The Rugby Championship trophy is proving to be a poisoned chalice for Australia and their beleaguered coach Robbie Deans.
Despite being trounced by South Africa 31-8 in Pretoria, the Wallabies remain in second place in the championship, behind New Zealand who claimed the title when they beat Argentina 54-15 in La Plata on Saturday (Sept. 29).
Australia has slipped from second behind New Zealand in the international rankings, to third behind South Africa.
On paper, Australia’s record in the championship is good. Though many Australian commentators expected a win in Pretoria, Australia has never won at the iconic Loftus Versfeld. The injury-hit, controversy-riven Wallabies were unlikely to break that drought.
Wallabies vs Pumas
Australia plays Argentina in Rosario on Saturday (Oct. 6), while South Africa plays New Zealand (N.Z.) in Johannesburg.
An Australian victory could see the Wallabies finish second in the championship and regain second-place in the world rankings.
Instead of being happy, Australian fans and critics are disenchanted; not only with the Wallabies and coach Deans, but with Australian Rugby Union boss John O’Neill as well.
To make matters worse, star fly-half, the injured Quade Cooper has said the atmosphere within the Wallaby camp is “toxic”.
A win on Saturday against the Pumas would give both the players and the management a breathing space—even though Argentina has failed to win a game in the championship.
Despite the All Blacks scoring more than 50 points against Argentina, N.Z. coach Steve Hansen said an upset win over Australia was possible.
The score obscured the physically intimidating way Argentina played.
Hansen said if the Pumas were able to remain positive they had “a real show of beating Australia”.
“I think they will be playing an Australian side that will be looking at itself a wee bit and when that happens, you have to question how much confidence the Australians will come with,” Hansen said.
Springboks vs All Blacks
South Africa trails Australia on the points table, but Saturday’s victory has transformed fan despair into well-founded confidence in the future. Just a week ago, new coach Heyneke Meyer was considered by many to be an old fashioned fool; now he is the man to lead the Boks to victory over the All Blacks in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The Boks scored five tries against the Wallabies, with wing Brian Habana scoring three. They could have scored more.
Speculation that Meyer has moved away from his conservative approach are wrong.
“We didn’t change one thing,” said captain John de Villiers.
The Springboks remain committed to dominating the set pieces—essentially out-muscling other sides. They did that against the Wallabies, which created space for the backs.
South Africa will confront NZ through the forwards, trying to drag them into a battle of attrition.
“We will never beat them by playing them at their own game,” Meyer said. “We won’t outmaneuver or out-run them.
“No, if we’re going to beat them, we must force them to play our game. We will have to put the necessary pressure on them, on defense, at the breakdown and through our kicking game.”
The Springboks forwards are growing more effective with each game—and will probably dominate the All Blacks. But another key to success—and a key to the victory over Australia—is 20-year-old fly-half Johan Goosen.
He made his debut Test start against the Wallabies, replacing the out-of-form star Morne Steyne.
The Springboks game-plan is dependent on a faultless, traditional-style flyhalf, like Goosen.
Springboks vice-captain Adriaan Strauss said he “handles pressure better than any other player I’ve met”.
I predict two upsets on Saturday. The Springboks to beat the unbeaten All Blacks and the win-less Pumas to beat the injury-hit Wallabies.
Peter Lalanabaravi has over 30 years experience as a rugby writer.
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