Rugby Championship
Backline shuffle not enough to topple Boks
Cornell Vander Heyden
September 4, 2014
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview the third round of Rugby Championship Tests

A 31-point loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park is hardly the kind of result that inspires confidence for the Wallabies ahead of facing the Springboks, and a re-shuffled backline may not be enough to turn things around in Perth on Saturday night. South Africa have won the past three Tests against Australia by margins of greater than 20 points and Perth is hardly a happy ground for the hosts, with the spoils shared at three wins apiece with one draw. The Springboks are facing similar selection dilemmas and are coming off the back of two unconvincing wins against an improved Argentina though, setting up a fascinating encounter on Saturday night.

Team News

  • Ewen McKenzie has rung in the changes, but not where many expected them to occur - in the pack. Yes, Nathan Charles is out owing to a pectoral injury, replaced by James Hanson, but that's the only change to the starting forwards dominated in Auckland. Last-chance saloon? In the backs, Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley will start together for the first time as the Wallabies halves, while Pat McCabe's retirement means vice-captain Adam Ashley Cooper shifts back to the right wing with Tevita Kuridrani playing at outside centre. James Horwill, Matt Hodgson and Saia Fainga'a come into a forward-laden bench.
  • Heyneke Meyer has made six changes to the starting line-up that defeated Argentina in Salta. Morne Steyn and Jan Serfontein will start in the backline, while Marcell Coetzee, Victor Matfield, Adriaan Strauss and Tendai Mtawarira come into in the pack. Bismarck du Plessis, Lood de Jager and Damian de Allende drop to the replacements, while Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe and Pat Lambie will join them alongside uncapped Warren Whiteley on the bench.

As always, the Wallabies can expect a ferocious pack attack from South Africa, and coach Ewen McKenzie has bolstered his bench with an extra forward to help counter this. The forwards are spitting over their performance against the All Blacks two weeks ago and deserve a chance to atone, but a repeat performance will surely force the coach to make some significant changes. Errors, penalties, set-pieces, retention of possession at the breakdown will all have to be addressed.

The Springboks have upped their experience factor with the addition of Morne Steyn and veteran Victor Matfield but the Wallabies will hope to match their opponents upfront so the backs have a chance to showcase their undoubted skills. Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley should ensure the men out wide see plenty of quality ball.

In form

Israel Folau was a shining light in the second Bledisloe Test, but one man running hot is not enough to trouble the All Blacks; most of the time even 15 struggle. He'll need the right platform from the forwards and support from his backs, but he remains the sharpest weapon in Ewen McKenzie's armoury.

Willie Le Roux is looking like a player reaching his peak. The 25-year-old combines an excellent kicking game with damaging running displays that can trouble even the best defences. The battle of the in-form fullbacks will go a long way to deciding which side prevails in Perth.

Out of form

Tough to single out any one Wallabies player, so let's go for the Wallabies pack in general. Michael Hooper has been a standout and injuries have taken a heavy toll, but the remainder of the pack should all be looking over their shoulders.

Morne Steyn is one of the finest goalkickers in world rugby © Getty Images
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Key area to watch

The lineout. As Richard Kelly points out, South Africa have had more lineout throws than any other side in the Rugby Championship but they have also managed the best success rate. In Bismarck Du Plessis (16/18 successful throws) and Adriaan Strauss (11/12) they boast two of the best hookers in the game. Meanwhile, Australia will have Queensland rake James Hanson playing in just his third Test.

In Morne Steyn, the Springboks have one of the best goal-kickers in the business. Kurtley Beale was solid at Eden Park, and Bernard Foley should feel he can kick anything after his Super Rugby final heroics, but when watching Steyn lining up the posts from just about anywhere in the opposition half, you get the feeling flags are about to be raised. Discipline will be key for both sides.

Stats

Australia's 51-20 loss to New Zealand in round two was their heaviest defeat since they crashed 53-8 against South Africa in August 2008. Australia's past five matches have produced a total of 264 points (an average of 53), while South Africa's have seen 259 points (52 average). Another high-scoring affair should ensue, and the weather forecast indicates dry conditions.

Prediction

The Wallabies have had to travel almost as far as South Africa for this match, and the Springboks enjoy a healthy support in Western Australia, so home-ground advantage is minimised. Expect a vastly improved showing from the Wallabies, but the Springboks appear to have their measure in most areas, including confidence. South Africa by 6.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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