Finally, the Boks' fitness has been a point of concern, and will certainly be tested in the dying stages of this clash. The Boks only arrived in Brisbane on Monday evening, and have only had a few days to adjust to the new time zone.
It will be interesting to see how they respond in the final quarter of the coming Test. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has selected a strong, experienced bench, and men like veteran openside flank David Pocock will be desperate to make a statement. The Boks may struggle to live with the Wallabies during that period.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Springboks 45, Wallabies 34, Draw 1
In Brisbane: Wallabies 7, Springboks 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Wallabies have lost four of the last five games between the sides.
– Australia have averaged fewer than two tries in their last eight games against the Springboks.
– Three of Australia’s last four victories over the Boks have come when the Wallabies were behind at half-time.
– South Africa’s last four victories over the Wallabies have all been by margins of 18 points or more.
– Australia have won just one of their last five games at Suncorp Stadium.
– The Wallabies are on a run of just one win in their last seven games (drawn one, lost six), their worst run of form since 2009.
– Australia conceded the most penalties per game in last year’s Rugby Championship (12.8) while South Africa averaged the fewest (9.8).
– The Wallabies averaged 16 kicks from hand in the 2014 edition, a tournament low, while the Springboks put boot to ball the most (28).
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 James Horwill, 20 David Pocock, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Drew Mitchell.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix