With all four teams still in the hunt for the Rugby Championship title, there will be plenty at stake when the Wallabies host the Springboks in Sydney on Saturday.
After three rounds of action, Australia head into this encounter in a confident mood as they are currently in joint top spot on the table with nine points amassed, although they have an inferior points difference to Argentina with both teams having two victories and a solitary defeat.
By contrast, the Springboks are languishing at the bottom of the standings on four points with just one win and two defeats registered so far. South Africa are just one point adrift of New Zealand, who occupy third position, but with the competition currently at its midway stage the Boks can ill afford another loss.
This is of course the second successive week that these two sides head into battle and the Wallabies will have their tails up as they were victorious in the corresponding encounter in Adelaide last week.
That result was a momentous one for Australia as it means they have now won all three of their matches against South Africa since Dave Rennie took charge of the team after the 2019 Rugby World Cup. They have also extended their unbeaten record against the Boks in Australia to eight matches with their visitors’ last win registered there in 2013.
The Wallabies came into that fixture in Adelaide under tremendous pressure after suffering a record 48-17 defeat to Argentina in their Round Two Rugby Championship fixture, while a plethora of injuries to the likes of Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi, Izaia Perese, Cadeyrn Neville and Tom Banks wreaked havoc with their preparations during the earlier rounds. However, a fast start proved crucial in Adelaide – as the Boks were playing catch-up for the entire game – and is something they will be targeting again.
The Boks’ lack of imagination on attack meant they created few try-scoring opportunities and that encounter also proved costly as they lost the services of their vice-captain Handre Pollard, Lukhanyo Am, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Elton Jantjies to injury, with Pollard and Am sidelined for the rest of the tournament.
That means they are the ones with their backs to the wall as they head into this fixture. Pressure is mounting on head coach Jacques Nienaber, who is struggling without director of SA Rugby Rassie Erasmus by his side. Bok supporters will expect nothing less than a victory from their side as another loss could be catastrophic for the visitors in the grander scheme of things.
Last time they met
These sides met just a week ago in a Round Three encounter, and the home side continued their recent dominance of this fixture as they sealed a deserved 25-17 triumph at the Adelaide Oval. The Wallabies made a bright start as they raced into a 10-0 lead courtesy of a Fraser McReight try which was converted by Noah Lolesio, who also added a penalty. The Springboks struck back with a Pollard penalty but, despite spending the latter stages of the opening half camped inside their opponents’ 22, the Boks couldn’t add to their points tally and the teams changed sides at half-time with Australia leading 10-3. Rennie’s men then controlled matters after the break and were 25-3 up by the 64th minute after further tries from Marika Koroibete and McReight as well as another penalty from Lolesio. That sealed their win, although the Boks finished stronger courtesy of two consolation tries from Kwagga Smith in the game’s closing stages.
What they said
Despite coming away with the win in Adelaide, Wallabies attack coach Scott Wisemantel is disappointed with how they finished that game and said missing out on a bonus point left a bitter taste in the mouth.
“It does, you’re filthy that you miss that point, we’re livid,” he said. “We’ve disappointed with that last 8-10 minutes and we’re had chances there. Even when it was three tries to one, we had a chance off a set-piece to do something. We’ve got to be a little more cut-throat and ruthless so it’s definitely something we’ve spoken about and worked on.”
Meanwhile, Springboks forwards coach Deon Davids believes his team will be victorious if they improve on their ability to convert point-scoring opportunities.
“We did a thorough review of last week’s game and in the end, it came down to Australia creating opportunities, which they used, while we also created a lot of opportunities, but we didn’t capitalise on them, and that’s our main focus this week,” he said.
Players to watch
Keep an eye on Reece Hodge, who delivered a steady performance in his last outing against the Boks. Although the three-time world champions peppered him with bombs, the Wallabies full-back was up to the challenge as he was safe under the high ball throughout that encounter. Hodge also possesses a booming boot which will be crucial in relieving pressure for his team from the back with long range touch finders.
