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Ken Borland

A further step up needed by Bok pack 0

Posted on October 12, 2012 by Ken

South Africa’s inexperienced pack produced a top-class effort to surprise the All Blacks in Dunedin, but they need to step it up against the Wallabies in Pretoria this weekend.

While a Wallaby pack is often unfairly regarded as not being as daunting as those of their neighbours in New Zealand, a common feature of South Africa’s 26 defeats in 47 matches against Australia since the end of isolation has been a failure to live up to promises of smashing them physically upfront.

That’s because the Wallabies invariably bring a nous to their game that makes up for any perceived physical shortcomings.

Since 1992, South African rugby fans have been fed a steady diet of tripe about how physically superior the Springboks are to all other teams. That may have been the case in the amateur days, but since professionalism reached rugby union, all the top nations have strength and conditioning programmes that match, if not outstrip, those of the Boks.

When Jake White took over as Springbok coach in 2004, he used to talk about “men versus boys” and the demoralising effect it had on the Springboks when they saw the chiselled bodies of their rivals in the locker room after games.

The opposition is only too happy to feed the myth, because it means the Springboks will rely on brawn and not develop the more cerebral parts of their game.

Even on Tuesday, Wallaby flank Dave Dennis was toeing the party line.

“You’ve got to respect the All Blacks and Springbok packs, maybe it’s a visual thing because they just seem bigger,” he said. “We’ve obviously struggled in areas of our scrum in the past and we’re still working on being a strong forward pack. It’s not so much about our size, but our attitude and competitiveness go a long way.”

Springbok tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis has plenty of experience of playing against the Wallabies, and he pointed out that for them, scrummaging is not an end in itself, unlike their southern hemisphere rivals. They’re using the tight phases for far more than just physical combat.

“The Australian scrum is different. While the All Blacks view scrums in the same mould as us, as a place to exert physical dominance over the opposition, the Wallabies are much more tactical, they know what they want from certain areas of the field,” he said. “So it’s a big challenge against them, they have a great loosehead in Benn Robinson and he scrums well with Tatafu Polota-Nau, they’re both short and stocky.”

The Wallabies dominated the Springboks up front in the second half of the Perth game and Johann van Graan, the South Africa forwards coach, said the inexperienced pack would need to shift to the next level on Saturday.

“I’m really proud of the performance against the All Blacks, we played some of our best rugby and to have 58 percent territory and 52 percent possession against them at home is a great effort. But we can improve on the lineout, where we lost a couple of balls, and Australia scrummed very well against us in Perth. Nathan Sharpe is one of the best locks of all time, so their lineout is tricky and their kick-offs are to different places to put you under pressure,” Van Graan said.

As Du Plessis pointed out, one of the advantages of having inexperienced players new to Test rugby is that their hunger and enthusiasm ensures that they won’t head for the hills when the going gets tough.

“As they say, a hungry dog hunts best,” Du Plessis said.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is likely to name the same pack when he announces the team on Wednesday, leaving the pet issue of whether South Africa need a fetcher still unanswered. Francois Louw had a busy game in Dunedin, but he is not a classical fetcher, he’s more of a hybrid between an openside scavenger and a ball-carrying, tackling blindside.

Australia do have an out-and-out fetcher in Michael Hooper, who’s so good he managed to convert Brumbies coach Jake White, who also had a long-time aversion to that breed of rugby player.

“I like to think I won Jake over, and now he’s dragged David Pocock over to the Brumbies, maybe he’s changed his opinion on fetchers! But he still likes the big South African ball-carriers … “ Hooper said.

Of course, if the Springbok ball-carriers can blast through the tackles and get over the advantage line, then Hooper has a slimmer chance of pilfering the ball.

However, Franco-Irish referee Alain Rolland is the man in charge on Saturday and he is known to favor a bit more disruption at the ruck than southern hemisphere referees.

The Springboks will, of course, have analysed both the Wallabies and Rolland’s tendencies in their usual professional manner. Hopefully they will realise that they will need to be clever as well as physically fierce in order to overturn recent history against Australia – the ledger now standing at a record five straight defeats to the “other” Green and Gold team.

Cooper’s attack no distraction – Ashley-Cooper 0

Posted on October 11, 2012 by Ken

Australia utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper said on Monday that injured flyhalf Quade Cooper’s comments on the squad, in which he roasted the camp for having a “toxic environment”, would not be a distraction as the Wallabies prepare for their Rugby Championship Test against South Africa in Pretoria on Saturday.

“There’s a lot of people who are afraid to say what they feel so they just go along with it and nothing is going to change,” Cooper told Australian Associated Press at the weekend. “That’s why I feel so strongly as a player. I don’t want to be involved in the toxic environment, and that’s how it is at the moment.”

Cooper has also tweeted his displeasure at Wallabies coach Robbie Deans’ game plan, saying he was only allowed to play the attacking brand of rugby he favours from “February to May” at the Queensland Reds in SuperRugby.

But Ashley-Cooper said there was a very convivial mood in the Wallabies camp.

“I’m not aware of what the tweets are saying, but you can’t ignore social media, it’s a big part of the game. But it won’t be a distraction for us.

“There’s a great buzz in the squad and we’re excited to be here. We’ve had two good wins and we feel that we’re building as a group,” Ashley-Cooper told a news conference in Johannesburg on Monday.

While Australia have come from behind to win their last two Tests, against South Africa and Argentina, Deans is still under enormous pressure at home, mainly due to his record of just two wins in his last 16 matches against the All Blacks for the Bledisloe Cup.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is also feeling the heat with his team managing just a win and a draw against Argentina thus far in the Rugby Championship.

“I think the Springboks are facing similar challenges to us with a lot of injuries and having to give opportunities to younger blokes. But those youngsters bring a lot of enthusiasm and energy which the older guys can feed off.

“The Springboks are coming off two disappointing losses so they’ll be pretty motivated and we expect it to be really tough to win in Pretoria.

“The challenge is greater for us away from home, we have two really tough games on a pretty tough trip and with the travel conditions added in, so there’s no room for complacency,” Ashley-Cooper said.

The 28-year-old veteran of 71Tests and numerous SuperRugby games against the Pretoria-based Bulls said Loftus Versfeld would not be a place for the faint-hearted on Saturday.

“Playing at Loftus is always pretty tough, you’re usually up against quality opposition there and a hostile crowd that they feed off. Plus the altitude and the pace of the game there means it’s always a challenge. A win is something we’ve never achieved before in Pretoria, we came close in 2010 [31-44], so there’s a lot of motivation for us,” Ashley-Cooper said.

Australia’s coaching co-ordinator, Tony McGahan, said despite criticism that the Springboks’ game plan was dull and conservative in comparison to the Wallabies’, every top international team employed similar tactics.

“Generally, most sides have the same principles with just small variations from week-to-week depending on the opposition and the conditions. But the core values are set in stone.

“You need a bit of both possession and territory. You use possession to gain territory and that’s how you control the scoreboard, converting field position into points. It will continue to be that way in test rugby.

“There will be more cause to have a penalty against you when you’re running the ball out of your own half, but you tend to get more favour from possession on attack. It also depends on the quality of your possession,” McGahan said.

Australia will name their team for Saturday’s Test on Thursday, while South Africa’s squad will be announced on Wednesday.


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