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Boks arrive at testing time for Aussies





The Springboks have hit Australia at a time when there is revolution in the air.

The rugby players and followers of Western Australia are understandably furious with the decision by the ARU to chop the Western Force from Super Rugby, a decision upheld by the NSW Court on Tuesday, and guaranteeing a mutinous undercurrent to this weekend's third round Rugby Championship clash.

Fans are expected to forgo the gold of Australia for the blue of the Force, showing solidarity not with the national team, but the local one, defiance aimed not so much at the opposition, but their own governing body who created a situation whereby it was impossible to boot out the team that really should have gone, the Melbourne Rebels.

There will be players in that Wallaby team from the Rebels, who have a job for next year, and others from the Force, who don’t.

Michael Cheika has strong motivational powers, but the Lord only knows how he’s going to work through this one.

If he can somehow harness it for the common good of the team, they’ll be a handful, especially if they can kick on from what they showed in the last 20 minutes of the Sydney test against the All Blacks, and much of the second in Dunedin.

The Springboks will face a Wallaby team with pronounced strengths and weaknesses.

They have a backline laced with talent, spearheaded by the in-form Kurtley Beale and featuring the lethal, if rarely used to best effect, Israel Folau. Will Genia has at last found his old form and there is pace and power out wide to take advantage of South Africa’s brittle flank defence.

The key to unlocking that talent is Bernard Foley. At his best he is as good as any 10 in world rugby, capable of prising all manner of openings for those outside him, but his career has been dotted with calamitous games like the near miss against Scotland at the last World Cup, and just two weeks ago in Dunedin when he sprayed his goal kicks far and wide and was erratic in general play.

And of course they will need some ball.

Their scrum did improve for a while after halftime in Dunedin, but for the rest of the 160 minutes against the All Blacks, they were bullied, something the Springboks appear capable of emulating.

The return of Adam Coleman will lengthen up their lineout and provide some brute power, and if Rory Arnold and Sean McMahon can repeat their level of influence in Dunedin, then they can certainly foot it with the Boks, but there are already a few too many “ifs” in the mix and we haven’t even got to their defence yet.

On the surface it was better in Dunedin, but a look at the stats would suggest it was not as good as some would have you believe. Sure, they had better shape and were more determined and aggressive in the hit, but they still fell off over 30 tackles.

If the Springboks play it right they have a very good chance to win, although they have one or two of their own questions to be answered.

I’ve said enough about the defence out wide, and would only add that I’d have Ruan Combrinck starting in a flash.

The other is at fly half, where Elton Jantjies has a few similar traits to his opposite.

Whoever gets the better quality of ball, and whoever gets the edge in that inside back combo will be on the way to victory.

Despite the upheaval going on around it, this has the makings of a very good test between two sides that have vastly different reasons to be encouraged by their form over the first two games.

But with two solid wins under their belt, and having shown the ability to play measured, smart rugby under a captain who has tempered his game superbly to meet his new responsibilities, I’ll be picking the Boks to win by 12 and under on my Friday radio spot.

If there is the odd question to be answered by both the Springboks and Wallabies, then the same is true for the All Blacks and Pumas.

The much vaunted depth of this champion New Zealand team is in for a further examination, with Ben Smith now taking the sabbatical that will hopefully keep him in prime condition for the next World Cup.

He has been joined on the list of absentees by Owen Franks, who will undergo surgery to deal with an Achilles tendon issue that has to be sorted before it starts gnawing at his World Cup prospects.

Nepo Laulala did an admirable job in a dominant scrum in Dunedin, so there is no great worry there, but with Jordi Barrett also out for the season, there is some debate as to how best to cover fullback.

For all his brilliance, Damien McKenzie has not yet adjusted to test rugby, and is prone to rash plays that have cost points. The selectors might, with some reluctance, feel the need to push Israel Dagg back to fullback and reinstate the fit again Nehe Milner Skudder to the wing.

A total of 45 unanswered points and seven tries in the last quarter in Sydney and the first quarter in Dunedin have also raised an eyebrow or two in the direction of the ABs defence.

These are not yet major problems, and are best dealt with now rather than closer to Japan 2019, but for the moment this is a team not quite as strong from 1 to 23 as it has been, with a coaching staff undergoing some changes, and they will be hoping for a performance of authority against the Pumas to set them up for what looms as a pivotal clash with the Springboks the following week.

As I’ve stated in recent times, it’s too soon to start reciting the last rites for this great All Black era, but there is just a touch of uncertainty, albeit one that seems to be making Kiwis more excited than nervous.

The Pumas played their best test of the year in Hamilton 12 months ago, really taking the game to the ABs around the fringe of the ruck and causing some problems before being overcome 57-22.

That performance came off the back of a win over the Springboks, and they do not have anything like that behind them this year.

Their defence has been suspect, their set piece surprisingly unsure, and their discipline quite appalling. Daniel Hourcade has finally run out of patience with Tomas Lavanini and left him at home, perhaps to attend anger management classes.

Perhaps the Pumas are simply following the example of their great football teams and putting all their eggs into the World Cup basket, but after the less than impressive showings by the Jaguares in Super Rugby it would not be a bad time to remind us of why they are in this elite competition.


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