We're set for a cracking game at Loftus on Saturday as the Wallabies go in search of their sixth consecutive win over the Springboks.
If the history books are anything to go by, we're set for a cracking game at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday as the Wallabies go in search of their sixth consecutive win over the Springboks.
Positive team selections, bone-dry weather, a venue with a history of high-scoring fixtures (especially between these sides) and two coaches looking to prove a point: all the indicators suggest we're in for a treat and probably the highest scoring game of the Rugby Championship to date.
Both Heyneke Meyer and Robbie Deans said they expect a fast-paced game. The South Africa coach is eager to show Bok fans that his team can dance to more than one tune while his Wallaby counterpart has a long track record of leading sides that play positive rugby, despite what Quade 'I-think-I'm-Sonny-Bill-Williams-but-you-should-treat-me-like-Dan-Carter' Cooper would have us believe.
Fly-halves (as they tend to do) have been in the headlines this week and the spotlight will be firmly fixed on Johan Goosen and Kurtley Beale. Many fans and pundits firmly believe that the Cheetahs pivot is the embodiment of the path they hope the Boks will follow over the next for years. Considering Cooper's fall-out with Deans and the ARU, Beale could well find himself in a similar position for the Aussies, (assuming the current coaching staff manage to hang around.)
But we're getting ahead of ourselves and Bok fans in particular shouldn't delude themselves by thinking the wunderkind from Bloem is going to transform the way the Boks play overnight. As Meyer stressed at Wednesday's team announcement, Test rugby is a very different level to the Currie Cup and no one should expect Goosen to be cutting Australia's defence apart at will.
The Wallabies have won seven of the last eight Tests between these sides, including the previous two on South African soil. During the Deans era, Australia have claimed the spoils in three of their six games in the Republic. Prior to his arrival, they had won just once in SA in the professional era.
But they've never won at Loftus.
Even though victory in Bloemfontein two years ago ended their Highveld hoodoo, the thin air and hostile crowd in the South African capital have seen the home side to victory on all five previous Wallaby visits.
Deans has long maintained that teams of the past have made too much of the altitude factor and ended up psyching themselves out of the contest. When I spoke to young wing Dom Shipperley on Thursday, he had a similar take on the crowd, insisting the atmosphere wasn't an issue unless you made it one for yourself.
Fair points from both, but the numbers don't lie. Our tipster dug up some interesting stats for internationals in Pretoria, where the Boks are outscoring visiting teams by an average of 13 points in the second half. That number climbs to 16 against the Wallabies.
So it seems no matter their mental approach, the Wallabies will still have to overcome that lungs-on-fire sensation that is unavoidable in the last 20 minutes at 4,500 feet above sea level.
They've been on the Highveld for ten days, so they should be acclimatised. But even if they had been here for a year, handing out free Wallaby jerseys, it wouldn't make the 52,000-strong crowd any friendlier.
However if this injury-depleted Aussie squad can get that record-setting sixth straight win over the Boks, it'll be an occasion to be remembered.
Players to watch:
For South Africa: As mentioned above, all eyes will be on Johan Goosen, who at the tender age of 20 will be tasked with igniting the Bok attack. You have to be pretty special to replace Morne Steyn for a Test at Loftus. Expectations are sky-high but his team-mates reckon he thrives under pressure. Francois Louw played for Bath last week, meaning he's done a lot of traveling in the last fortnight. It'll be interesting to see when Marcell Coetzee needs to take over from the bench. Zane Kirchner is next in line to get the axe if public pressure has anything to do with Bok selections, but he's usually very solid on his home turf.
For Australia: Another young gun, Kurtley Beale will run the Wallabies backline, but his big boot is also set to come in handy in a territorial battle that will see punts fly 70ms when struck sweetly. He'll interchange positions with Berrick Barnes fairly regularly with the latter set be tested under the high ball. Up front Benn Robinson becomes the third Australian prop to reach his half century of international appearances and will want to build on the solid performance from the Wallaby scrum in Perth.
Head-to-head: With both teams set to use the favourable kicking conditions to seek out territory, the line-outs could make or break the attacking plans. South Africa have recalled their first-choice lock pairing of Eben Etzebeth and Andries Bekker, with the former returning from suspension and the latter looking to make amends for his nightmare game in Mendoza after a solid stint off the bench against the All Blacks. Meyer said earlier this week that Bekker was suited to the open game we all expect because his “strong point is to pitch up as a centre, ala Victor Matfield, on the wing sometimes!” Wallaby skipper Nathan Sharpe joins former openside George Smith as the most capped forward in the green and gold (playing his 110th Test), but it remains to be seen if the old warhorse will go the distance. 23-year-old Kane Douglas wins just his second cap, but at 122kg he's got the tools to make an impact.
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: There has been an average of 53 total points per game in Tests at Lofus and 50 between these sides, so the safe money is on a high-scoring game. We reckon the Boks looked good enough against the All Blacks to merit their favourites tag. South Africa by ten points!
South African (revised): 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Marcell Coetzee,