Championship preview: South Africa

Date published: July 14 2015

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We preview each of the team's prospects ahead of the upcoming Rugby Championship. Next up, it's South Africa.

The Springboks will try, once again, to end New Zealand's dominance of this tournament by winning their first title since the expansion to four teams. That is easier said than done since the All Blacks have won all three previous Rugby Championships but with this year's tournament shortened due to the upcoming World Cup, the Boks will fancy their chances as they will host the world champions in what could be a the decider at Ellis Park. 

Last Year: The Boks got off to a winning start against Argentina in Pretoria but it wasn't plain sailing as they battled to a 13-6 victory. After that, they faced los Pumas in Salta and, once again, they were pushed all the way before securing a narrow, somewhat lucky, 33-31 victory. Their luck ran out in Round Three when a late Rob Horne try secured Australia a 24-23 win in Perth. The Boks then headed to Wellington where they delivered a competitive performance against the All Blacks before losing 14-10 in captain Jean de Villiers' 100th Test. They finished the tournament on a high with home victories over Australia and New Zealand in Cape Town and Johannesburg reapectively. The 34-13 and 27-25 triumphs secured them the runners-up position.

This year: South Africa face a tricky hurdle away to Australia in Brisbane in the opening round before hosting New Zealand in Johannesburg and Argentina in Durban. Much will depend on that opening fixture against the Wallabies and if they can secure victory in that encounter it could be a shot in the arm for the rest of the tournament. A defeat, however – especially by a big margin – could have the opposite effect but Ellis Park has proven to be a happy hunting ground for the Boks and a second successive victory there against the All Blacks will set them up nicely for their final match against Argentina. With experimentation in the starting XV expected, just how well new combinations gel is likely to be the key. 

Key Players: He might be 38 years old, but Victor Matfield is arguably the greatest line-out exponent to ever play the game and his expertise at the set-piece and allround experience will prove invaluable especially in the away match against the Wallabies. Fly-half Handre Pollard looked good with ball in hand in the warm-up game against a World XV in Cape Town but struggled with his kicking – both from hand and at goal – which will be crucial tight games. At inside centre Damian de Allende will eager to continue with his fine form after impressing against the World XV and for the Stormers in Super Rugby. 

Players to watch: Coach Heyneke Meyer backed Bulls full-back Jesse Kriel to do a job for him at outside centre and the youngster didn't disappoint against the World XV. In his first appearance for the Boks, Kriel looked like he belongs at international level but facing world-class players like Conrad Smith, Tevita Kuridrani and Marcelo Bosch will be more difficult than the World XV's JJ Engelbrecht. Full-back Willie le Roux will be keen to impress after he spent a large part of the Super season on the sidelines through injury. And with back row stalwarts Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts sidelined through injury, there will be a huge responsibility on the shoulders of Francois Louw and Marcell Coetzee. Although both are openside flankers, they showed against the World XV that they can do the job when working in tandem. Perhaps most importantly, young props Vincent Koch, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Stade Français stalwart Heinke van der Merwe will push out-of-form veterans Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira hard for a place in the first-choice XV. 

Prospects: The Springboks' encounters against the Wallabies and All Blacks will hold the key to their fortunes, especially considering that they have to fly from Johannesburg to Sydney and back within the space of the week. The travel factor should play a significant role and they will do well to win one of those two matches before beating Argentina. Second place for South Africa.

Fixtures:
Fri, 18 July v Australia (Brisbane)
Sat, 25 July v New Zealand (Johannesburg)
Sat, 8 Aug v Argentina (Durban)

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