After suffering surprising defeats in their previous matches, both Australia and South Africa will be determined to return to the Rugby Championship victory trail when they do battle in Adelaide on Saturday.
With each of the four competing countries in the tournament registering a victory and a defeat after two rounds and with a point separating them on the table, all the teams know that they can ill afford to lose again this weekend.
Australia started their campaign in style with an impressive 41-26 bonus-point victory over Argentina in Mendoza before suffering a record 48-17 defeat to the same opposition a week later in San Juan.
It was a similar story for the Springboks, who kicked off the tournament with a memorable 26-10 triumph against the All Blacks in Mbombela before their arch rivals turned the tables on them courtesy of a 35-23 loss the following week in Johannesburg.
The Boks will go into this fixture with some trepidation as they have struggled when playing against the Wallabies on Australian soil for some time now. South Africa are currently on a seven-match winless streak against the Wallabies in Australia and last won there in 2013 when they clinched a 38-12 victory in Brisbane.
Although they secured a 23-23 draw in Perth in 2017, the closest the current world champions came to ending their poor form in Australia was last year when a late Quade Cooper penalty sealed a 28-26 win for the hosts, who also clinched a 30-17 victory over the Boks in Brisbane a week later.
Those statistics will, of course, be a shot in the arm for the Wallabies and their confidence will also be boosted by the fact that they have won both their two previous Tests played at Adelaide Oval, with their most recent being in 2004.
Last time they met
After Australia clinched a narrow 28-26 victory over South Africa on the Gold Coast the previous week, these sides faced off again in a crucial Rugby Championship Test in Brisbane. The Wallabies made a fantastic start courtesy of two tries from Len Ikitau inside the opening quarter but accurate goal-kicking from Handre Pollard kept the Boks in the match and Australia held a narrow 15-12 lead at half-time. The visitors then began the second period well when Lukhanyo Am crossed for a try shortly after the restart, but the Wallabies finished stronger and sealed a 30-17 win after Marika Koroibete scored a brace of tries and Cooper finished with a 10-point haul after succeeding with two penalties and as many conversions.
What they said
After suffering a 31-point loss to Argentina in San Juan, Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie said he expects a response from his troops and is targeting a fast start – something which has eluded his team so far this year.
“We haven’t started well enough, that’s an issue for us and we’re look at what we’re doing there,” he said.
“We’re looking at everything we’re doing. It’s easy to blame players when you get a really disappointing result, but we’re looking at everything.
“How we’ve prepared them and ensuring that we’re doing every little thing to make sure we’re ready to go on Saturday.
“We’ve got an outstanding staff and, if you ask the players, they’ll say they’re being well catered for. But you can’t abdicate responsibility when you get a result like that.”
Meanwhile, Springboks assistant coach Deon Davids said his team are preparing for a tough encounter and believes nothing but the best from them will secure a win.
“We have huge respect for our opponents, and we need to improve on the lessons we learned against them last year,” he said. “We understand it will take a massive effort from everyone to get a good result, and that as a team we have to do our best to perform well in this match.
“Australia is a difficult place to tour, and they have a quality side, a good coach and they are very competitive. Each team wants to win every game in the Rugby Championship no matter where you play, so the matches are very tough.”
Players to watch
The right wing spot has become a problem position for the Springboks in 2022 and with Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Jesse Kriel ruled out through injury and suspension, Warrick Gelant will get his chance in the number 14 jersey for this encounter. Although he is predominantly a full-back, Gelant has played on the wing before and he will be keen to make an impact out wide. However, the Boks’ conservative style of play means that he is unlikely to have many attacking opportunities, so he could be spending most of his time chasing high balls. He will also have to be at his best on defence as he comes up against a brilliant attacker in Wallabies flyer Koroibete.
Veteran number eight Duane Vermeulen is another Bok who will be in the spotlight and he will have to hit the ground running as he struggled in their previous fixture against New Zealand in Johannesburg. That match against the All Blacks was Vermeulen’s first Test of the year – as he missed their series against Wales due to a knee injury – and it showed as he looked off the pace during a forgetful 35-minute stint before being replaced by Jasper Wiese. When on song, the 36-year-old is a huge presence on the field and he will be determined to show that he still has what it takes to compete against the best in the international arena.
