Australia v South Africa, Rugby Championship
Boks aim to return ruck fire on Wallabies
September 3, 2013
South Africa's Schalk Burger gets held up short of the line during the 2011 World Cup quarter-final © Getty Images
The torment of Australia's miraculous IRB World Cup quarter-final victory two years ago has the Springboks wary of another drubbing at the breakdown from the Wallabies at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.
The Wallabies' superiority over South Africa at the tackle zone was the difference in the memorable 11-9 win in Wellington, which knocked the defending champions out of the 2011 tournament.
The Boks enjoyed almost 80 per cent of possession that day but couldn't convert on the scoreboard as flanker David Pocock starred with one of the most influential displays in World Cup history, forcing a host of turnovers and penalties.
South Africa, who have won just one of their past seven Tests against Australia, have employed Scottish breakdown expert Richie Gray for The Rugby Championship and the tourists are working overtime to ensure they master that crucial area.
Boosting the visitors, hooker Bismarck du Plessis, one of the best ruck warriors in the world, is set to start his first Test since a knee reconstruction 12 months ago. The Springboks were left to rue leaving du Plessis on the bench for the 2011 quarter-final, instead starting ageing captain John Smit, and the selection backfired when ball-scavenger Heinrich Brussow was injured early.
Du Plessis wanted to keep history in the past on Tuesday but admitted Australia's pilfering skills had the Boks working harder at the tackle area. Gray, who has developed the training tool Collision King, was hellbent on making the Boks cleaner, lower and smarter at the breakdown.
"It's really something you want to create pressure on the opposition (when defending) and if you want to create opportunities for yourself you have to be great at the breakdown," Du Plessis said. "While there's 10 lineouts in the game and maybe 10 scrums in the game, there's between 120 and 180 breakdowns in the game."
Young Wallabies openside flanker Michael Hooper has stepped up impressively with Pocock (knee) sidelined, but Springboks assistant coach Johann van Graan felt the Wallabies' breakdown strength came in numbers right across the field. Van Graan pointed to front-rowers and centres, as well as loose forwards, as men to combat on Saturday night.
"It's not only Michael Hooper who steals," he said. "You look around that whole team and every breakdown is a contest now. Guys like Stephen Moore and Scott Fardy, and Adam Ashley-Cooper is one of the best stealers around in the game."
Du Plessis's is expected to be named vice-captain in his first Test start since rupturing his ACL in the opening minutes of last year's Rugby Championship against Argentina.
"It was a long and lonely road and sometimes thinking back 12 months ago when I got injured it was really tough," he said.