2018 Rugby Championships
South Africa vs Australia
Saturday 29th September 2018
Date: Saturday, September 29
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Kick-off: 17:05 SA Time, 16:05 BST, 15:05 GMT
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Matthew Carley (England)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)
Two weeks ago the Springboks produced one of the finest defensive performances ever seen in modern rugby as they held on to beat the All Blacks by 36 to 34 in Wellington, New Zealand. The never-say-die attitude, the sheer mongrel of the Springboks was much lauded by all that follow the game of rugby.
And it certainly was a superb performance, as they made 91% of all their tackles and forced the All Blacks to play off the back foot with no space or time to produce their usual counter-attacking free-flowing game.
Yet, in amongst all the plaudits for their defence and their attitude, amongst all the praise for their physicality and indomitable spirit, one tiny little thing seems to have escaped many commentators and reporters. Despite playing the game with just 30% of the possession, the Springboks somehow still put 5 tries past the All Blacks.
That takes some doing! When last did anyone put five tries past the All Blacks?
While everyone is talking about the mammoth defensive effort of the Springboks, it is worth considering that their attacking play was exemplary too. Unlike the number of times that scoring opportunities had gone a-begging against the Wallabies the previous week, or against the Argentineans two weeks before that, the Springboks had found a new, clinical edge in their finishing.
And that should be the one factor that must be of concern to the Wallabies as they prepare for this Test against the Springboks down in Port Elizabeth. Their defence has been a worry all season. In the first four matches of this Rugby Championships they have conceded 16 tries, missing 107 tackles while making 565. That is a tackle completion rate of some 85%, which is fair for Super Rugby but not much good at Test level.
Of course, questions are being asked whether the Springboks can replicate the intensity and level of performance that brought them victory against the All Blacks in Wellington. Do they have anything left in the tank after that huge effort?
Questions are also being asked about the Springboks level of motivation for this Test. Will they be over-confident? Complacent perhaps?
Or will they have learned from the level of intensity they produced against the All Blacks and serve up the same focus and commitment again?
Word out of the Springbok camp has been all about stepping up their focus, about being more “cut-throat” and clinical in finishing. About increased levels of concentration and more consistency. We have heard about playing to their full potential. We have been told that there is “no going back” and that an invisible line has been crossed.
Time will tell whether this is true. Time will tell whether this Springbok team came of age in New Zealand and will now look to growing and maturing into the world force they used to be.
In contrast to the happy and upbeat Springboks surfing on the crest of a wave of newly energised support from the local fans, the Wallabies have arrived in Port Elizabeth somewhat under the cosh. They have been lambasted in their media for their humbling loss to Argentina, and both the players and their coach have been subjected to almost unheard of pressure from their usually supportive media and fan base.
That in itself must serve as a warning for the Springboks. The Aussies are a proud bunch, and they are hurting badly. They do not like being mocked and belittled by their own press. They do not like being labelled losers in a country that celebrates winning above all else. They will be desperate to turn their season and their Rugby Championships campaign around. They will be drawing together as a team under fire, with a coach who knows that his head is on the line. They will be more than desperate.
That makes them dangerous.
They showed in both their Tests against the All Blacks that they have the muscle and the firepower to pin the world champions in their own half for extended periods of time. Perhaps they were short on attacking ideas, perhaps their defence was a bit wobbly, allowing the All Blacks to break out of defence time and again, but there can be no doubting their commitment and innate ability. They have the game-breakers too, the likes of Kurtley Beale and Will Genia, Matt Toomua, and Israel Folau, who are world class players in anyone’s book.
The Springboks will underestimate the Wallaby challenge at their peril.
Rassie Erasmus has made five changes to the Springbok starting lineup for Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies in Port Elizabeth.
André Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel will start in the Bok midfield, having replaced the injured Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am respectively. Kriel started on the right wing against the All Blacks two weeks ago, but finished the game at inside centre.
Cheslin Kolbe will make his first Test start, in the No 14 jersey, having come off the bench in both Brisbane and Wellington.
There are two changes to the pack, with Beast Mtawarira rotating the No 1 jersey from Steven Kitshoff, who moves to the bench, and Sikhumbuzo Notshe replacing the injured Warren Whiteley at No 8.
There are some changes on the replacement bench. Marco van Staden comes into the matchday squad as replacement for Francois Louw, and Embrose Papier is the back-up scrumhalf in place of Ross Cronje. Damian Willemse returns to the bench.
Michael Cheika has shown his cards with the elevation of Taniela Tupou to the starting side. The added weight and power of the Tongan Thor is an obvious attempt to counter the Springbok scrummaging power. Tupou is one of four changes to the starting team in a pivotal Test against South Africa.
Lukhan Tui and Pete Samu both remained in Australia, with Ned Hanigan replacing Tui as the starting blindside flank on Saturday.
Michael Hooper returns from a hamstring injury to start at openside and David Pocock is back at eight for the Port Elizabeth clash.
