The Boks will take some beating

2009-09-04 00:00

THREE years ago, the last time the Springboks were in Brisbane, Australia enjoyed their biggest ever victory over the South Africans, humiliating them 49-0.

But both teams have travelled a long way since that bizarre night. The Springboks were world champions a year later and since then have solidified their status as the world’s number one team, while the Wallabies no longer have Dan Vickerman, George Gregan, Stephen Larkham, Lote Tuqiri, Stirling Mortlock or Chris Latham in their side and are battling to find winning form.

The Boks, unsurprisingly, mostly shrug their shoulders when asked about the evening of July 15, 2006, calling it “a bad day for Springbok rugby”, but if there are any nasty flashbacks, they keep them well hidden.

Eighthman Pierre Spies had the misfortune of making his debut in that game.

“That was a bad day for Springbok rugby in 2006 and it was just unlucky that it was mine and Akona Ndungane’s debuts. It was one of those nights when you just don’t know what’s happening. The line was being cut as they pleased and everything just happened so fast … especially the Australian scoreboard moving. I was just very glad to receive my jersey, pull it over my head and represent my country, but I don’t think about that game anymore,” Spies said.

Centre Jaque Fourie will celebrate his 50th cap on Saturday and played in the Brisbane massacre as well.

“In 2006 that was a bad day for Springbok rugby, we really got killed; but it’s 2009 now and we’re a totally different team, we’ve grown a lot and have more experience. We’re playing the best rugby we have in a long time and South African rugby is very healthy at the moment.”

And vice-captain Victor Matfield was also unfazed when history was brought up once again yesterday.

“That’s sport, you have your ups and downs and sometimes you have to build a team. But we’re a very happy, very experienced team right now, and we’d like to keep that going for as long as possible,” Matfield said.

Australia, in contrast, are a team wracked by uncertainty, despite the positive, cheerful glow they tried to put on their situation yesterday.

“Momentum is a funny thing and you must remember in 2006 we had the likes of George Gregan, Stephen Larkham and Chris Latham. There’s been a big changing of the guard and the team is now in the hands of young guys. We have a great opportunity to create our own history,” Australian centre Berrick Barnes said.

The return of the 23-year-old Barnes will give the Wallabies another midfield general and another kicking option, meaning they should do better with their possession than their bumbling, prolonged efforts in Perth.

The scrum, if referee Wayne Barnes does not prove as nasty to them as Bryce Lawrence was last weekend to the Springboks, will hold its own, and the presence of two fetchers in the great George Smith and rising star David Pocock should ensure a steady supply of ball from the rucks.

But the lineouts, and their ability to engineer them, are the Springboks’ great strength and Wallaby coach Robbie Deans’s decision to replace a jumper with another fetcher and hooker Stephen Moore with Tatafu Polota-Nau could be the key chink in their armour.

The last time Polota-Nau started against South Africa was in the Ellis Park massacre of 2008, when the Australian lineout disintegrated early on and the Springboks ran up a 53-8 scoreline, the biggest ever defeat inficted on the two-time World Cup champions.

“We always focus on putting our opponents under pressure at the lineout. This is an important game, and we will do things the same as we always do. And we’ve been trying to get better every week too, there are still things we are working on,” Matfield said.

The Springboks are within touching distance of Tri-Nations glory for the first time since 2004 and, never mind the omens or history, common sense suggests the Wallabies will have to produce something as incredible as that 49-0 score to deny them.

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