Rugby Championship

Wallabies step back to leap forward

2015-07-16 12:29
Michael Cheika (Getty Images)

Brisbane - Australia have turned back the clock in the hope of making a winning start to a Rugby Championship campaign for the first time when they meet a patched up South Africa side at Lang Park in Brisbane on Saturday.

The Wallabies last won their opening match of the southern hemisphere championship when they claimed the final Tri-Nations title in 2011, a similar truncated tournament to this one as it also fell in a World Cup year.

Coach Michael Cheika has turned to the driving force behind that campaign, the halfback partnership of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, to fire a backline that has failed to score more than two tries in any of their last eight meetings with South Africa.

Matt Giteau's international exile was already a year old when the Wallabies won that Tri-Nations and, after an eligibility rule change, he returns from France to offer the benefit of his experience outside Cooper in the number 12 shirt.

Whatever quality there is in the Wallabies backline, however, both sides know that they will be unable to show off their skills if Genia does not get clean, quick ball in the right parts of the pitch.

Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer, whose squad has been ravaged by injury, is clearly of the opinion that the breakdown will decide the contest and has picked his back row accordingly.

In the absence of the injured No 8 Duane Vermeulen, Meyer has recalled Schalk Burger to join Marcell Coetzee and Francois Louw in a mobile but combative loose forward unit.

Cheika, meanwhile, chose Michael Hooper at openside flank and benched David Pocock, whose ball-poaching performance against the Springboks in the quarter-finals of the 2011 World Cup is the stuff of legend.

There is at least one throwback element to the Springboks side with 38-year-old lock Victor Matfield captaining the team in his 122nd test while Jean de Villiers continues his recovery from injury.

Matfield and Eben Etzebeth will be out to make the lineout the usual launch-pad of the Springbok attack and the selection in the Australia second row of Will Skelton, who is too heavy to lift, should help them in that endeavour.

Skelton, who weighs in at around 140kgs, has been included for his ball-running skills in attack and big hits in defence, not to mention his proven skill at stopping rolling mauls.

Cheika, however, will be hoping Giteau's game management means Australia will be playing as much of the match as possible at the other end of the pitch where his backs can do most damage.

Australia, languishing at sixth in the world rankings after losing seven of 14 Tests last year, will at the very least hope to avoid the 38-12 beating they suffered the last time the sides met at Lang Park.

That was South Africa's first victory in Brisbane and Meyer will be delighted if his injury-depleted side can produce a similar defensive effort and dominate the scrum in the same way they did two years ago.



15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 James Slipper

Substitutes: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 James Horwill, 20 David Pocock, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Drew Mitchell

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo


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