The Wallabies went a long way towards expelling their Samoan demons last Saturday in Sydney by comprehensively putting the Springboks to the sword by 39 points to 20, kicking off their Tri Nations campaign with a maximum haul of points on the ladder.
But when it comes to their lifting this year’s championship trophy as I predicted, will it be enough?
As impressive as the Australians were, you can’t ignore the fact that for whatever the actual reasons, Peter DeVilliers was fielding an extremely weakened team, particularly missing the twin towers and stalwarts of the lineout Victor Matfield & Bakkies Botha. Yet despite being as much as 39-6 down at one stage, after the introduction of wonder kid out half Patrick Lambie, they were able to counter with a couple of quick tries of their own.
With points difference the first tie-breaker in the tournament, I wonder if Robbie Deans will regret his side’s late relaxation in what had up to then been an extremely solid defensive display.
The Springboks must now travel to Wellington to face the All Blacks, who may have their eyes fixed firmly on the William Webb Ellis Trophy, but still won’t say no to picking up whatever other silverware may be on offer in the meantime.
And the South Africans have even more injury problems to deal with. Flip van der Merwe is the latest lock to go down, forcing DeVilliers to hand a first Test start to the
Sharks’ Gerhard Mostert. And what’s more, after an injury to full-back Gio Aplon in Sydney, they are forced to start Lambie at 15, and looking at their bench I can only assume that he and starting scrum-half Ruan Pienaar are considered alternatives to Morné Steyn should he get injured.
Graham Henry, by contrast, is going with an extremely strong starting line up, though I’m sceptical about his selection of Dan Carter. It’s a professional game and bums have to go on seats so I’m wondering if the superstar outhalf’s presence on the team sheet is to entice fans who may presume this to be a one-sided affair…we’ll know for sure when we see how long it is before Colin Slade is called from the bench.
In fact, I reckon Slade would feel a little hard done by not getting the call, for he put in a solid 60+ minutes as his side warmed up for their Tri Nations campaign with a 60-14 annihilation of Fiji last Friday in Dunedin. He helped himself to one of their eight tries plus put six placekicks over the bar. No doubt he will feature in Wellington to lock down the World Cup back-up role even more.
Elsewhere on the All Black bench, you can’t help notice the name Sonny Bill Williams, and what makes his presence there all the more frightening is that wearing his number 12 jumper is none other than Ma’a Nonu. Either of those names alongside Conrad Smith, Zac Guildford, Cory Jane and Mils Muliana behind the scrum would be formidable for a full-strength South African XV, let alone the lambs they’re sending out to the slaughter on Saturday.
And the home side are equally strong in the forwards. Richie McCaw starts as do Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino and Andrew Hore. To be honest the only Springbok I can see making an impact on the day is Danie Rossouw, who moves from flanker into the Number 8 position and will aim to combine with Pienaar to evade the advances of McCaw & Kaino.
There lies the hope of the men in green on Saturday. How much use will they make of the ball when they do have it? I reckon they have no choice but to adopt the same posture they showed in Sydney and hoof it up field at every opportunity hoping for an All Black error – and I reckon hell may freeze over first!
So it probably won’t surprise you that I’m very much expecting a home win on Saturday morning our time, most likely by a margin a good bit greater than that achieved by the Wallabies. Chances are the key stats on the score sheet won’t be the actual result or the amount of tries scored by either side, rather the times of the home team’s substitutions and the players involved.
Still, however one-sided it may seem on paper, you can’t pass up a chance to see the famous All Blacks in action from the pre-match Haka to their trademark offloading. I’ll be watching from start to finish that’s for sure, as no doubt will the Wallabies, who face them in Auckland the following Saturday.
I’ll be back here to preview that Bledisloe Cup encounter next week, as well as Ireland’s first World Cup warm up match in Murrayfield. Until then, enjoy your rugby wherever it may be. JLP
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