The Springboks are in a strong position to claim their first win over the Wallabies in Australia since 2013, writes DYLAN JACK.
Given the Springboks’ high-flying fortune since Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber took over in 2018 – and the Wallabies’ struggles in the same period – it is easy to forget just how difficult South Africa have found winning in Australia.
The Wallabies are currently on a five-game unbeaten run at home to the Boks, stretching back to a 24-23 victory in Perth in 2014.
Tests between these two teams in Australia have often been decided by one or two moments. This is illustrated by the fact that the average score between these two sides over the past five Tests in Australia is 23-20 to the hosts.
Back in 2014, it was Bryan Habana’s 65th-minute yellow card in his 100th Test match, which the Wallabies exploited to come from a 23-14 deficit and win 24-23 thanks to a converted Rob Horne try.
In 2015, it was Tevita Kuridrani’s try that stunned the Springboks, as the centre crashed over the tryline after the full-time hooter to seal another come-from-behind win for the Wallabies.
Bernard Foley was the hero in 2016 as his self-converted try gave the Wallabies a nine-point buffer to see out a wet-weather match after the home side had initially fallen 14-3 behind in the first half.
The nature of the past five matches was generally determined by how desperate both teams were for a win when they faced each other. Usually, the Wallabies would be coming off successive defeats by the All Blacks and would be eager to snap a losing streak. Meanwhile, the Springboks would be coming off a tough Test against Los Pumas in Argentina, a game in which they generally struggled.
In 2014, the Springboks had to fight hard to secure a 33-31 win in Salta, while in 2016 they were coming off a 26-24 loss to Los Pumas at the same venue. The relative desperation of both teams has contributed to somewhat low-quality Test matches over the past few years.
This time, however, the Springboks have enjoyed the benefit of arriving in Australia early – due to Covid-19 restrictions – and have had a good couple of weeks to recover from their physical double-header against Argentina and acclimatise to local conditions in Queensland.
Nienaber’s team are coming off a successful Lions series and back-to-back wins over the Argentinians, although they would have been slightly disappointed that they didn’t get the bonus point in the second Test against Los Pumas. That would have put the Springboks level on log points with the All Blacks, but instead they trail New Zealand by a single point going into the decisive period of their title defence.
Australia, meanwhile, are coming off a trio of losses against the All Blacks, where Dave Rennie’s team blew hot on attack at times but were often caught cold on defence. Under Rennie, the Wallabies are clearly building a structure based on their attacking strengths, as opposed to the Springboks, who have built on a platform of strong defence.
Unfortunately for the Wallabies, this means that they have been easy to exploit on the transition between attack and defence, something the All Blacks ruthlessly punished, often scoring in the first or second phase from a turnover.
The Australians also had their fare share of lineout issues and made some pretty glaring basic errors, with rookie flyhalf Noah Lolesio showing that he still has to find his feet at Test level.
This ultimately bodes well for the Springboks. It’s likely that a strong pack – featuring giants Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert – will be further strengthened by the return of 2019 vice-captain Duane Vermeulen from injury. All four players are excellent options as lineout jumpers and could give Australia a nightmare at the set piece.
If the Wallabies repeat the kind of errors they made against the All Blacks, they will find themselves once again punished on the scoreboard. Lukhanyo Am has established himself as one of the best centres in the world and has a knack for pinpoint defensive reads and subtle touches on attack.
Rennie will likely welcome back experienced flyhalf James O’Connor to the team from injury and he should make a positive difference in their execution and error rate. Together with Samu Kerevi – a blunt-force midfield weapon to go toe to toe with the Boks’ Damian de Allende – the Wallabies will pose a big threat if the Springboks allow them to gain any momentum.
Make no mistake, after three heavy losses against New Zealand, the Wallabies will be eager to put the record straight against the Springboks. They will know that a win in their next two Tests will be massive for keeping their supporters’ faith in the Rennie project.
However, this Bok team is far better prepared for the next two Tests than their predecessors and should write another piece of history on Sunday.