Springboks have much to prove, play for this weekend against Australia

BY MARC JACOBSON - SEPTEMBER 7, 2016

With each side playing their third match in the 2016 Rugby Championship so far, South Africa and Australia both have a lot to play for when they face off at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane this Saturday.

The Springboks have shown mixed signals this year so far after winning three out of their five matches to date, with one of the losses coming at home against a 14-man Irish side. The second loss came against Argentina in Salta in their most recent encounter, losing to their South American opponents for only the second time in history.

Australia has recently been shown up to be pinned as one of the worst Wallaby sides in the professional era, after currently having lost six consecutive test matches. If Australia were to lose again this weekend against the Springboks, it will be the first time since 2008 under then-Eddie Jones, where the Wallabies would have lost seven consecutive matches.

The match could bode well for interesting viewing, due to what is at stake for each side and the varied, inter-mixed combinations that the respective teams are opting to deploy. The versatile Francois Hougaard, whose specialist position is primarily scrumhalf, but claims national experience on the wing, as well as sevens rugby experience for the Blitzboks; is set to start on the wing in place of the injured, Ruan Combrinck this Saturday. Hougaard has shown some sublime form for his English Premiership club, Worcester, at scrumhalf and irrespective of the position switch- his form could carry through to the wing when it comes to decision-making and visual attributes on the field.

After all, Hougaard cannot just replace the mere only-inform current Springbok, Faf de Klerk, at scrumhalf, therefore wing is his greatest prospect. He has the pace and agility that will not let any wing down and his solid defensive efforts on the outskirts of the field is never a weak-point. Irreversibly, Hougaard can also cover the scrumhalf slot as a back-up option if need be.

Other possible changes in the Springbok fold are in the midfield, where Juan de Jongh and Jesse Kriel are set to be chosen ahead of Damian De Allende and Lionel Mapoe. The latter two have struggled to gel as a combination in this year’s test matches so far, as well as struggling with individual form, particularly De Allende, who was controversially chosen above the red-hot-form Lions inside centre, Rohan Janse van Rensburg.

Mapoe, however, has showed exhilarating form in the Super Rugby this year for the Lions, alongside Janse van Rensburg, which posed De Allende’s selection for the Boks as evermore controversial. Ultimately, the best individuals cannot heed the best winning potential without solidifying the combinations and paving away the cracks throughout the team. In saying so, Mapoe too, has struggled to step up to the national platform for Springbok duty so far, and whether it’s the combinational prospect to blame or not, something is not working in his game plan at the moment for the Springboks.

The new centre pairing combination will have something to prove, and something to prove fast; as South Africa cannot afford any more losing leeway, with their national pride resting on this weekend’s clash. Flyhalf, Elton Jantjes, has also been another example alike Mapoe, who showed resilient quality in the Super Rugby, but failed to step up to national duty.

Jantjes needs to command and take control as soon as possible as the match gets rolling on Saturday, because as soon as he gets rattled, he seems to fall knees-weak, which was evident in his prior appearances for the Springboks this year. His goal-kicking has also been very inconsistent, and that is another thing the Springboks will look to improve on.

With regards to tactical kicking, South Africa need to essentially aim for tactical, territorial kicks- for attacking advantage, rather than nothing-kicks and mindless-kicking-out-of-hand kicks due to releasing pressure. Australia has a strong back three in Israel Folau, whom is extremely good under the high ball and the returnees from overseas, Drew Mitchell and possibly Adam-Ashley Cooper on the wings.

If kicks from South Africa go straight down the throats of Australia, those players at the back with much attacking threat will force the Springboks further onto a back foot than before with the availability of attacking spaces and advantageous momentum opening up. Kicking can be to your disadvantage, just as much as it can be to your advantage; therefore it needs to be done right, or not at all; and this is something Jantjes and fullback, Johan Goosen, will certainly look to improve.

After Adriaan Strauss also recently announced his retirement from international rugby and from his Springbok captaincy at the end of the season, it will also be interesting to see how the team builds up around that; whether they pillar around the prospect giving them extra drive, or whether they buckle like headless chickens that have lost their way. It is one extreme or the other.

Ultimately, for either side there is much at stake for national pride and this is further enriched through the traditional rivalry that extends between South Africa and Australia throughout their accompanying rugby history.

The two teams have played a total of 81 matches against each other in history, with South Africa winning 45, Australia winning 35 and having drawn one. South Africa have beaten Australia 12 times on Australian soil and they will most certainly hope to make it 13 this weekend.