/ Rugby

Rugby Championship - Round 5 preview

Updated: Saturday, 29 Sep 2012 15:28 | Comments

South Africa welcome Australia in the first match of the weekend
South Africa welcome Australia in the first match of the weekend

By Warren Gatchell

South Africa v Australia, Saturday, 4pm

South Africa welcome Australia in the first match of the weekend in the administrative capital, Pretoria.

British & Irish Lions supporters might remember the venue from the second Test in 2009 when an agonisingly painful last-minute penalty turned Morne Steyn into a Springbok legend.

The starting fly-half for the last three years’ recent slump in the penalty stakes excludes Steyn from making the matchday 22 in his home ground.

A public outcry reminiscent of the Sexton v O'Gara debate has turned coach Heyneke Meyer's hand with the in-form Johan Goosen starting at 10 with another talented and equally green Elton Jantjies providing cover on the bench.

Round 5 sees yet another change at lock with the towering Western Province duo of Andries Bekker and Eben Etsebeth favoured over the Pretoria-based Blue Bulls duo of Juandre Kruger and Flip van der Merwe who shined in New Zealand two weeks ago.

The extra inches in the line-out contest are to counter Wallaby veteran Nathan Sharpe who will be wearing the gold jersey for the last time in the Republic after his retirement from Test duty at the conclusion of this year's Rugby Championship.

Kurtley Beale starts at 10 in place of injured Quade Cooper and will be tasked with tiring a formidable pack to provide the space for a clinical back-line that has made the most of their limited scoring opportunities this year.

The Wallabies secured their first victory on the Highveld in 2010 after nearly 50 years of trying in a high scoring match that ended 41-39.

The difference this time around is they are facing a team that is under extraordinary pressure to perform with a new coach in charge, at his old club ground.

It might be acceptable to the South African rugby public to lose two close games in Australasia but defeat at home with a team sheet that is far stronger than the beginning of the tournament will be unthinkable to some.

The tourists and in particular coach Robbie Deans don't have it easy though, there is the small matter of a Lion's tour a little over nine months away and the need to maintain momentum after their impressive back-to-back wins will make the end of year tour far less arduous.

The Wallabies might have been over-powered and outplayed for large parts of their last outings but crucially found ways to circumvent the onslaught of two very forward orientated Boks and Puma sides.

For the hosts the inclusion of Pat Lambie on the bench coupled with Goosen starting his first test means they now have the talent to inflict damage on the scoreboard along with muscle to dictate the pace of play up front.

Comparing the sides’ strengths and weaknesses, the Boks look set to edge the Wallabies at line-out and scrum time with the contest on the deck and back-line accuracy where the game will be decided and by how much.

Victories in the Republic have been rare for Australian teams and even more so at altitude, with the record in Loftus Versfeld reading nought from five dating back to 1963.

The travel factor compounded with the last 20 minutes of oxygen depletion experienced from playing 1400 meters above sea level should be just enough to breathe life into a Boks side that has lost five games on the trot to the Wallabies.

Verdict: Springboks by 10.

Argentina v New Zealand, Sunday, 12:10am

New Zealand travel to the Argentinian city of La Plata as the only unbeaten team in this year's tournament.

The trademark power game of the All Blacks hasn't been as apparent in the Championship as it was during the Tri Nation's yet the ability to absorb pressure and hurt opposition sides in the last quarter, when weary legs are tiring, has put the team in a position to secure the trophy with a game in hand.

The Pumas won't be taking any of this into consideration as they target their first victory against a side they came close to beating at home in 2001 and 2006.

An unchanged XV will give the hosts the necessary continuity required to cut down on errors which prove very costly at this level.

The task at hand isn't made any easier with the return at fly-half of Dan Carter for the tourists.

His opposite number Juan Martin Hernandez is starting to show glimpses of the form we saw in the 2007 World Cup which should make the contrasting styles of play and tactical contest an intriguing yet closely-fought one.

The Puma ferocity at the breakdown in the reverse fixture in Wellington disrupted the necessary fluidity required to release the back-line and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has been vocal on the tactics used which might come as a surprise to some considering their origin.

“We've got to get quicker ball, we've got to win the collision as the ball carrier and get our cleanout right. We've got to keep the big Argentinian forwards from going off their feet, killing our ball and slowing our ball,” he said.

"We've got to keep the big Argentinian forwards from going off their feet, killing our ball and slowing our ball" - Steve Hansen

Reading between the lines the match is perfectly poised for a colossal forward assault by the All Blacks with the experienced captain Richie McCaw needed more than ever up against a Puma side that is growing game by game.

McCaw sustained a leg injury in his last test match against South Africa and if he isn't fit the contest on the ground will favour the home side who have the ability keep the scoreboard ticking with the chants of a partisan home crowd giving them that extra 20%.

This Pumas side is long overdue for an upset and they could come close this weekend.

The All Blacks, with or without their captain, should have just enough in the tank to see them over the line.

Verdict: New Zealand by 5.

User contributions and/or comments do not, unless specifically stated, represent the views of RTÉ.ie or RTÉ.
Click here for Terms of use
Powered by NewsWhip