Rugby Championship

4 duels that could tilt Bok Test

2017-09-08 12:30
Raymond Rhule (Gallo)

Cape Town – One or two direct tussles between players that fall a bit short of obvious glamour on paper may well be influential in determining the fate of Saturday’s anticipated close Rugby Championship tussle between Australia and South Africa in Perth (12:00 SA time).

At first glance, for example, less than firmly-settled Springbok right wing Raymond Rhule against recalled utility back Reece Hodge on the Wallabies’ wide left doesn’t automatically whet the appetite.

Nor is Uzair Cassiem v Sean McMahon at No 8 one to rapidly have “box-office appeal” stamped all over it.

But why I suspect such match-ups could be pivotal is explained below, where a couple of more instantly tantalising duels are assessed as well …

Raymond Rhule (SA) v Reece Hodge (Oz)

We all know what Ghanaian-born speedster Rhule can offer when games are helter-skelter and there is space to spare for his nippy offensives. But at Test level, a more complete package is required amidst the back three – including critical defensive accuracy, plus positional and tactical-kicking acumen – and here Rhule hasn’t yet, frankly, ticked the box. In what could be a nail-biter in Perth, with gains made in small measures, the still-raw Bok international at No 14 will face a searching examination of his skills “going backwards” or at least in tidying up under pressure. Remember that in both the current Wallaby and All Black teams, at least two members of the back three are known, capable fullbacks, whereas both Bok wings are really specialists there. Expect the Wallabies to sternly test Rhule in aerial matters, especially, where his tall opposite winger Hodge – competent anywhere in a backline from flyhalf or beyond -- has a canny, prodigious boot. Hodge comes in for another versatile footballer, the injured Dane Haylett-Petty, and will want to make a mark after five consecutive appearances as a reserve.  

Elton Jantjies (SA) v Bernard Foley (Oz)

Confidence makes Jantjies tick (more than just tick, often enough) and this first-time individual tussle as Test starters between he and Foley at flyhalf – Quade Cooper was the Aussie No 10 when they beat the Boks in Brisbane last year – comes at a promising juncture for the Lions favourite in that regard. He has already played a pair of superb games against Argentina, looking both authoritative and highly enterprising, and generally been in clinical form off the tee as well – an area that could decide this contest. Jantjies missed his first two penalties in Salta two weeks ago, but was unerring afterwards, whereas Foley (he has a strong edge in Test experience, with 47 caps to 16) stuttered to a costly extent in the brave 35-29 loss to NZ in Dunedin. The Aussie pivot kicked only a flimsy two conversions then, despite the Wallabies getting a rare five tries against the world champions. Australia may involve Hodge for a few of their longer attempts at the posts on Saturday, especially if Foley looks a bit flaky again … 

Uzair Cassiem (SA) v Sean McMahon (Oz)

What these two combatants have in common is that they are still learning the trade at top level as No 8s. The 17-cap, strong-engine McMahon made his Wallaby debut as an openside flanker in 2014, and it was only around a year ago that they began a more regular conversion of the 23-year-old into duty at the back of the scrum where he still acts as an important extra stealer, among other duties. Similarly, the more physically-geared Cassiem, acquainted with duty at both six and seven, is an even more recent convert to Bok eighth-man as they negotiate the phase minus regular captain and specialist in the berth Warren Whiteley. It seemed a gamble when Allister Coetzee first named him at eight against Argentina in Port Elizabeth, but so far the Cheetahs player has coped decently enough. With respect to the feisty, versatile McMahon, Cassiem’s real test in the spot – assuming he is retained, of course – lies a week ahead against a certain Kieran Read.

Malcolm Marx (SA) v Tatafu Polota-Nau (Oz)

Michael Cheika may be a colourful, sometimes volatile character but the Wallaby coach is also no fool. He realises that rapidly-rising Bok hooker Marx has become a core part of the impressive Bok forward unit in recent times, and has opted to fight fire with fire in the physical stakes this weeks. Thus a return to the Aussie starting line-up of veteran hefty unit Polota-Nau, a 32-year-old veteran of 73 Tests even if his best days may be behind him – especially as he has had several much-publicised concussion issues. But now the 114kg monster is primed afresh to encounter Lions dynamo Marx, nine years his junior but a real “riser” in world rugby this year. The Bok No 2 will actually take a four or five-kilogram advantage into this scrap, and as much as both men will be expected to make strong ball-carrying yards for their respective causes, they will have important roles at the very fulcrum of the scrums and in lineout-accuracy terms, too.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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