There is no specialist flanker on the bench but lock Rob Simmons can provide cover should the Wallabies require it.
Adam Coleman is the final change to the starting XV, teaming up with Izack Rodda in the second-row.
Coleman’s selection pushes Rory Arnold back to the bench.
The Springboks have to do more than repeat their performance against the All Blacks if they want to win this game against the Wallabies. They have to find an extra element in their game, something that has been missing right throughout 2018. They have to create pressure, and a presence right from the kick-off, rather than allowing their opponents to gain the advantage before fighting back. Rear-guard actions and come-backs are the stuff of fairy-tales, but the time does come when you have to outgrow fairy-tales and start dealing in realities.
Comebacks are great, but the time will come when an opponent builds an unassailable lead and the comeback fails. The Springboks came from behind in both their test wins over England, and then again against Argentina in the opening Rugby Championship test in Durban. They did it again against the All Blacks two weeks ago, just as many of the Springbok supporters were steeling themselves for a possible slaughter.
It is time for the 2018 Springboks to stop talking about making a good start to a game, and to go out onto the field and actually produce such a start.
The win over the All Blacks will have added some confidence, some self-belief, and some maturity to the Springbok team. They now have to convert all those positives into focussed, clinical pressure on the field of play.
Once again, this game will be won or lost in the minds of the players.
This time it is about banishing complacency and focussing on stepping up another gear. This time it is about doing more than talk about it!
Yet again, the battle at the set pieces and breakdowns will dictate the contest.
The Wallabies have shown their hand, sending Taniela Tupou on in the starting XV to put extra pressure on the Springbok scrum. He is an immensely powerful scrummager, but both the Beast Mtawarira and Steven Kitshoff got his number in the Test in Brisbane after struggling in the first scrum against him. His lack of experience and technique may become a problem as the game progresses.
It was also very evident that the Australians used him as their primary ball carrier in the midfield attack once he had taken the field.
Both as a scrummager and as a ball carrier, he brings immense, but raw power, but he is up against a team that know how to deal with that kind of power.
The Wallabies have also brought back Adam Coleman to bolster the power in the second row, adding to the signals that they want to achieve parity, dominance even, in the scrum.
The lineouts have been a problem area for the Wallabies, whilst the Springboks have been improving with every game.
Both Malcom Marx and Bongi Mbonambi have shown excellent accuracy on the throw, with some of the deep throws a failure of the receiver rather than the thrower. The primary lineout jumpers of Etzebeth, Mostert, and du Toit are backed by Kolisi and Notshe, while their quick throw to the front has worked a treat as an alternative ploy, although they did overuse this tactic in the first game against the Wallabies last time out.
In contrast the Wallabies have struggled to find consistency in the lineouts, mostly on the back of some wayward throwing by their hookers. The return of Coleman to partner Rodda in the lineouts is a good option, but much depends on the accuracy of Tatafu Polota-Nau, and reserve Folau Faingaa.
We can expect the Springboks to pressurise the Wallaby lineouts as much as legally possible, forcing scrambled ball off the top and difficulties for Will Genia to scramble clear.
Once again, we expect the Springbok maul to be a primary weapon close to the Wallaby line, although both the Wallabies and the All Blacks found ways to stop the drive in previous weeks. Much depends on the referee in this phase as the Aussies are masters at inserting themselves between the jumper and his support lifters, stepping through the lineout before the jumper is brought back to the ground, often illegally.
The breakdowns will be an interesting battleground. Between the two teams they are fielding just one specialist fetcher in the respective loose trios. David Pocock is the master ball poacher or slower of opposition ball if he allowed to have his way. The All Blacks nullified his threat by playing him physically, often to the point of illegality, as they rolled him away from the ball. The Springboks showed a different approach against the All Black fetchers, eschewing the contest over the ball and allowing the All Blacks to take the ball while wrapping around the edges to stop the quick ball developing into an attack. This approach was spot-on against the All Blacks, as the player who won the ball on the ground was then out of play for a couple of seconds while the Springboks attacked the ball-carrier immediately after the ruck or breakdown.
The Wallabies will have taken note of the Springbok tactics and will be looking to negate the strategy, perhaps by holding the ball in at the ruck to try and milk an offside penalty, perhaps by a deep pass to a pivot standing away from the contact point. We can also expect Will Genia to do some of the primary carrying himself.
Perhaps a weakness in the Wallaby breakdown strategy is their tactical preference for sending their flankers wide into the left and right touchline channels while the tight five and Pocock take the ball up the middle. If they get shut down by Springbok defenders in the midfield and get turned over by the likes of Malcolm Marx, they may find themselves short of defenders on the fringes of the breakdowns.
The Springboks will need to find a way to nullify David Pocock at the breakdown, especially on their own ball. Statistics show that the Springboks are more likely to score of quick ruck or breakdown ball than off the slower ball, and Pocock is likely to work very hard to slow the ball down as much as possible.
