Preview: South Africa v Australia
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND ONE: This year the teams have eyes, minds and hearts fixed on the World Cup, which kicks off in Japan in September.
As a result, the four-country Rugby Championship is watered down to three quick rounds and it seems that countries will not pick full-strength teams for their three matches.
For this match, for example, it seems that South Africa has chosen a ‘B’ team, but called it the Springboks.
The Wallabies have a mixed-strength, slightly experimental team.
After all, in Round Two, which is a week later, South Africa will play New Zealand in Wellington, while Australia has a theoretically weaker opponent when they face Argentina in Brisbane.
It seems that the Rugby Championship this year is in danger of being demoted into match practice-cum-trials for the World Cup.
Almost gone are the days when a Test match was a rugby treat of exciting note.
South Africa have played Australia 10 times at Ellis Park in downtown Johannesburg, winning nine and losing just once – 9-11 back in 1963. The last time they played at Ellis Park was in 2008, when the Springboks won 53-8, scoring eight tries to one.
But then Springboks have played the Wallabies eight times at Suncorp Stadium in sea-level Brisbane, and the Wallabies have won seven times – a much greater percentage of success than they have otherwise against South Africa.
It would seem that some grounds are a greater advantage to the home side than others.
And Ellis Park is that ground for South Africa. One of Ellis Park’s weapons is the altitude.
The Wallabies showed their earnestness of approach to this game by arriving in Johannesburg more than a week before the match and doing the first part of their training (build-up) ate the North-West resort of Sun City and then relocated to Johannesburg for the second week – all in an effort to negate the effects of the altitude.
But then these Wallabies are not like the Wallabies past. They no longer have the look of fresh young athletes from GPS Schools, with a romantic attitude to the game. These are battle-hardened professionals who do as other people do and even have a contingent of foreigners and even converts from Rugby League, whereas code-swapping went the other way in days past.
The Springboks, too, have their players – admittedly South Africans by birth – who take the overseas franc and pound. The Wallabies have players who immigrate in search of pay, while South Africans have players who emigrate for pay.
Rassie Erasmus, the Springbok coach with a reputation of being clever and innovative, is convinced that his two-team system for the Rugby Championship is capable of succeeding both in the Championship and in the World Cup.
Players to Watch:
The new caps will be of interest. Scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies and loose forward Rynhardt Elstadt in the Springbok starting team and No.8 Isi Naisarani on the Wallabies side. The two fullbacks are worth watching – Warrick Gelant of South Africa and Tom Banks of Australia, both pretty new to starting in Tests, but both players of attacking flair, men who can change the course of play. You will also see and want to see the contributions of the two forwards with the No.7 on their backs – Pieter-Steph du Toit and Michael Hooper, both players of relentless energy, determination and strength. For South Africans there will be great interest in the returnees from overseas – veteran Francois Louw and also, when they get onto the field, Frans Steyn who was at the World Cups of 2007 and 2011, Marcell Coetzee and Cobus Reinach. Australia’s returnee Nick White will also be of interest, if only because he must be special if genuinely preferred to the great Will Genia.
Head to Head:
Front row versus front row – Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane of South Africa against James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a and Sekope Kepu of Australia in the full knowledge that scrum domination can be a big factor in victory or defeat. Lodewyk de Jager versus Rory Arnold, two important men in the middle of line-outs. Centres versus centres – André Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel against the Fijian duo of Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani, a contest of strength and speed against strength and nous. Goal-kicker versus goal-kicker – Elton Jantjies of South Africa versus Bernard Foley of Australia. Jantjies has a success rating of 82 percent, Foley 74 percent. The form on the day can confound statistics.
Prediction: South Africa have lost only one of their last five Tests against Australia; though, two of those meetings ended in a draw. This will be the 11th meeting between South Africa and Australia at Ellis Park, the Springboks having won nine of the previous 10 clashes at the venue. South Africa have won only three of their last 10 games in The Rugby Championship, including a last-start two-point defeat to New Zealand. South Africa have won 13 of their last 16 games played at Ellis Park, including their last three on the bounce across which they’ve scored an average of 36 points per game. Australia will be looking to secure back-to-back wins at The Rugby Championship for the first time since 2016 – after ending their 2018 campaign with a 45-34 win over Argentina. Australia’s win rate of 24 percent when playing in South Africa is their lowest in any nation; indeed, it is the lowest win rate of any of the six nations to have played more than 20 Tests there. South Africa have scored 22 drop-goals at The Rugby Championship, as many as all three other teams combined (Australia nine, New Zealand nine, Argentina four). Dane Haylett-Petty (Australia) gained 397 metres in The Rugby Championship 2018, the most of any player and 130 more than South Africa’s best, Siya Kolisi (267). Willie Le Roux (South Africa) produced the joint-most try assists (five, also New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett) in The Rugby Championship 2018, three more than any Australian player managed. Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa) made the most tackles (83) of any player in The Rugby Championship 2018, 33 more than the leading player in Australia’s 2019 squad Michael Hooper (50)
Prediction: South Africa
Margin: Five points
South Africa: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt , 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marcel Coetzee, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Dillyn Leyds.
Australia: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Date: Saturday, July 20
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT; 01.05 AEST Sunday, July 21)
Expected weather: Sunny with a high of 15°C, dropping to 7°C 0- a lovely winter’s day on the Highveld
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
By Paul Dobson
* Statistics provided by Opta
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