Now to the real deal. No more gutted out touring sides or ‘minnow’ nations. The experimentation has stopped and reputations are on the line. So what can we expect this Saturday from the Boks and the Wallabies?
Matching up the backlines, the absence of Habana evens out the scales between the two sides, with Australia fielding their strongest inside backs combination of Gregan, Larkham, Giteau, Mortlock and then Tuquiri on the wing. One thing for certain is that the James and Co. will be in the face of this Australian line-up – especially the new bloods Huxley and Mitchell – aiming to close down any space and force mistakes.
For this tactic to work your forwards need to dominate, which is where this match will be won or lost. Looking at the South Africa pack, it’s easy to see how they plan to make this happen with Spies, Smith and Berger in the back-row, which is before you get to the likes of Matfield and Smit in the tight five.
The pressure of the whole match therefore comes down on the Wallaby pack from a number of angles. In the line-out Vickerman needs to nullify his countryman Matfield. In the loose, Palu, Elsom and Sharpe need to find aggression and yards. And finally the scrum will have its first full examination since an unconvincing European tour. The focus of the season so far has been on the Australian backline, we’ve almost forgotten how far the pack has to go.
All in all the odds are heavily stacked against the Wallabies on Saturday. However, if the forward platform can establish itself against this impressive Springbok pack, Australia could show the way to future success. If Mortlock lands his kicks, they could even sneak a win this weekend.
PS – Australian chances on the up with ‘Big Al’ Baxter being left on the bench!!
Australia: Julian Huxley, Drew Mitchell, Stirling Mortlock (capt), Matt Giteau, Lote Tuqiri, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, Wycliff Palu, George Smith (v-capt), Rocky Elsom, Dan Vickerman, Nathan Sharpe, Guy Shepherdson, Stephen Moore, Matt Dunning.
Reserves: Adam Freier, Al Baxter, Mark Chisholm, Stephen Hoiles, Phil Waugh, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Mark Gerrard.