Australia v South Africa
Match-fit Springboks too powerful up front
Sam Bruce
July 16, 2015
Rugby Championship Preview: Australia v South Africa

The build-up to the Rugby World Cup reaches another level for the Wallabies and Springboks on Saturday, when they face off in the second match of a shortened Rugby Championship. The Test at Suncorp Stadium also pits coaches Michael Cheika and Heyneke Meyer, at contrasting periods in their respective careers, against each other for the first time.

The match marks Cheika's first Test on home soil, having assumed control following Ewen McKenzie's dramatic exit. The Super Rugby-winning coach registered two wins from five starts on the end-of-year tour in 2014, but oh how the landscape has changed. A shift in contracting policy has allowed an Australian coach to call on overseas players for the first time, and Cheika wasted little time in welcoming Matt Giteau back from exile at the earliest opportunity. It looks to be the same old story for the Wallabies, though: will their much-maligned pack secure the quality ball their backs require?

Team News

  • Australia: Michael Cheika has named an all-new combination in the inside backs, recalling the hugely experienced Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau to give the Wallabies a sweet mix of running and kicking at the scrumbase and dual playmaking options from which to unleash an highly dangerous midfield and outside backs. Elsewhere, he has named a raw combination of ball-running Will Skelton and jumping Rob Simmons behind a tried and tested front-row and in front of a dynamic back-row that features strike and power in Scott Fardy, and pilfering and running in Michael Hooper and Scott Higginbotham. Greg Holmes, David Pocock and Drew Mitchell return to the Test fold via the bench, and the replacements off great potential to change the game plan.
  • South Africa: Heyneke Meyer has made just one change to the starting side that trumped the World XV in Cape Town last week, preferring the physicality and power Schalk Burger over the ball-running and link-play game of Warren Whiteley at No.8. Meyer said "for this match … we decided to go with this specific loose trio", offering a clear indication that the Wallabies can expect a brutal battle at the breakdown and plenty of running in tight. Elsewhere, Meyer has made four changes to the bench as he rotated props Heinke van der Merwe and Frans Malherbe, lock Lood de Jager and winger Lwazi Mvovo into the matchday 23 - the latter replacing Jean de Villiers, wh has been rested in South Africa as he continues his comeback from a knee injury.

The Springboks, meanwhile, are surely the Rugby World Cup contenders to have been hit hardest by injury. A few weeks back they had 19 players unable to take part in a training camp, and the likes of Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Frans Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Steven Kitshoff have failed to make the trip across the Indian Ocean. The Springboks have, however, had the benefit of a hit-out against a World XV - a match they won 46-10 last week - and they will have few fears returning to a venue where they smacked the Wallabies 38-12.

In form

Three straight European titles, a Top 14 title and a swag of personal accolades; it's little wonder the Australian Rugby Union finally altered its protocol and approved what's become known as "Giteau's Law". That of course refers to Toulon superstar Matt Giteau, who, for all certainty at the time, looked to have played his final Test when he signed for the French giants back in 2011. But here he is with the chance to become a Test centurion; the big question is whether he can cut still cut it at international level, something the 92-Test veteran has revealed he has already wondered himself.

Brimming with confidence following a strong Super Rugby season, Damian de Allende has proven himself to be one of the most destructive ball-runners in the midfield channel. The Stormers centre beat a competition-high 76 defenders in Super Rugby this year, and backed that effort up with eight more against the World XV last weekend. Those back in South Africa continue to question his durability in the tough defensive channel, and that could be cause for concern with Tevita Kuridrani sure to be sent his way on the switch. Still, his quality with ball in hand is undeniable and it is something the Boks will hope to utilise as often as they can in Brisbane.

Matt Giteau and Australia are looking to see if he still cuts it at test level © Getty Images
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Out of form

The much-maligned Rob Simmons seemingly has lineout expertise to thank after he retained his spot in the Wallabies starting line-up despite a poor Super Rugby season. Some of that can be attributed to the Reds' wider struggles, and thus Simmons perhaps deserves to be rated on his efforts in the coming weeks. It hasn't stopped ESPN columnist Greg Growden from pointing the finger squarely at Simmons, though, saying: "Now it is up to Simmons to show that he can actually get out of second gear and show the required leadership, but more importantly a touch of mongrel, to convince opposing teams that the Australia pack has a bit of backbone."

Willie le Roux, another victim of a struggling Super Rugby side, will be looking to rediscover the form that saw him rip the Wallabies to shreds in Brisbane two years ago. The Cheetahs full-back also battled injury during Super Rugby, prompting Meyer to put in a "management" request that saw the player spend several weeks on the sidelines. Le Roux, at his best, is the strike weapon that sets the Springboks backline alight; but he is also prone to the odd brain explosion, and that is something the Wallabies can try to create with a thorough kick-chase.

The Stormers' Schalk Burger runs back at the Sharks, Stormers v Sharks, Cape Town, March 7, 2015
Schalk Burger is the one change to the Springboks' starting XV © Getty Images
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Key battle

The corresponding fixture in Brisbane two years ago saw the Springboks blow the Wallabies off the park with a breakdown dominance not seen for some time. The Boks threw body after body at the tackle, and their huge pack failed to tire despite making 35 more tackles than their shell-shocked opponents. The loss of Duane Vermeulen hurts but in Schalk Burger they have a perfectly-adequate replacement who, alongside Francois Louw and Marcell Coetzee, will set about destroying the Wallabies' ball. Australia No.8 Scott Higginbotham must play a much tighter game than that he is accustomed to producing.

Key stats

  • South Africa may have recorded a crushing victory on their previous visit to Suncorp Stadium but they had lost seven straight matches at the venue before that 38-12 triumph.
  • Australia conceded the most penalties per game in the 2014 Rugby Championship (12.8) while South Africa averaged the fewest (9.8).

Odds

Australia are $1.61 and South Africa $2.30

Tip

The Wallabies have had just a couple of weeks to create - or rediscover - combinations, so there is bound to be some rustiness come Saturday. They showed glimpses of the Cheika blueprint in Europe last year but the pack was largely beaten throughout, and that looks to be the issue again here. Springboks by 3.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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