Preview: Australia v South Africa

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 06:21

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND THREE: Improving. Both teams are said to be improving, Australia recently in contest with the mighty All Blacks and South Africa on what happened last year.

But now reality kicks in, a stern test for both sides, third versus fifth according to World Rugby's rankings, which means they are two top teams close in recent achievement.

South Africa's better year has consisted of five wins - three over a weakened French side and two over the badly disciplined Pumas.

That said, the one a fortnight ago was in rugged, difficult Salta.

The Wallabies' improvement is a dramatic one, moving from a flattering 20-point defeat in Sydney to a dramatic and perhaps unlucky six-point defeat in Dunedin - when New Zealand scored the winning try with less than a minute left to play, a match in which the lead changed twice in the last three minutes, one of the great Tests in rugby history.

South Africa's improvement versus Australia's improvement?

Australia's was better - not just in the result but in the way they played - confident, high-tempo and skilled.

This match in Perth could just be a good one - top teams playing top rugby.

Players to Watch

For Australia: Will Genia. He is only 29 - a surprise as he seems to have been around for so long and past going walkabout in search of a pension and now back. Not just back. Back as great as ever. Every scrumhalf in the world should watch him that effortlessly fast and accurate service, that sudden, try-making break, that boot that can be powerful and also subtle. Other Wallabies to watch are Israel Folau (Heaven help the Springboks if they kick on him), strong Henry Speight and skilled, hard, unpredictable, effective Kurtley Beale.

For South Africa: Of the Springboks, there is Jan Serfontein amongst the backs but it is in the pack that their eye-catchers exist - flanks Siya Kolisi and Jaco Kriel, energetic Pieter-Steph du Toit who owes his side a good game and knows full well that his performance will be compared with that of Franco Mostert whose place he has taken, strong everywhere-man, Malcolm Marx, and Coenie Oosthuizen, who scrummed so well against the Pumas and does so much more than scrum. It may be significant that the watch able Wallabies are backs and the watch able Boks forwards. There are those who believe that "tests are won up front". Truth or truism? Saturday may tell.

Head to Head: Two aggressive enforcers - locks Adam Coleman of Australia and Eben Etzebeth of South Africa - neither willing to stand back, both with flashes of lightning, though Etzebeth may be more controlled. Kurtley Beale versus Jan Serfontein - both physically strong, both determined. Beale's footwork may be better; Serfontein may be better at creating opportunities for others. Beale may be better on counterattack , Serfontein on defence. Two excellent flyhalves, men with good hands and feet, both capable of playing and letting play, both unafraid of tackling - Bernard Foley of Australia against Elton Jantjies of South Africa. There is not much to choose between the two as goal-kickers, though the Wallabies have acquired a long-distance man in Reece Hodges. Tatafu Polota-Nau versus Malcolm Marx, bulky hooker versus bulky hooker, both strong ball-carriers. In fact the battle of the front rows could be crucial. Scrum versus Scrum: The Wallabies will be well aware of the Springbok destruction of the Puma scrum. Line-out versus line-out In two matches against New Zealand, the Wallabies did not lose a single one of their line-outs. They have won 100 percent of their own throws, the Springboks 97 percent. They are the most successful teams in the Rugby Championship on their own throws into line-outs. Genia may well be a better scrumhalf than brave Ross Cronje, but Cronje may just be getting better ball.

Results in the 2017 Rugby Championship:
New Zealand versus Australia, 54-34, Sydney
New Zealand versus Australia, 35-29, Dunedin
South Africa versus Argentina, 37-15, Port Elizabeth
South Africa versus Argentina, 41-23, Salta

Recent results:
2012: Australia won 26-19, Perth
2012: South Africa won 31-8, Pretoria
2013: South Africa won 28-8 at Newlands
2013: South Africa won 38-12, Brisbane
2014: Australia won 24-23, Perth
2014: South Africa won 28-10 at Newlands
2015: South Africa won 24-20, Brisbane
2016: Australia won 23-17, Brisbane
2016: South Africa won 18-10, Pretoria

Results in Perth: Much has been said about the Perth factor in this match. There are those who believe that Perth will be on the side of the Springboks because of the South Africans settled in Perth, the easiest place to get to and the easiest place to get back from. Then there is a belief that Western Australians may turn against the Wallabies because the Australian Rugby Union has dumped them out of Super Rugby.  Then there is the idea that the Wallabies will try even harder because of their sympathies with the spent Forced. The record below suggests that Perth is not a bad place for the Springboks to be.

1998: South Africa won 14-13, Subiaco Oval
2001: Australia and South Africa drew 14-all, Subiaco Oval
2004: Australia won 30-26, Subiaco Oval
2005: South Africa won 22-19, Subiaco Oval
2008: Australia won 16-9, Subiaco Oval
2009: South Africa won 32-25, Subiaco Oval
2012: Australia won 26-19, Subiaco Oval
2014: Australia won 24-23, Subiaco Oval

Prediction: Each of the last six Tests between these teams has been won by the home nation on the day, including an 18-10 win for the Springboks when they last met. The Wallabies have won seven of their last eight games when hosting the Springboks, including their last three; though, they've not scored more than 26 points in such a fixture since 2011. This will be the second ever Test played at nib Stadium in Perth after the Wallabies dismissed Argentina 36-20 there in last year's Rugby Championship. South Africa will be searching for back-to-back wins away from home for the first time since a brace of wins against England and Italy in 2014 (excluding 2015 Rugby World Cup). Each of these teams has played 101 games in The Rugby Championship for 42 wins, two draws, and 57 losses, while only one point separates them in defence with the Wallabies (2,472 points conceded) edging the Springboks (2,473). Australia have averaged 4.6 tries scored per game so far in 2017, their best figures in a calendar year since posting 5.8 tries per game in 1985. Australia have rallied to score four tries in the final quarter of their games already this tournament, more than any other team in the competition. The Springboks are the only team yet to concede a try in either the opening or closing quarter of games this tournament. Tevita Kuridrani is set to line up for his 50th Test cap, he scored a try on his last start against the Springboks (2015). Eben Etzebeth (eight) has won more line-outs than any other player this tournament, with two of his wins coming on the opposition's throw. South Africa to win by about five points, unless the Wallabies can have a similar start to the one they had against All Blacks in their last match.

Teams

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Reece Hodges, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio.     
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Samu Kerevi, 23 Curtis Rona.

South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Coenraad Oosthuizen, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Lodewyk de Jager, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Damian de Allende.

Date: Saturday, September 9
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 18.00 (12.00 SA time; 10.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy, no rain, a high of 21°C and a low of 13°C
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

By Paul Dobson
@rugby365com

* Statistic provided by Opta sport

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