Rugby: Beefed up Wallabies side to face Boks

By Gerald Imray

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Australia's challenge is clear: match the Springboks' muscle or surrender a fourth Rugby Championship defeat from five in coach Ewen McKenzie's short reign.

Add South Africa's poorly disguised irritation at Bismarck du Plessis' red card, the defeat to New Zealand two weeks ago and its recent dominance over Australia at Newlands, and Cape Town's Table Mountain appears a far easier summit for the Wallabies to climb.

"No one will back us but that sits fine with us," McKenzie said.

"We approach every game as though we can win it."

Fighting fire with fire, Australia rushed fit-again second-rower and captain James Horwill back into its starting lineup and beefed up its backline in preparation for the Springboks' physicality.

Muscular midfielder Tevita Kuridrani will make his debut at No13 and wings Joe Tomane and Adam Ashley-Cooper are trusted as solid defenders and strong runners.

Nic White was retained at halfback to give Australia a territorial foothold with his kicking, leaving Will Genia on the bench. They're all selections that signal Australia won't rely on the attack-from-anywhere plan that saw it come unstuck against the Boks in Brisbane in a heavy 38-12 home defeat in round three.

"We had good success overseas against them but I think it's going to be a totally different game," South Africa hooker Adriaan Strauss said. "We expect them to get emotional and fired up about it. So they'll be better."

Only how much better?

Despite the outward caution that's expected from a heavy favourite, South Africa probably sees nothing to prevent it taking a sixth straight win over Australia at Newlands, where the Wallabies haven't won since they visited as world champions in 1992, long enough ago to be McKenzie's era as a player and the year of the Springboks' return post-apartheid. And Australia's 14-13 win over Argentina was unconvincing.

Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer has even felt comfortable enough to rotate some of his players, making two changes to his 15 from the 29-15 loss to the All Blacks. Strauss replaced Du Plessis at hooker and experienced halfback Fourie du Preez was recalled for his first start since the Boks' World Cup loss to Australia.

The resting of Du Plessis may be the biggest sign that the Springboks are preparing for a title decider with the top-ranked All Blacks in Johannesburg next weekend, a distraction the Australians identify.

"Two wins in a row would be significant for this [Australia] team, especially winning in South Africa given their current circumstance," McKenzie said. "We've got a great opportunity to be a thorn in what they are trying to do."

The Springboks also have something to prove. They struggled to beat Argentina away and, despite talking themselves up ahead of the All Blacks at Eden Park, failed in two areas it prides itself on: frontline tackling and tactical kicking.

"We have got a lot of things to improve on this coming week," Springboks flanker Siya Kolisi said. "We're trying to focus on Australia. The [Newlands] record won't win us a game on Saturday."

- NZ Herald

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