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18 Jul 2008 08:00
The Boks’ triumph at the House of Pain last weekend was the best team performance since last year’s World Cup final but they must not let up the pressure on the Australians, who have piles of talent in their backline and one of the world’s sharpest coaches in former Crusaders general Robbie Deans.
After silencing some critics in Dunedin, Peter de Villiers has already acknowledged the dangers of underestimating the Wallabies, saying ‘people may think that Australia is not as tough a test as New Zealand, but that is certainly not the case. Australia have other strengths [than New Zealand], which means tactically you have to change and your decision-making requires a different approach”.
The Boks have added their second hooker in a week, with uncapped Cheetahs number two Adriaan Strauss flying out to join the squad in Perth as cover for the suspended Bismarck du Plessis.
With John Smit still injured, the Boks are now down to their fourth-choice hooker in Strauss, who finds himself at the head of a queue that must also include the likes of Lions bruiser Willie Wepener and Bulls regulars Derick Kuun and Bandise Maku.
Undoubtedly the Wallabies’ most dangerous weapon is their backline triumvirate of Matt Giteau at flyhalf, Berrick Barnes at inside centre and skipper Stirling Mortlock at outside centre. The trio, along with scrumhalf Luke Burgess, form a world-class attacking force and must receive special attention in defence from their Bok counterparts.
Give them the room to manoeuvre and their game-breaking abilities can shine, with Giteau’s cross-field kicks and running lines and Mortlock’s size and power difficult to counter.
Instead, Butch James and Ricky January must dish out the same kind of close attention that Dan Carter is still probably feeling this week.
But for all their talent in numbers nine through 15, there are still serious questions about the quality of the Wallaby pack, particularly the front row, and it is here that the Boks must exert the most pressure. Last year’s England-Australia World Cup quarterfinal was a fascinating study in contrasting rugby styles, with the slow-moving English behemoths duking it out against the Wallabies’ more skilful and quicker backs.
But it was the English approach that prevailed, with man-mountains Andrew Sheridan and Simon Shaw annihilating their Aussie forwards in the scrum and loose.
Physically worn down and lacking quality ball, the star-studded Wallaby backline faltered and withered, a lesson the Boks must pay careful attention to.
The English class of 2007 was quite an average team, not possessing nearly the class and depth of the Boks of today.
The Wallabies’ lack of quality props is an issue that has troubled them for some time, prompting a rumoured plan to start importing them from the former Soviet state of Georgia, where there is a surplus of big burly men.
This weekend’s starting props, Benn Robinson and Al Baxter, should not present much difficulty for the Bok front row, which neutralised the All Blacks scrummaging last week.
In the loose-forward department the Wallabies do have two top-class open-side flanks in George Smith and Phil Waugh, backed by burly number eight Wycliff Palu and enforcing blindside Rocky Elsom.
Both open sides are masters of the breakdown area, winning loose balls and penalties. In the Waratahs-Sharks Super 14 semifinal two months ago Waugh seemed almost single-handedly to out-muscle and outplay the opposing Sharks loose forwards, whereas Smith has an impressive pedigree, lining up this weekend for his 87th Test cap, making him the third-most-capped Wallaby ever.
Fortunately for the Springboks, the man they have to counter these two dangerous fetcher flankers is wrecking-ball flanker Schalk Burger, who displayed a devastating return to form last weekend, making 22 tackles against the All Blacks. With Burger at his best the entire Wallabies back row will have their work cut out reining him in.
Bad news for Robbie Deans is that lock Dan Vickerman has not recovered fully from injury and will watch this game from the stands.
Vickerman’s line-out skills are probably the closest in world rugby to matching Victor Matfield’s, on whom the Boks will again be relying to dominate the line-out.
Instead, Matfield comes up against Wallaby locks James Horwill and Nathan Sharpe, who will struggle to keep up, even with an inexperienced line-out thrower in Schalk Brits.
If the Boks win Ssaturday’s Test, they will have gained a vital headstart over their Tri-Nations rivals, with two away wins under their belts. If they build on the momentum of last week, going in with confidence but not arrogance, play to their strengths and not the
Aussies’, this could be wrapped up in 60 minutes.
Oh yes, the Boks will also need to successfully pass the ball to Bryan Habana.
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