Another player who will be crucial to the Wallabies’ cause is their stand-in skipper James Slipper who, despite being thrown into the deep end with the captaincy, has done a good job. Under his leadership, Australia won their first clash against Los Pumas before suffering a humiliating loss against the same opposition in their next game, but they bounced back with that crucial win over the Boks last week. Wallabies supporters will be delighted if he can lead his team to another triumph this weekend.
There were several Australians who impressed with fine attacking performances in Adelaide but star wing Marika Koroibete enhanced his reputation as he came to the fore with an outstanding all-round display. The code hopper reads the game well which means he will be a handful on defence – as Makazole Mapimpi found out in Adelaide – and on attack where he has the ability to change the course of a match with a moment of magic.
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For South Africa, it all starts up front and they will be boosted by the return to the run-on side of star hooker Malcolm Marx, who will make his first start since running out for his 50th Test in the Boks’ first encounter against the All Blacks last month. Marx delivered a man-of-the-match performance in that game but was inexplicably named on South Africa’s replacements bench for their next matches against New Zealand and Australia. In both those games he impressed in losing causes and his return to the starting XV should significantly improve the Boks’ chances.
Joining Marx in the run-on side is his good friend Steven Kitshoff, who is another member of the Boks’ highly rated ‘Bomb Squad’. The Stormers captain is superb in the execution of his core duties, with his scrummaging and defence two of the standout features of his game. Like Marx, the 30-year-old is also a menace at the breakdown and don’t be surprised if he wins some turnovers for his team.
Also keep an eye on young flyer Canan Moodie, who will become South Africa’s second youngest Test debutant in the professional era – behind Frans Steyn – when he runs out on Saturday. The 19-year-old faces a tough challenge as he will mark Koroibete but the youngster has shown in the Bulls’ United Rugby Championship campaign that he is an exciting talent with the ability to shine on attack and defence, and he will be determined to hit the ground running at Test level.
These teams have several talented and exciting players across the park but the battle between the two fly-halves – Australia’s Noah Lolesio and Damian Willemse – will be crucial as both possess a vast array of skills. Lolesio played arguably his best game for the Wallabies since his debut in 2020 as his game management was excellent and he showed that he has the ability to dictate the pace of the game for long periods. His confidence will grow after that display and he will be determined to build on that showing.
Willemse has nailed down his place as South Africa’s first choice full-back but he has shown his versatility with some impressive cameo performances for the Boks at inside centre and fly-half. Having him as his team’s chief playmaker is an exciting development but how much freedom will he have to express himself under the current Springbok game plan? Another facet of play which could have an impact on this game’s outcome is goal-kicking. Lolesio has battled in that department in the past but was solid off the kicking tee in Adelaide. Meanwhile, Willemse also had his struggles as a goal-kicker with the Stormers, but keeping the scoreboard ticking with penalties is a key aspect of the Boks’ game plan and it will be interesting to see if he manages to do that in this Test.
This should be another intriguing battle between these sides who will both be determined to secure victory for different reasons. Everything begins up front so don’t be surprised if the visitors come with another strong forward onslaught. The Boks are hurting and desperate to return to winning ways but they face a confident Wallabies outfit under the guidance of a savvy coach in Rennie. Australia to win by five points.
2022: Australia won 25-17 in Adelaide
2021: Australia won 30-17 in Brisbane
2021: Australia won 28-26 on the Gold Coast
2019: South Africa won 35-17 in Johannesburg
2018: South Africa won 23-12 in Gqeberha
2018: Australia won 23-18 in Brisbane
2017: The teams drew 27-27 in Bloemfontein
2017: The teams drew 23-23 in Perth
Australia: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 David Porecki, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Jake Gordon, 23 Andrew Kellaway
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Kwagga Smith, 20 Duane Vermeulen, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Warrick Gelant
Date: Saturday, September 3
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19:35 local (10:35 BST, 09:35 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Tual Trainini (France)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)