/ Rugby

New Zealand and Australia expected to prevail

Updated: Friday, 14 Sep 2012 11:16 | Comments

New Zealand will face South Africa under a closed roof at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin
New Zealand will face South Africa under a closed roof at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin

by Warren Gatchell

New Zealand v South Africa (Kick-off: Saturday, 8.30am)

South Africa make the trip across the Tasman to face their traditional rivals New Zealand.

During Pieter de Villiers' four-year reign as head coach the teams met 11 times, with the Boks picking up five wins to the All Blacks’ six.

A host of Bok veterans have since retired or are now plying their trade overseas, whereas the All Black churn rate has been far more gradual, with the steady introduction of new faces sustaining the development of the national side.

Dan Carter's injury replacement Aaron Cruden has given another dimension to their control of the game and while the Pumas held them close up until the final quarter last week, it was always a question of 'when' rather than 'if' they would run away with the scoreline.

Successful touring sides that have managed to win in New Zealand have always held a few aces up their sleeve.

The gameplan must be more than just matching the physicality, the key strategy, which is easier said than done, is to exert pressure for the full 80 minutes and convert each and every mistake into points to create enough of a buffer.

All it takes is a momentary lapse of concentration and teams could find themselves sitting under the posts watching the second conversion go over. Touring Bok sides of the past like the 1998, 2008 and 2009 squads have stayed with the All Blacks throughout the game, dominated them physically for large portions of the game, with the ultimate margin of success being little more than a handful of points.

Lock forward Eben Etsebeth's two-week suspension for a head-butt in the previous game in Perth seriously undermines the physicality of this Bok team, yet it would be hopeful to think that is where the deficiencies end.

The pack as a unit doesn't benefit from the same level of cohesion, and it is in the set-piece where the All Blacks will target what has traditionally been a South African strength. The scrum and line-out have been below par and will be up against opposition that has learnt to win ugly and is equally comfortable playing the percentages when the options are limited.

The most notable change to the home teamsheet is Piri Weepu starting at scrum-half. Expect to see a special performance from Piri even before the whistle goes as master of ceremonies for the Haka.

The Springboks will try to stifle their opponents and keep them pinned in their own half for much of the game. The All Blacks offloading in the tackle, coupled with the inexperience in the Bok forwards will be exploited under a closed roof at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin that will work to the hosts favour, particularly in the final quarter.

Verdict: New Zealand by 10

Australia v Argentina: (Kick-off: Saturday 11:30)

Argentina fans must surely be satisfied with their team's performances in the inaugural Rugby Championship. A few weeks ago they drew a match with the Springboks and for much of their last game in New Zealand they were up to the task and will certainly be no push over for a Wallaby side that is ravaged by injury.

Will Genia is the third captain this year to succumb to a season-ending injury, and you've got to ask yourself with that much leadership unavailable on the pitch how will the hosts fair if the going gets tough this weekend with a few minutes to go?

The Pumas certainly have the forwards to fight the good fight, although it's the battle on the deck where Australia's Michael Hooper will potentially have that bit of magic to feed a back-line that can cut teams to ribbons at the blink of an eye.

Containment - not likely. Confrontation - that is the only possible avenue for the Pumas.

They need to get stuck into the Wallabies and cut down their space to inches. They have the players to do this, but I don't think they will capitalise on their forward dominance as their points-scoring capabilities need further refinement as they continue to learn against the top three teams in the game.

The Australia victory last week might have momentarily released the pressure valve of an expectant rugby public, yet the calls for coach Robbie Dean's resignation will re-emerge if the same is not secured this Saturday.

The ability to absorb the forward onslaught of the biggest packs has always been a source of strength for Australia sides of the past. The matches against the All Blacks in the opening two rounds of the competition have served this team well and given them the means required to resist any strangle hold imposed by lesser opposition.

I think we'll see another spirited fight by the new guests at the Southern Hemisphere top-tier rugby table, with the experience of the Wallaby back-line, and sheer determination of their forwards, too good for a Pumas side that - it must be said - is rapidly rising.

Verdict: Australia by 5

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