The Rugby Championship begins now for Australia, who are looking to dust themselves off after three straight defeats to New Zealand in the hope they can turn the tide against South Africa.
The Wallabies have home advantage in their favour considering the tournament’s remaining games will all be played in Queensland, though that may not intimidate the Springboks.
As well as being the reigning world champions, South Africa recently defeated the British and Irish Lions 2-1 in a series, not to mention opening their Rugby Championship with wins over Argentina.
Dave Rennie has plenty to ponder as the Wallabies seek their first points of the competition, with Australian morale at a resounding low following their recent tussles with the All Blacks.
Beating the Boks isn’t a transformation that will come easily, however, and Australia have several key concerns in desperate need of address if they’re to topple the world’s top-ranked team.
Sprint off the mark
It’s easier said than done against New Zealand of all teams, of course, but an increased sense of urgency is one actionable area Australia must improve for a double-header against South Africa.
Granted, the Springboks’ series against the Lions wasn’t the feast of attacking rugby many hoped for, but one can rest assured Jacques Nienaber’s men mean business from the first whistle.
South Africa’s style is sure to differ wildly from that of the All Blacks, where open verve is replaced by slower, pragmatic play centred around the set piece, but the end goal is very much the same.
Of the 10 tries Australia scored across their three meetings with the All Blacks this summer, only two materialised in the first half, both of which came en route to a record 57-22 defeat in Auckland.
It was evident in the earlier three-Test series against France, too, where Les Bleus were the first to cross the whitewash each time and did so after eight minutes or earlier in two of those games.
Rennie’s job is to ensure intensity levels are sufficient among his players, but it’s also his job to select the right personnel for the job.
This includes picking his best XV from the beginning rather than saving ‘finishers’ to face tired opposition, with many of the belief prop Taniela “Tongan Thor” Tupou should be starting.
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Spruce up the scrum
While we’re on the topic of picking one’s best pack to start, the scrum is one battleground in particular that’s likely to have a huge sway on proceedings at Cbus Super Stadium.
The Springboks have long held a reputation for producing a factory line of elite forwards, who revel in the set-piece side of the game and dominating their peers in that sector.
The Wallabies proved themselves capable of competing with New Zealand in open play at times in recent weeks, but their own scrum has been lacking in comparison.
It’s become considerably less common for scrums to be turned over following reform in recent years. And yet Sunday’s 38-21 defeat in Perth was the first Bledisloe Cup clash this summer in which they didn’t yield at least two of their own scrums to the enemy.
There are grizzled veterans like captain Michael Hooper and prop Michael Slipper—each of whom have over 100 caps—but the rest of the Australia pack is a lot less experienced and open to rotation.
South Africa will be all the more menacing among their forwards now that Duane Vermeulen is back, his first game since he was named Man of the Match in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final.
Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and captain Siya Kolisi will also be among the Springboks’ most prominent forwards stars, while their ‘bomb squad’ bench replacements offer a threat of their own.
Potent in possession
It’s a drum that’s been beaten to breaking points, but Australia must do more with the possession they are afforded if they’re to rejoin rugby’s elite anytime in the near future.
The Wallabies have had the lion’s share of the ball in all six of their Tests so far in 2021, racking up 60 per cent possession in Sunday’s defeat to New Zealand, but it fails to show on the scoreboard.
Rennie’s men boasted an even greater share in each of their narrow wins over France, and yet they required last-ditch interventions to triumph on both occasions.
The Wallabies have finished all but one of their Tests so far this year with fewer clean line breaks than their opposition, despite the fact they’ve accumulated the most runs in each fixture.
Whether it’s dithering too haphazardly in their own half or running low on ideas once they get inside the opponent’s 22’, Australia have lost a lot of the killer touch possessed by previous generations.
Noah Lolesio and Matt To'omua have each been guilty of gifting New Zealand intercept tries in recent weeks, while the former has also been wayward off the tee.
It hasn’t helped that they’ve been too quick to concede turnovers, although they actually managed to beat New Zealand in this particular statistic during the Bledisloe Cup.
South Africa have shown special improvement in their counter-attacking play in recent times, however, in what’s sure to be a stern test of Australia’s tendency for waste.
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