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Clash of 'survivors' in Perth

2012-09-04 14:37
Cape Town – In many respects, Saturday’s high-stakes Castle Rugby Championship encounter between Australia and South Africa could be said to feature certain men lucky enough to have clambered aboard a lifeboat since the 2011 World Cup.

There have admittedly been several retirements – particularly on the Springbok side, of course – since these teams locked horns in the quarter-final of that tournament at Wellington in October last year, and the Wallabies earned a controversial 11-9 win.

But when the sides line up at Patersons Stadium on Saturday (12:35 SA time), the significant changes in each team will also demonstrate the terrible toll taken by injuries in a first-class calendar that becomes ever more cluttered and very questionably sustainable.

The Wallabies, this time, will be missing such key figures as David Pocock, James O’Connor, Pat McCabe and James Horwill on medical grounds.

But at least the team they have chosen for this fixture, and despite the inevitable fallout from successive thumpings at the hands of New Zealand, just about retains the spine of the XV who pipped the Boks at the World Cup – eight players.

In precisely the same positions they served their country in at the “Cake Tin”, will be backline representatives Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper and Will Genia, plus pack members Radike Samo, Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson.

Although the Bok team had not been named at the time of writing (it should be available around 07:00 our time on Wednesday) it is definitely going to be much more severely altered from the line-up agonisingly blown – some would mutter by Bryce Lawrence’s whistle -- out of the World Cup.

Reading between the lines, the SA starting side ought to feature only four players who played the quarter-final, and two of them (Jean de Villiers, since switched from inside to outside centre, and versatile wing stalwart Bryan Habana) may be in different-numbered jerseys.

Morne Steyn will probably stay at flyhalf and Jannie du Plessis, who has pretty much made the tighthead prop position his own in recent months, will run out wearing No 3 again.

It is in the pack where the current Boks have been hardest hit by retirements or injuries – as reflected in Du Plessis being the lone forward survivor.

The Wallabies may well take some heart from their foes fielding an entirely different “back five” at scrum time for this meeting.

Instead of Victor Matfield and Danie Rossouw at lock, amidst that dominant unit from the Wellington clash, Eben Etzebeth and Andries Bekker will presumably be the combo, whilst all of loose trio Pierre Spies, Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brussow being on the crocked list means the Aussies may come up against Marcell Coetzee, Willem Alberts and possible new cap Duane Vermeulen.

It is a fairly good reason, like it or not, for already under-pressure coach Heyneke Meyer to venture that the Wallabies remain favourites on Saturday, however desperate he and his troops will be to nick it instead and stay in touch with runaway tourney favourites the All Blacks ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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