White's men wary of wounded Wallabies

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The Independent Online

Coetzee was talking about the Australian cricketers and their fighting escape against England in Manchester. But he could just as well have been discussing today's Tri-Nations Test in Perth, because amid the hype of an Australian media scrum which carries a whole lot more menace than the present Wallaby pack, one wonders if the Springboks can somehow squander such a good opportunity of a rare win on the road.

They have not beaten Australia or New Zealand away since 1998. Today should be the day when Jake White's Springboks redress that statistic. The Wallabies were beaten twice recently in South Africa and last weekend suffered not so much a defeat to New Zealand in Sydney as a public humiliation. Their pack were weaklings having sand kicked in their faces by the beach bullies.

The single reason for Springbok uncertainty centres on Coetzee's words. South Africa can scale another significant peak and go to Dunedin on Monday to face New Zealand infused with confidence and ambition, but Australia have a chance to snap back at their critics and avoid a fourth successive Test defeat for the first time in 24 years. .

Both coaches, White and Eddie Jones, have asserted this week that the match will be won and lost in the tight five. On recent form, we might as well not bother turning up.

The Springbok pack has been solid in the scrums and powerful and combative at lock thanks to Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield. The hooker John Smit's growing stature as a captain and as a player is another factor; so too the prop Os du Randt's vast strength and experience.

Against all this, the Wallabies have a front row that would be perfect if it were half as strong as it is cunning. Collapsing scrums is its speciality, not contesting them. The lock Daniel Vickerman, who was born in South Africa, is developing as a significant line-out threat but if the front five retreats in the scrums, as it did against New Zealand, what chance for their talented back row?

Likewise the scrum-half and captain George Gregan, under pressure and struggling for fitness, like any other half-back is helpless behind a beaten pack.

A Springbok victory today remains a very real possibility, perhaps a probability on the basis of the last two weekends.

But beware the Aussies' love for the sporting contest, no matter how intimidating the odds. Ask England's cricketers.

Australia: D Mitchell; M Rogers, M Turinui, M Giteau, L Tuqiri; E Flatley, G Gregan (capt); B Young, B Cannon, A Baxter, D Vickerman, N Sharpe, R Elsom, P Waugh, D Lyons. Replacements: S Moore, M Dunning, M Chisholm, G Smith, C Whitaker, C Rathbone, A Ashley-Cooper.

South Africa: P Montgomery; B Paulse, J Fourie, J de Villiers, B Habana; A Pretorius, E Januarie; O du Randt, J Smit (capt), C J van der Linde, B Botha, V Matfield, S Burger, J Smith, J van Niekerk. Replacements: H Shimange, G Steenkamp, A van den Berg, J Cronje, F du Preez, W Julies, J van der Westhuyzen.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

l The England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has been admitted to hospital in Japan suffering from an inflamed appendix. Wilkinson, currently on a pre-season tour with the Newcastle Falcons, is on medication to counter the inflammation. The Falcons play NEC Green Rockets in Tokyo today and Toyota Verblitz on Tuesday.