Australia play South Africa in Perth tomorrow (11.35am BST, Saturday) in a game that is as important to both sides as the Rugby World Cup quarter-final they contested in October. Since that controversial encounter, won by Australia 11-9, both teams have lost their form and been given an earful by their respective press.
For Australia’s Coach Robbie Deans, it is almost the last chance saloon. It was not so much consecutive defeats to the All Blacks, and getting nilled in the second test, it is more about the manner of their performance.
Admittedly they are without a host of first-choice players but they still boast a decent side. However nobody is performing. Australia sides of the past attack in waves, with imagination, creativity and ruthlessness. Sadly in the last two games there has been none of that on show. Perhaps, the Australian press are slightly harsh on Deans, as only earlier this summer they enjoyed a 3-0 whitewash over Six Nations Champions Wales.
This weekend Deans has opted to make a number of changes, the most questionable being the selection of 36-year-old Radike Samo at number 8. Deans’ selections, outlines the problems that Australia face and the lack of talent around in the current generation Down Under. Elsewhere Dom Shipperley starts his first test, while Kurtley Beale is once again selected at full-back, meaning Adam Ashley-Cooper has switch to outside centre.
The only change in the Wallaby pack is Tatafu Poloto-Nau, who replaces Steven Moore, who is out with an injured hamstring.
Australia have actually won their last four matches against South Africa, and the Springboks have not won in Australia since 2009, a victory which ominously came at this Patersons Stadium in Perth.
For South Africa, although the results have been less disastrous than Australia, it has been their game plan that has come under severe scrutiny. The Springboks do not seem to have evolved their predictable kick-chase game. It is a tactic that works against lesser teams, but will surely be picked off at will by a good counter-attacking side.
South Africa have collected a win and a draw from their two matches so far in the Rugby Championship, but they were both against Argentina. In their away match in Mendoza, the Springboks were fortunate to escape with that draw, as their supposed physical bang-crash game was easily nullified by Argentina.
South Africa do not have a plan B. If Morne Steyn does not kick well, they simply do not win. Perhaps that is why Ruan Pienaar has been selected at scrum-half, with Francois Hougaard moving out to the wing. Pienaar is one of the most all-round talented players in the world. He should add some much-needed creativity and subtlety to one of the most one-dimensional back-lines in world rugby.
With a combination of Frans Steyn and Jean de Villiers in the centre and Zane Kirchner at full back, it is no guess what South Africa will do. In their own half they will kick and in the opposition half they will try and run straight over the top of their opponents.
Their kicking game will surely be focused at young Dom Shipperley who is making his first start, meanwhile fellow Wallaby winger Digby Ioane is now expert under the high ball.
South Africa and Australia both need to win at all costs, with Australia, seemingly with the team they have selected, trying to play more imaginative, attacking rugby. Despite the criticism, South Africa seem in no mood to chance their style of play, and if they are to challenge New Zealand for the title, they must win in Perth on Saturday.