Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Rugby World Cup: A fiery clash of age and youth

Robbie Deans' Wallabies will either come of age or be beaten by it in the glamour World Cup quarter-final in Wellington tomorrow night.

A tumultuous four-year buildup has been aimed at a moment like this, where the dramatic rebuilding and systems put in place by the former Crusaders maestro will either succumb to the Springboks' uber experience and power or be lauded as the foothill of new Wallaby success.

Wellington this week has not been awash with the colours of Australia, South Africa, Ireland and Wales, but the atmosphere in the capital has been building up to a big crescendo due to the massive influx of fans.

Conventional wisdom would have fine weather and a hard track favouring the greater athleticism of the Australian forwards and their quick and skilful backs over the power and willpower of the veteran Springboks.

South Africa's assistant coach, Gary Gold, admitted bad weather "could play into our hands" in restricting "their nippy backs".

"It's swings and roundabouts though - it would make it more difficult for our kickers," he said.

Deans named a largely predictable lineup, although Dan Vickerman has held his place at lock, whereas South Africa - publicly - predicted a Nathan Sharpe return.

The Boks claim Sharpe is the best in the world at competing with lineout ace Victor Matfield. Scott Higginbotham, who can add much-needed aggression, is out of favour and off the bench.

The limited midfield strongman Pat McCabe, returning from a shoulder injury, keeps Berrick Barnes on the bench - the tactically strong and clever Barnes is part of a reserve back division heavy on inside backs and lacking wide running impact.

That, ironically, is where the Boks have an edge. Francois Hougaard and Gio Aplon are sparky runners.

The battle at the breakdown has dominated the talk all week and Australia will rely almost exclusively on the expertise of David Pocock. The Springboks have an ace of their own in Heinrich Brussow, while reserve Francois Louw is a turnover merchant and Schalk Burger played openside from 2004 to 2007.

As Pocock said this week, the fetcher's art involves deciding when to spend energy going for the ball, reading the referees, knowing when to back away from a penalty risk, and picking the time to instead set up for other opportunities or tasks.

Referee Bryce Lawrence will be crucial. He ruled against the Wallaby scrum in the defeat against Ireland although Australia were hurt by the late withdrawal of Stephen Moore. In goalkicking, Morne Steyn should hold a significant edge over Australia.

Deans gives nothing away at press conferences, performing the task with the relish of a soldier scrambling out of a trench. His players follow suit, so there are no quotes out of line.

The media portrayal of Bok captain John Smit as a weak link fell flat although no one doubts the impact of his understudy, Bismarck du Plessis. Smit's importance reveals the mindset of coach Peter de Villiers, who has made it clear the core of the 2007 world champion team would be in the driver's seat again.

Smit will attempt to dictate terms, tying Australia up in exhausting knots. Expect scrum resets and injury breaks, many of them genuine in this heavyweight clash. No surprise either if Steyn launches a drop kick the first time he gets in range. Australia have the backs to floor the Boks but they are unlikely to get many chances.

Knockout rugby has become more like wrestling, where the victor wears an opponent down in a tangle. South Africa can excel at this.

SPRINGBOKS v WALLABIES

Wellington, 6pm tomorrow
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ)

SPRINGBOKS
Pat Lambie
JP Pietersen
Jaque Fourie
Jean de Villiers
Bryan Habana
Morne Steyn
Fourie du Preez
Pierre Spies
Schalk Burger
Heinrich Brussow
Victor Matfield
Danie Rossouw
Jannie du Plessis
John Smit (c)
G. Steenkamp
Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, CJ van der Linde, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Francois Hougaard, Butch James, Gio Aplon.

WALLABIES
Kurtley Beale
James O'Connor
A. Ashley-Cooper
Pat McCabe
Digby Ioane
Quade Cooper
Will Genia
Radike Samo
David Pocock
Rocky Elsom
Dan Vickerman
James Horwill (c)
Ben Alexander
Stephen Moore
Sekope Kepu
Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Nathan Sharpe, Ben McCalman, Luke Burgess, Berrick Barnes, Anthony Fainga'a.

- NZ Herald

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