The Springboks need the “hot” ball on their front foot for attack, while they need to be making very good decisions on the defence around the breakdowns if they want to establish control over the tempo of this game.
The Wallaby decision to continue the experiment with Kurtley Beale at 10 and Matt Toomua is a bit surprising. Some thought that Toomua would start in the 10 jersey and Beale would revert to his preferred centre role. Deploying them as announced on the team sheet will give the Springboks a direct defensive/offensive target. Beale is a player that needs space to work his magic and at flyhalf, when he is put under pressure, he tends to be a passer rather than a direct runner. He immediately looks to give the ball to Toomua for the creative decisions or the tactical kicks, and there is the one weakness that the Springboks can read and exploit. Beale turns and drops his leading shoulder when he is going to pass the ball, which allows a defender to read the pass and drift wide onto the receiver. (This is a problem that Beale has in common with the wayward and out of favour Quade Cooper.)
The second issue the Springboks will be sure to focus on is Beale’s record as something of a turnstile defender. Throughout Super Rugby and on into Test match play, his defence has been beyond suspect. So far in the Rugby Championships he has missed 25% of all tackle attempts. The likes of Handré Pollard or an Andre Esterhuizen who like to take the ball flat and attack the defensive channels will look to exploit this area of his game. The Springbok loose-forwards and big ball carriers will certainly look to carry the ball in his direction.
One aspect of the game the Springboks will be focussed on this week is gaining territorial advantage. They spent most of the last game in Wellington in close proximity to their own goal line, with some of their clearance kicks being more scrambled than safe. They will have worked hard at their tactical kicking game, as likes of Faf de Klerk and Handré Pollard, as well as Elton Jantjies when he comes on, will need to be very much more accurate with their tactical kicks for territory. They cannot afford to give Israel Folau the ball with misdirected kicks, and Dane Haylett-Petty has shown that he is ever willing to counter-attack with kicked ball if given the opportunity.
Faf de Klerk’s box-kicks can be a superb weapon, when he gets it right. When he gets it wrong, it can be a counter-attacking opportunity for the opposition.
During 2016 and 2017 kick-receipts by the Springbok back three were a circus. In 2018 this aspect of their play has improved substantially, especially when Willie le Roux is on form and focussed, as he was against the All Blacks. In addition to their kick-receipts the back three have improved on their overall defensive focus in the wider channels. It is not perfect, there is still much work to be done. Aphiwe Dyantyi still has a tendency to drift in off his channel, but he is learning his craft. Cheslin Kolbe is as brave a kick-receiver as you will find, despite his tiny stature. He has spent much of his career in the fullback position, which has taught him to take the high ball, and has taught him how to tackle the bigger guys too. He has to keep the bulk of Koroibete under control on Saturday!
We can very very sure that the Wallabies will be targeting the wider channels under the high ball, especially with the aerial skills of Israel Folau running onto Dyantyi. This is perhaps the weakest link in the Springbok defensive array.
Reece Hodge has also suggested that the Wallabies will have some tricks up their sleeve aimed at cracking the Springboks’ defences. He said that the Wallabies need to have some variation on attack to break down Springboks. He went on to say: “We’ve worked on some interesting plays this week that we’ve designed around how the Springboks have defended, and that’s an exciting prospect for myself and some of the other outside backs in terms of creating some pace and go-forward for the team.”
This, of course, is a typically Michael Cheika tactical game plan. His back division is known for elaborate tactical moves and plays, drills that have been tried and tested, and then perfected on the practice field. When they work, they can be exciting razzle-dazzle to watch, but they are often foiled by a wide-awake defence, especially as they tend to revolve around one or two key players such as Beale and Folau. We will be watching for these structured plays on Saturday.
Looking at the Springboks, they will be focussing on creating opportunities out wide for the pace and stepping of both their wings. Willie le Roux will be key to this strategy, gliding into the attack to create spaces and opportunities out wide. They will also, undoubtedly, be playing the direct game up the middle, looking for their big bashers – Etzebeth, Malherbe, Mtawarira, Mostert, to create the go-forward with the burst carrying of Marx and Du Toit running off them and then the pace of Kolisi and Notshe in the wider channels.
I could go on and on, discussing the possibilities, the tactics, and the strengths and weaknesses of individuals and units in both teams. At the end of the day, it is about the team that plays together, that focusses as one, that wins the game in the mind, and then produces the physical intensity and direct clinical finishing that will win the game on the scoreboard.
It is all about “Team” and playing for each other.
I do believe that the game in Wellington was the “coming of age” moment for the Rassie Erasmus Springbok team of 2018. That was the moment when the team gelled into an outfit that was playing more than for the country and the jersey, they were playing for each other.
And that is where I believe the strength of this Springbok team will come from.
At home, confident, well prepared, and without the burden of pressure, the Springboks have this one in the bag.
The Springboks, by 15 points or more.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier , 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse
Australia: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Izack Rodda, 4 Adam Coleman, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Folau Faingaa, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Rob Simmons, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Jack Maddocks