Adjustments required as wallabies face the physicality of South Africa | Rugby championship
IIt is undisputed that the Wallabies will face a completely different challenge on Sunday evening on the Gold Coast against world champions South Africa than at the Bledisloe Cup. Not only do the Springboks and All Blacks play different styles of rugby, but they play almost different rugby codes.
It’s like moving from the free-spirited rugby sevens to the highly structured set pieces of American football, and the wallabies have to adjust their game accordingly.
As the Springboks demonstrated in their 2019 World Cup victory and again in their winning streak against the British and Irish Lions, they will try to win the collisions and drag the wallabies into the grass.
The tall, powerful South African strikers like to trot from set to set, while the full-backs have a kick and chase strategy, even though they have a lot of attacking power should they unleash it. The springboks will rush forward in defense to stop the wallabies’ attack without giving the Australians an inch to intervene.
It’s a conservative approach that some commentators argue will ruin the game as a spectacle, but it works. Remember, the All Blacks are no longer number 1 in the world.
After the 3-0 defeat in the Bledisloe Cup series, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie indicated that the Australians would continue to play at a high pace and long game. But will that be more effective against the springboks than against the kiwis? That strategy certainly worked for Japan when the Brave Blossoms upset South Africa 34:32 at the 2015 World Cup, but that win was an isolated incident.
In contrast to the total Bledisloe dominance of the All Blacks since 2003, the Wallabies have done much better against the Springboks during this time, winning 22 of 44 tests and winning two draws. But since Australia reached the 2015 World Cup final, they have only played against the Springboks seven times, won two, lost three and drew two times. The last time they met in 2019, South Africa won 35-17 in Johannesburg.
The most successful period for the Wallabies in recent history was during Robbie Deans’ tenure as coach, when Australia won nine of 14 Tests between 2008 and 2012 as a 41-39 win at Bloemfontein in 2010.
But Deans’ main mantra was that the Wallabies primarily had to withstand the physical challenge of the Springboks – and there was no better example than the dismal 11: 9 victory in the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals in Wellington. If the wallabies are not up to the physical challenge, the springboks will sense weaknesses and set about intimidating and subjugating them.
It was strange that Taniela Tupou, the Wallabies’ strongest striker physically, was given such limited playing time in their 38-21 loss to the All Blacks in Perth last Sunday. Australia will need all the strength and might it can muster against the springboks.
The Wallabies averaged 22.6 points per game against the All Blacks, which was nowhere near enough to keep up with the highly rated Kiwis who averaged 42.6 but against the Springboks who averaged 21 points against the Lions , it might be enough. Sunday night is likely to be a highly competitive game with limited options, which means that if the Wallabies see a chance to score, they will have to grab it.
The Wallabies shouldn’t plan on beating the Springboks’ rush defense with double cut-out passes that encourage interception. You have suffered enough from this malaise in the Bledisloe Cup series. When the springboks charge in defense, the wallabies must plant cultivator kicks in the room behind them to regain the ball and attack.
It was debated whether rookie five-eighth Noah Lolesio should start on the Gold Coast. Lolesio has the skills to execute the game plan, but he has yet to really impose his will on the game at the test level. Veteran Flyhalf James O’Connor is back training with the Wallabies but has not played since his groin injury in mid-May. Another option is to play Reece Hodge at five eighths.
Hodge would give the wallabies in Channel 10 the much-needed physicality. But the problem with him is that he’s only a long-distance goalscorer. Despite the fact that he missed a sitter against the All Blacks last Sunday, Lolesio is still the Wallabies’ most reliable goalscorer. Of course there is always Quade Cooper. Reluctance to play him against the All Blacks may be understandable given his history, but his record against the Springboks is pretty decent.
South Africa may be a different challenge for the All Blacks, but the outcome will be the same for the Wallabies if they don’t start to show significant improvement, especially on non-enforced errors. The Springboks can punish mistakes differently than the All Blacks, but they will punish them anyway.