Aus must match Boks' muscle
James Horwill (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Australia's challenge is clear: Match the Springboks' muscle or surrender a fourth Rugby Championship defeat from five in coach Ewen McKenzie's struggling short reign.
Add South Africa's poorly disguised irritation and extra motivation at Bismarck du Plessis' red card and the defeat to New Zealand two weeks ago, and its recent dominance over Australia at Newlands, and Cape Town's Table Mountain — the imposing backdrop here — appears a far easier summit for the traveling 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' typical physicality.
"We are going into a tough environment," McKenzie said.
McKenzie also picked muscular midfielder Tevita Kuridrani at No. 13 for his first test start and wings Joe Tomane and Adam Ashley-Cooper are trusted as solid defenders and strong runners.
Scrumhalf Nic White was retained at scrumhalf to give Australia a territorial foothold with his kicking, leaving the mercurial 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. "They will better. We expect them to get emotional about it and fired up about it. So they'll be better."
Only how much better?
Despite the outward caution that's expected from heavy favorites, 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 in its last game 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 scrumhalf Fourie du Preez was recalled for a rematch with the Wallabies and his first start since the countries' met at the World Cup two years ago and Australia won.
The resting of Du Plessis may be the biggest sign that the Boks are rather 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."
Despite hints, like in Brisbane and a 60-point home win over Argentina, South Africa also hasn't established itself as a consistent challenger to dominant world and southern hemisphere champion New Zealand. The Springboks struggled to beat Argentina away and despite talking themselves up ahead of the All Blacks at Eden Park, South Africa 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. They won their last game and they're a good side ... The (Newlands) record won't win us a game on Saturday. We're still going to have to pitch up."
South Africa: Zane Kirchner, Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Flip van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Juandre Kruger, Siya Kolisi, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.
Australia: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali'ifano, Joe Tomane, Quade Cooper, Nic White; Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill (captain), Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Reserves: Saia Fainga'a, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Ben McCalman, Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Chris Feauai-Sautia.