Also keep an eye on South Africa’s outside centre Lukhanyo Am, who comes into this encounter in the form of his life after delivering outstanding performances in the series against Wales and the two Rugby Championship encounters against the All Blacks. Despite shifting to the right wing after 10 minutes in the second Test against New Zealand, Am still made his presence felt with an outstanding attacking showing in which he gained a whopping 137 metres, which included four clean breaks and five defenders beaten. He was also rewarded with a well-taken try for his efforts. Back in the number 13 jersey for this Test, he will be closely marked by the Wallabies as they look to stop him continuing where he left off in Johannesburg.
Wallabies beware, Lukhanyo Am is on fire in #TRC2022 🔥
— Stan Sport Rugby (@StanSportRugby) August 24, 2022
Wallabies head coach Rennie made a big call to drop the experienced James O’Connor after that defeat to Argentina in San Juan, which means rookie fly-half Noah Lolesio gets another chance as the team’s chief playmaker. Lolesio started all three Tests in last month’s series against England in Australia but, after impressing in a memorable Wallabies win in the first Test in Perth, he went off the boil in the latter two encounters in Brisbane and Sydney which were both won by England.
That resulted in him being dropped from the matchday squad for their opening Rugby Championship Tests against Argentina in Mendoza and San Juan. Cooper started at fly-half in their Rugby Championship opener and, although they sealed a win in that game, the 34-year-old limped off with a ruptured Achilles tendon. O’Connor came in as his replacement in the next Test but was dropped from the Wallabies’ squad after they suffered a 48-17 loss. That means Lolesio gets another shot to prove himself and although he is still inexperienced, he is very talented with an excellent skill-set and will be determined to put in a commanding all-round display to show Rennie that he has what it takes to deliver the goods at the highest level.
Despite losing their previous fixture, the Wallabies have opted to retain their back-row combination of Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight and Jed Holloway, who will be starting together for the third consecutive Test. They have combined well as a unit as all three bring different attributes to the party and will have to meet the Boks’ forward onslaught head on. Valetini will be expected to lead the charge on attack as he is a strong ball carrier while McReight’s prowess at the breakdown will be crucial and Holloway will also try to make his presence felt on defence and in the lineouts.
Australia and South Africa are blessed with a plethora of top class players throughout their ranks but the battle between the two scrum-halves will be crucial in the bigger scheme of things and whoever comes out on top in this duel should also finish on the winning side. Both Australia’s Nic White and Faf de Klerk of South Africa are key players in the implementation of their respective teams’ game plans and if they manage to do that we should see an exciting clash between two of the game’s best number nines.
Although Australia have delivered a mixed bag of results this year, White will head into this fixture in a confident mood as he has started in all of his team’s Tests in 2022. Although – like most Wallabies – he struggled against the Pumas in San Juan, his services have been retained for this encounter and he will be expected to get his outside backs into the game with his slick service from the base. Meanwhile, De Klerk returns to the Boks’ matchday squad after missing most of the first Test against New Zealand, as well as the second one due to concussion. The Boks are renowned for their excellent kicking game but they didn’t fire on all cylinders in that department against the All Blacks in Johannesburg and De Klerk will be expected to give his side much needed momentum with accurate box kicks.
Like most of the encounters between these teams of late, this will be another battle of contrasting styles. With the match being played in Australia, and due to their record on home soil against the Springboks, the Wallabies will be favourites. Although the world champions will put up a brave fight, home ground advantage will be the difference between two evenly-matched teams. Australia to win by three points.
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
2016: South Africa won 18-10 in Pretoria
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 Tate McDermott, 23 Andrew Kellaway
South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Warrick Gelant, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn
Date: Saturday, August 27
Venue: Adelaide Oval
Kick-off: 15:00 local (06:30 BST, 05:30 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Tual Trainini (France)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)