Springboks on verge of Tri-Nations title

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The Independent Online

The world champion South Africans could virtually seal the 2008 Tri-Nations rugby title if they beat Australia at Subiaco Oval on Saturday.

The Springboks put a week of turmoil behind them last Saturday when they beat the All Blacks 30-28 for their first win in Dunedin, and first in New Zealand in a decade, following a 19-8 loss in Wellington the week before.

They meet the Wallabies in Perth before heading home for a two-week break ahead of a test against Argentina, then their final Tri-Nations games against New Zealand and Australia (twice).

If the Springboks are to win in Australia then Perth, with its large population of South African expatriates, is the most likely place.

South Africa’s only two test wins in Australia over the past decade have come at Subiaco Oval, a 22-19 triumph three years ago and a 14-13 victory in 1998.

In the other two tests played in Perth, the Springboks drew 14-14 in 2001 and lost narrowly 30-26 in 2004.

The other factor in the Springboks’ favour is that the Wallabies are having their first test match under the Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) while South Africa have played two tests against New Zealand under the laws.

Australian coach Robbie Deans said South Africa had adapted well to the ELVs and had added attacking flair to their traditional forward power.

“You only had to look at the two tests between the All Blacks and the Springboks to recognise the physicality didn’t diminish at all,” said Deans.

“But they were a little bit more prepared to use the width of the ground and, to be frank, that makes them harder because you can’t presume.

“It makes them a more challenging opponent to defend against.

“We won’t be able to be conservative against a side that has the physical capabilities of the South Africans and get home.”

FORWARD POWER

Deans has rushed veteran lock Nathan Sharpe back from injury to try and counter the dominant Springbok second row pairing of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

However, Australia’s greatest challenge will come in the scrum, which struggled against a second string French side in the lead-up to the Tri-Nations.

Matfield said the Springboks would not be taking the Australian pack lightly.

“We’ve come here before and been troubled at scrum-time,” he told reporters. “Good scrumming is like good defence, it’s all about focus and what you do on the day.

“We’re going to have to be aggressive in that department.”

South Africa will be missing their two first choice hookers, with John Smit out injured and Bismarck Du Plessis suspended.

Schalk Brits will start in the number two jersey with the uncapped Adriaan Strauss on the bench.

South African coach Peter de Villiers has opted for five forwards and two backs on the replacements bench, signalling his intention to attack the Wallabies through the forwards.

The game kicks off at 1805 local (1005 GMT).

Australia: 15-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14-Peter Hynes, 13-Stirling Mortlock (captain), 12-Berrick Barnes, 11-Lote Tuqiri, 10-Matt Giteau, 9-Luke Burgess, 8-Wycliff Palu, 7-George Smith, 6-Rocky Elsom, 5-Nathan Sharpe, 4-James Horwill, 3-Al Baxter, 2-Stephen Moore, 1-Benn Robinson

South Africa: 15-Conrad Jantjes, 14-JP Pietersen, 13-Francois Steyn, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Butch James, 9-Ricky Januarie, 8-Pierre Spies, 7-Juan Smith, 6-Schalk Burger, 5-Victor Matfield (captain), 4-Bakkies Botha, 3-CJ van der Linde, 2-Schalk Brits, 1-Gurthro Steenkamp

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