South Africa host Australia in the Rugby Championship and it is shaping up to be Heyneke Meyer’s most important match to date in charge (4pm BST, Saturday Sept 29).
Having only won just once in their last five matches, the pressure on South Africa is reaching boiling point. So far in this newly-formed tournament, South Africa have only managed a win and a draw against Argentina and losses to Australia and New Zealand. However with a better goal-kicker, the Springboks could have easily beaten the All Blacks. They had enough kicks to have overturned the 10-point losing margin.
They could have won against Australia too. After leading at half time, they will have been devastated to let two tries slip in the last 20 minutes. Losing tight games is not something normally associated with the Springboks, but with their squad now including a fair amount of youngsters maybe it is to be expected.
One thing that will improve the morale of the Boks is being on home turf for their last two games of the tournament. If they can somehow rescue two wins, then potentially Meyer will survive as coach, however nothing less is required.
For this crucial game, Meyer has dropped fly-half More Steyn and brought in youngster Johan Goosen. In dropping Steyn, Meyer has realised that South Africa need to change their style of play and that they will no longer win test matches by aimless long kicking. Bath flanker Francois Louw continues in the back row which features Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts. It has to be one of the biggest back rows ever put together by a South African side.
Australia have amazingly won their last five matches against South Africa, a run that stretches back to 2010. Two of those victories did come in South Africa as well, at Durban and Bloemfontein. As this week’s match is being played at the fortress Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, another Australian triumph is less likely. It was at this ground that South Africa last beat Australia, and with a number of local Blue Bulls players in their squad, South Africa may prove difficult opponents.
Australia have made a couple of changes, the most significant being the selection of Kurtley Beale at fly-half. Beale, who started his career as a fly-half for the Wallabies and Australian age-group sides has been shifted around a lot in recent years. Now back in a position he clearly relishes he may find some of his best form.
There is no doubt that Beale is a wonderful player and reinstating him at fly-half shows the Wallabies intentions to throw the ball around. Berrick Barnes will handle the kicking responsibilities from full-back but considering the altitude expect Beale to have a crack at anything just inside his own half.