Preview: Australia v South Africa

Date published: September 5 2013

Australia continue their quest for victory in The Rugby Championship when they host South Africa on Saturday.

Australia continue their quest for victory in The Rugby Championship when they host South Africa on Saturday.

Back-to-back matches against New Zealand were always going to be a tough ask for new Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, and whilst there were certainly notable moments for Australia, overall they were generally outclassed.

There is hardly any shame in that – New Zealand, bar their blip against England, are far and away the best team in world rugby and by some distance.

The Wallabies have improved as they've gone on, even leading 6-0 after half an hour in Wellington, but Australia didn't take enough chances whilst the All Blacks, as ever, never let their's get away.

McKenzie's baptism has therefore been scorching, but the former Reds boss now has a better idea of what needs work. Defensively in Sydney there were far too many defensive lapses to make the fixture a contest, regardless of Will Genia's brilliance. The lack of impact from the bench, something McKenzie publicly criticised following the loss in Wellington, has been another downfall.

Matt Toomua, much like McKenzie, had an unreasonably hard start to Test rugby and has now lost his number ten jersey to Quade Cooper.

The return of Australia's enigmatic stand-off, partnering stand-in captain Genia at half-back, guarantees fireworks – but the Wallabies will need control to take down South Africa.

The dropping of Jesse Mogg on the other hand is more understandable, after the Brumbies' star struggled in his first two starts.

Moving Israel Folau into what many regard as his best position at full-back will be worth observing, as the tri-code convert looks suited to the 15 jersey considering his prowess under the high ball and ability to break out from the back.

South Africa have also made a switch at full-back, but it has not been met with quite as much fanfare.

New Leinster signing Zane Kirchner is back for the Springboks after many months on the sidelines due to a hand injury. His inclusion, a safety-first measure to cure the Boks troubles under the high ball against Argentina, has shifted Willie Le Roux onto the right wing with Bryan Habana moving over to the left.

The selection of Kirchner smacks of opting for solidity, with Bjorn Basson's defensive capabilities queried, and South Africa perhaps are a touch rattled after their difficult trip to Mendoza two weeks ago.

Despite a 22-17 victory, the Springboks largely struggled against a physical Argentina side that ruled at the breakdown and were far more inventive in attack. It was a long way from the 73-13 rout over the Pumas a week before, but offered a more revealing examination of where South Africa currently are as a team.

Wins in 2013 have come over Samoa, Italy, Scotland and Argentina at home, whilst squeaking past Argentina away. Five victories yes, four at home, but not against top class opposition. It's a run of form that on closer inspection, is not quite as gleaming as it seems.

For that reason, against the Wallabies, Heyneke Meyer has freshened up his forwards and looked to secure a win away in Australia for the first time since 2009 to dispel any doubts about the Boks' ability overseas.

Players to watch:

For Australia: Cooper will naturally gather plenty of the attention in the build-up to Saturday's game, which leaves Michael Hooper the scope to fly under the radar. Other sides fear Hooper because he is an outstanding limpet at the ruck area – regardless of the opposition. South Africa will have planned to take him out physically, the power of Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen acting as a counter-threat, but Hooper is sly and can make key turnovers when it counts.

For South Africa: When you can swap out Andries Strauss and bring back in Bismarck du Plessis, then your depth in the number two jersey is blessed. Packing down alongside brother Jannie and team-mate Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck was the first of the trio to reach 50 caps when he came off the bench against Argentina, with the other two not far behind on 47 and 46 respectively. That much familiarity will provide the Wallabies with real concern at scrum time, whilst Bismarck is capable of making plays of his own at the breakdown.

Head-to-head: Searching for James O'Connor's best position in a green and gold jersey is a guessing game that has gone on for far too long. His stint at fly-half against the Lions was a mistake, but there is substantial doubt as to whether he has enough speed to be an international winger. With Folau at full-back, Nick Cummins back in the fold and Henry Speight soon to qualify on residency, O'Connor needs to make an impression.

His opposite man will be Willie Le Roux – now a fully fledged Springbok after an excellent season in Super Rugby with the Cheetahs. Shifted over to the wing after some concern over his ability under the high ball against Argentina, Le Roux has not many, but a few critics to answer over his effectiveness so far at Test level.

Previous results:
2012: South Africa won 31-8, Pretoria
2012: Australia won 26-19, Perth
2011: Australia won 11-9, Wellington
2011: Australia won 14-9, Durban
2011: Australia won 39-20, Sydney
2010: Australia won 41-39, Bloemfontein
2010: South Africa won 44-31, Pretoria
2010: Australia won 30-13, Brisbane
2009: Australia won 21-6, Brisbane
2009: South Africa won 32-25, Perth
2009: South Africa won 29-17, Cape Town
2008: South Africa won 53-8, Johannesburg

Prediction: The late withdrawal of James Horwill for the Wallabies changes the outlook of this one slightly. The amount of hysteria generated around his potential absence against the Lions underlines how important he is to Australia. Furthermore, it takes away another physical presence in the Wallaby pack against a fierce Springbok outfit.

Both sides are searching for some credibility and there is very little to choose between them, but Morné Steyn's boot just might close this one out. South Africa by 3!

The teams:

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Adam-Ashley Cooper, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 James O'Connor, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Jesse Mogg.

South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan