The Australia coach Robbie Deans calls his Wallaby rugby squad "a work in progress" and unless there is some major miracle or upheaval in Cape Town this afternoon when the Australians meet the all-conquering South Africans, we can expect Deans' favourite phrase to receive another airing.
The Springboks complete their home programme in the 2009 Tri-Nations today and victory over the Wallabies would put them close to their first Tri-Nations title since 2004. Successive defeats of New Zealand, and especially sending home the All Blacks without even a single bonus point from the two Tests, have given South Africa command of this year's competition.
If the Springboks win well today, they will have 12 points in the table, far ahead of New Zealand on four and the Australians on only one. Potentially, this spells calamity not just from a rugby point of view in Australasia but from a financial and marketing perspective.
New Zealand and Australian audiences have proved in the past their reluctance to fill the Test grounds of Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland and Sydney for Tri-Nations matches that kick off at night in a southern hemisphere winter and are televised live. If the tournament is all but over even before the last five matches are played, then the host nations down under can expect some severe gaps in their grounds at a time when they need to extract every possible cent to replenish their fast emptying coffers.
The odds are firmly against the Wallabies disturbing South Africa's powerful stride towards adding the Tri-Nations title to their World Cup and Lions series victories. Australia may be as exposed in the set scrums as the Lions were in the first half of the opening Test in Durban.
The Australian line-out should be much more competitive than New Zealand's shambolic offerings in that department so the key might be in the battle for the loose ball. New Zealand's talismanic leader Richie McCaw twice found himself bettered in this department by the new Springbok "fetcher", Heinrich Brussow, who won his place only due to Schalk Burger's suspension for assaulting the eyes of Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald.
Today, Brussow faces experienced Wallaby breakaway George Smith and their contest could be fascinating. If Australia are to have any hope of success, Smith must master the young upstart.
Australia will today include 13 of the players who helped clinch an impressive 27-15 win in Durban last year. The Springboks' response, a 53-8 hammering in Johannesburg a week later, owed more to Australia's disinterest than anything else. Deans, who rejoined the team late this week after the death of his father in New Zealand, thinks playing against the world champions is sufficient motivation.
"It's a fantastic task coming up against the top-ranked side in the world at Newlands. It is one of the best venues in the game and these blokes love these occasions. But it is also an opportunity for us and the boys are in a good frame of mind. They're showing good heart. There is a good clarity around what we are doing and a high level of enthusiasm."
After Durban last year, the Springboks respect the Wallabies' potential under Deans. Even so, another Australian win would be a sensation and Deans' biggest achievement as Wallaby coach. It is not widely anticipated.
South Africa: F Steyn; JP Pietersen, J Fourie, J De Villiers, B Habana; M Steyn, F Du Preez; T Mtawarira, B Du Plessis, J Smit (Capt), B Botha, V Matfield, H Brussow, J Smith, P Spies.
Australia: A Ashley-Cooper; L Turner, S Mortlock (Capt), B Barnes, D Mitchell; M Giteau, L Burgess; B Robinson, S Moore, A Baxter, J Horwill, N Sharpe, R Brown, G Smith, W Palu.
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).Reuse content