Oz v Boks: 4 crucial duels
Cape Town - As much as a couple of their core personnel will have massive roles to play in South Africa’s attempt to topple hosts Australia in the Castle Rugby Championship match in Brisbane on Saturday (12:05 SA time), certain “fringe” Bok players may need to come to the party as well.GALLERY: Four key match-ups from the Australia v South Africa Test
In that respect, controversially recalled fullback Zane Kirchner and scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar - whose place for the home leg against the Wallabies and All Blacks will obviously be greatly endangered by the availability again of veteran Fourie du Preez - are under pressure to surpass critics’ expectations of them.
Here are the four individual tussles for the Suncorp Stadium - two in the back division and two up front - I have chosen:Zane Kirchner (SA) v Israel Folau (AUS)
Rightly or wrongly, Kirchner has been saddled with an almost cultish reputation for dullness in the last line of defence -- even if Griquas and more recently Bulls fans are likely to be able to cite examples from the annals of snappy intrusions by the mini-dreadlocked customer into backline raids. Frankly, if Kirchner is safe but effective en route to a ground-out Bok triumph at this notable bogey ground for them, he will have immediately zipped the lips of the knockers in a big way. But if the Wallabies, generally a daring, up-tempo outfit, sparkle and win this one themselves, it is highly likely that the athletically-gifted Folau – deliberately brought into a position of greater influence after occasionally going AWOL at wing recently – will have played a significant part. Still, a feeling may exist in the Bok camp that if you can get big back-three Antipodean units like him going consistently backwards, they suddenly don’t look quite so clever ... Ruan Pienaar (SA) v Will Genia (AUS)
There’s just a nagging little worry in my own mind that the “nine and ten” combination of Pienaar and Morne Steyn were at these respective posts for SA when they last visited Suncorp in 2010 ... and were easily taken out 30-13. At least Steyn is playing with renewed confidence in 2013, but his partner will certainly be under the microscope in Brisbane after another low-impact, off-the-pace display in Mendoza. Handed the captaincy in midweek after the untimely training injury to lock James Horwill, Pienaar’s opposite number at scrumhalf, Genia, could well be a dangerous, smarting foe: he has played rare second fiddle (to sprightly Aaron Smith) in successive Tests against the All Blacks, and also wasn’t at his vintage best against the British and Irish Lions. Genia is ominously “due” ... or can Pienaar somehow prolong his unusual discomfort? Francois Louw (SA) v Michael Hooper (AUS)
We’ve got a high-quality duel of the open-side flanks, featuring two men who are not averse to eclipsing even the great Richie McCaw – livewire Hooper arguably did so despite comprehensive back-to-back defeats to New Zealand recently, whilst Louw once comfortably had the Crusaders icon’s measure in a Newlands Super Rugby match for his former franchise the Stormers when they thrashed the Cantabrians 42-14. Now these two go to solo war, with Hooper likely to have the edge in mobility and link play with his backs, but heftier specimen Louw combining his turnover skills with the ability to contribute some powerful carries at close quarters. Bismarck du Plessis (SA) v Stephen Moore (AUS)
He’s back! For the first time since August 2012 - when struck by the rugby player’s primary curse of torn knee ligaments against Argentina at Newlands - the Battleship Bismarck has steam rising from the funnel once more, as he starts at hooker against the Wallabies. Du Plessis does not seem to be carrying any significant psychological or physical scars from his injury, and his grappling strength and general competitiveness will be vital if the Boks are to put down a decisive marker in the forward contest. Whether he can match Adriaan Strauss’s mostly pinpoint efficiency at lineout throwing-in is another matter, of course. The seasoned Bok No 2, in his 51st appearance, comes up against another wily old fox in Moore, who plays his own 82nd match for the Wallabies ... each man will have plenty of mental notes on the other from prior first-class combat, you can be sure. *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing