Sparks will fly when the Wallabies play the Springboks in Brisbane this weekend—this is a must-win game for both sides.
On paper, the Australians have had a poor season, losing to the touring British and Irish Lions, then losing their first two games of the Rugby Championship to New Zealand.
But the Lions are the best of the UK and the All Blacks are the best in the world.
The South Africans have won eight games in a row, including their first two of the RC, home-and-away matches against Argentina.
With South Africa ranked No.2 in the world against Australia’s No.4, the match on Saturday Sept 7 is for more than bragging rights.
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer said he intends winning both matches of their Australasian tour, even though the Boks haven’t won in Brisbane since 1971.
Meyer said that poor record didn’t enter into his thinking—he was focussed on winning.
His players had to be “mentally tough” and focus only on thoughts and actions that would ensure victory.
The Springboks will use their set-piece strengths, while the Wallabies will try to run the ball.
New Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie had the Wallabies running at the All Blacks in their two losses. And McKenzie promises more of the same.
That’s positive for the Wallabies, if only because Australian fans love the running game.
Because NZ and SA are excellent at the set pieces, McKenzie needs to develop a traditional Australian running game to give the Wallabies their best opportunity.
McKenzie has blooded key players like fullback Jesse Mogg and flyhalf Matt Toomua—without real success. But new players take a while to adjust, usually; new coaches, likewise.
It will take several games for McKenzie to get the Wallabies playing his game to the best of their ability. But there are promising signs.
For instance, former Springboks John Allan said the Wallabies are better than they look under McKenzie.
“Do not be fooled,” he said. “The Wallabies played an exciting brand of rugby against the All Blacks and if they ever sort out their tight five to give their talented backs a solid platform to launch from, teams will have to watch out.”
Despite that, McKenzie is already facing bitter criticism in Australia, with demands that he “stop the rot”.
Though Mckenzie has only coached two games, the Wallabies record this year is one win from five games—one from six will look terrible in headlines.
There is similar pressure on Meyer, with Springboks fans unimpressed by the two victories over Argentina.
Some South African writers are predicting losses by the Springboks in Brisbane, then a week later against the All Blacks in Auckland.
On paper the Springboks are the stronger side, but they haven’t played top sides this year, whereas the Wallabies have been competitive against the best.
Then comes the Brisbane factor. I don’t believe in hoodoos—but Brisbane is a hoodoo city for international sides.
The Lions won there—but only after fullback Kurtley Beale missed a penalty on full-time.
The Queensland fans, who are packed closely around the pitch, are among the most passionate in the world, so they are a factor.
Brisbane is McKenzie’s home, which will create more interest. Though from NSW, McKenzie retired from a successful stint with the Queensland Reds at the end of this Super Rugby season, to start the Wallaby job.
A factor will be the running game. It hasn’t worked for the Wallabies yet—and looks a way off working. But things might click on Saturday.
In saying that, the Wallabies made incisive mid-field breaks against the All Blacks, who have the most-established, centre-pairing in the world, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu.
With so much at stake the game will be intense. And revealing.
Peter Lalanabaravi is a rugby writer with over 30 years experience.