Planet Rugby

Preview: South Africa v Australia

26th August 2010 23:47

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Spies takes Mitchell

No holds barred: Pierre Spies takes on Drew Mitchell

Done and dusted the Tri-Nations may be, but don't dare think there's little on the line when Australia come to Loftus on Saturday.

On South Africa's agenda will be all sorts of points to prove: that they can beat Australia, that they are well-enough conditioned to play the 'new law interpretations' and that they are evolving their game, even if in their own direction.

On Australia's side, there'll be the challenge of winning away, something they've not managed in the Tri-Nations for a while, and making sure they don't finish last. Come to think of it, that's very much on both teams' agendas. Very much.

Then there's individual points. John Smit's ghost from his 100th Test needs a quick exorcision; there'd be little better time to do it than on the occasion of right-hand man Victor Matfield's 100th Test (and apparently in front of at least 30,000 people wearing Victor Matfield cut-out masks, if one report is to be believed).

Next up: Frans Steyn. Is he injured? Does he want to play? Can he still play at this level after a year in France which coach Peter de Villiers has claimed leaves him a yard off the pace?

Other less nagging questions are pertinent to this Bok team. Is Flip van der Merwe going to cut it at this level? Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie are re-united, but is De Villiers of 2010 the same model as the one of 2007 that could put Fourie away through a mousehole with simple timing of the pass?

Perhaps you're seeing a theme to the review of this South Africa side so far, that of the unanswered question. It is one of those things this team used to be very very good at: leaving no detail unexamined, no failsafe untested. But this 2010 model is conspicuous for being considerably less roadworthy than it's predecessor; now it's back in the place where so much of this Bok model was constructed, are we going to see the flaws corrected? Another question. You just can't find any answers as to how this side, dominant in so many facets last year and for so long the benchmark for the world, has fallen from grace so.

Opposite them stand a few longer-standing doubts. We've heard for so long how Australia have been building and the foundations have looked sturdy indeed, but Wallaby fans around the place are beginning to wish that at least one storey could be put up without a fatal flaw being revealed.

Questions here too, personal and collective. Is Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau the most effective 10-12 axis? Can the Wallaby scrum continue to raise itself to the big occasion despite being palpably second best? Was the 30-13 win over the Boks a month ago yet another false dawn? Is this team really capable of more or is this just a good side being made to look ordinary in the toughest competition of all?

South Africa and their fans have a fair few chances to set a record straight in this Test. Refereeing it is Alain Rolland, who raised the ire of the Bok faithful in New Zealand just over a month ago by daring to whistle a few penalties for the opposition.

Pretoria is not a pretty place to go if you're not popular - particularly not when the locals have been whipped into a frenzy by the national anthem being belted out by Afrikaans folk-hero Toks van der Linde moments before the hundredth Test of Pretoria's favourite son Matfield - and Rolland will be under extraordinary pressure during this game. But Rolland is rarely flapped by such events and South Africa will need to be very careful of their own discipline. The fans will not give it to them and neither will Toks van der Linde.

Moreover, punishing any indiscipline will be a kicker coached this week by the native Braam van Straaten, as infectiously enthusiastic a kicking coach as you could wish for. If Matt Giteau was feeling a little shaky about his kicking before this week, Van Straaten will have ensured that not only is Giteau kicking better, but positively relishing each kick as a fun new experience as well.

No, make no mistake, this is not just a match-up between two runners-up, this is a no holds barred face-off between two embattled nations seeking redemption for all sorts of woes. It's going to be riveting viewing.

Ones to watch:

For South Africa: Enfant terrible or still the prodigal son? One feels that this match will be a test of more than just rugby abilities for Francois Steyn. Capable of 60m penalties just as much as he might be capable of breaking down after 60m running if Pierre Berbizier is to be believed, Saturday will see the wisdom of Steyn's French exile either proven or utterly discredited.

For Australia: Back from suspension and re-untied with Will Genia, the memory of Quade Cooper's abilities will not be lost on the Pretoria faithful after the Reds eked out a win over the Bulls in the Super 14, inspired by the very same Cooper. But it's one thing to win a provincial match in Suncorp, quite another to face the locals up north in SA. Cooper's supposedly suspect temperament will be given the most meticulous of examinations.

Head to head: The two finest blindsides in world rugby go mano a mano: Juan Smith and Rocky Elsom. As abrasive a battle as you could wish for between two men at the very heart of their respective teams.

Previous results:
2010: Australia won 30-13 in Brisbane
2009: Australia won 21-6 in Brisbane
2009: South Africa won 32-25 in Perth
2009: South Africa won 29-17 in Cape Town
2008: South Africa won 53-8 in Johannesburg
2008: Australia won 27-15 in Durban
2008: Australia won 16-9 in Perth
2007: Australia won 25-17 in Sydney
2007: South Africa won 22-19 in Cape Town
2006: South Africa won 24-16 in Johannesburg
2006: Australia won 20-18 in Sydney

Prediction: The Loftus factor to win it for the Boks. But only by a whisker - say five points!

South Africa: 15 Francois Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Janie du Plessis, 2 John Smit, 1 Gurtho Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Butch James, 22 Juan de Jongh.

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (captain), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Saia Faainga, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Ben McCalman, 19 Scott Higginbotham, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Anthony Faainga.

Date: Saturday, August 28
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Weather: Sunny, 17°C dropping fast after the sun goes down
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

By Dave Morris

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