South Africa face a crossroads fixture against Australia six days after losing to the Wallabies, with their Rugby Championship title chances riding on whether they can avenge that defeat
Quade Cooper delivered the goods for Australia in his recent comeback against South Africa, but the enraged Springboks head to Suncorp Stadium on Saturday as favourites to get their revenge.
The reigning world champions suffered their first defeat of the 2021 Rugby Championship on the Gold Coast, where Cooper delivered Australia to their maiden win after four years away from the squad.
That result has only increased what’s at stake for the two teams when they collide once more at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.
Rugby Championship leaders New Zealand have taken a maximum 15 points thus far in the competition and boast a five-point cushion over the second-place Springboks.
A fourth-round victory over the Wallabies would keep alive South Africa’s hopes of retaining the title before they round off their tournament with back-to-back fixtures against the All Blacks.
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However, a second straight loss to Australia would likely mean Jacques Nienaber’s side must beat New Zealand twice in a row to have a chance at the trophy, something they haven’t done since 2009.
It’s no surprise Australia coach Dave Rennie has decided to retain Cooper at fly-half following his display at Cbus Super Stadium, which included a match-winner with the final kick.
Saturday’s fixture is also of major significance to Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper, who makes his 60th appearance as captain of the national team to break George Gregan’s all-time record.
“It’s an incredible milestone for Hoops on Saturday evening in Brisbane and it’s a testament to him as a person and a player,” Rennie said.
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“I’ve been so impressed with his leadership both on and off the field and his drive to be better every day.
“We were really proud of the effort from our men last Sunday and we’re well aware of the ferocity that a wounded Springboks outfit will bring to Suncorp Stadium.”
South Africa have refused to panic in light of their loss last weekend and made only two changes, one of which sees Marvin Orie replace lock Lood de Jager after he suffered a concussion.
Nienaber is still without star winger Cheslin Kolbe due to a leg injury, and he’ll hope to see fly-half Handre Pollard settle after something of an off day on the Gold Coast.
“Australia were desperate to win last week, and it showed in the way they played,” the Springboks coach said in midweek.
“There is no doubt the result would have given them confidence, so we are expecting them to deliver a similarly driven performance this week.
The tactician is all too aware of the must-win nature of South Africa’s final three games, adding: “Our next three matches will be similar to playing a quarter-final, semi-final and final if we want to defend our Castle Lager Rugby Championship title, and we are under no illusions about what it will take to achieve this.”
The Wallabies have triumphed in all but one of their previous eight encounters with the Boks at Suncorp Stadium and emerged 23-18 victors when the team last met there in September 2018.
The Brisbane venue is also the site of Australia’s largest win over South Africa—a 49-0 hammering in July 2006—and the hosts will hope it once again yields good fortune on Saturday.
What are the teams?
Australia: (Backs) Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White; (Forwards) Rob Valentini, Michael Hooper (c), Lachlan Swinton, Matt Philip, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Folau Fainga’a, Jamies Slipper
Reps: Feleti Kaitu’u, Angus Bell, Tom Robertson, Darcy Swain, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia
South Africa: (Backs) Willie le Roux, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; (Forwards) Duane Vermeulen, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi, Marvin Orie, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane
Reps: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, Herschel Jantjies, Damian Willemse
How to watch Australia vs South Africa?
Sky Sports Arena will host build-up to the match from 7.15am ahead of an 8.05am kick-off, when the game will also be available to watch via Sky Sports Main Event.
Alternatively, you can stream Saturday’s match live using your Sky Go account.
What are the odds?
Australia – 16/5
Draw – 25/1
South Africa – 1/3