Horwill returns to boost Wallabies in South Africa
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Captain James Horwill returned from injury and center Tevita Kuridrani was handed his first start as the Wallabies looked to beef up their physical presence for a Rugby Championship test against South Africa that few people give the visitors a chance in.
Second-rower Horwill and muscular midfielder Kuridrani were among six changes to the Australian 23 following a 14-13 win over Argentina two weeks ago, new coach Ewen McKenzie’s first victory.
Half the changes were in the backline, where ACT Brumbies outside center Kuridrani was in the starting 15 for the first time and there was a new wing combination of Joe Tomane and Adam Ashley-Cooper. They replaced James O’Connor, who was dropped for the tour for disciplinary reasons, and the injured Nick Cummins.
Up front, Horwill boosted a pack that struggled at times with the physicality of the Argentines and will be sternly tested by South Africa’s big, bullying forwards at Newlands on Saturday. Experienced prop Benn Robinson returned on the bench and Kuridrani’s promotion made way among the reserves for 19-year-old backline player Chris Feauai-Sautia. Scrumhalf Nic White also retained his starting place, with former skipper Will Genia again relegated to the bench.
Horwill’s recall and the selection of a bigger, stronger backline were the most telling changes for the underdog Wallabies, who identified their struggles up front and at the collision as pressing problems this season from their three straight defeats to start the McKenzie era and the southern hemisphere championship.
“James (Horwill) has plenty of experience and we are going into a tough environment. He plays the game hard so it’s timely that he is back,” McKenzie said. “In our outside backs we’ve already been forced into change but Tomane on one wing is pretty straight forward. He is big and powerful and has been in the squad for a long time.”
Australia’s heavy defeat to South Africa in Brisbane came from the Boks’ advantage in the scrums and at the breakdown and, to add to that, the Wallabies also go up against a poor recent record at Cape Town’s Newlands ground, where they have lost five straight since winning in 1992 on South Africa’s return post-apartheid.
The Wallabies are out of the running for the Rugby Championship title but still have the capacity, and the running game, to upset South Africa. The Springboks also have placed much of their focus on next weekend’s showdown with defending champion New Zealand in Johannesburg, a probable title decider.
“We approach every game as though we can win it and I’ve never felt we can’t go out there with that expectation,” McKenzie said. “No one will back us but that sits fine with us. Two wins in a row would be significant for this team, especially winning in South Africa given their current circumstance. We’ve got a great opportunity to be a thorn in what they are trying to do.”
Australia: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali’ifano, Joe Tomane, Quade Cooper, Nic White; Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill (captain), Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Reserves: Saia Fainga’a, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Ben McCalman, Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Chris Feauai-Sautia.
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