Australia coach looks for elusive landmark win
After a draw and a lopsided loss to New Zealand in the Rugby Championship, Australia goes into its match against South Africa on Saturday with a chance to give coach Ewen McKenzie a first — a win against a team ranked ahead of the Wallabies.
In his 18th test as Wallabies coach, McKenzie still hasn’t led the third-ranked team to a win over a side with a better International Rugby Board ranking. They’ve managed a draw and four losses against the top-ranked All Blacks, while the No. 2 Springboks won both tests between the teams last year.
For (not) good measure, Australia also lost to fourth-ranked England at Twickenham last year.
“That will be a conversation people have until we change that situation,” McKenzie said this week. “Make no mistake: I want to win every test, whoever we play.”
The Wallabies, however, did win seven matches in a row against teams ranked below them with McKenzie in charge.
Here are some other things to know ahead of Saturday’s match in Perth, Western Australia:
CENTURY MILESTONE: Winger Bryan Habana is set to become only the fourth South African to play 100 test matches for his country, and the other three were his teammates when the Springboks won the World Cup in 2007: John Smit, Percy Montgomery and Victor Matfield. Back from retirement, Mattfield is scheduled to play his 114th test, 25 of them against Australia. Habana holds the test try-scoring record for South Africa with 56, fourth best on the all-time list. “Bryan is a true professional and someone who never gives anything but his best, on the field and off it,” coach Heyneke Meyer said.
THE CAPTAINS SPEAK: South Africa skipper Jean de Villiers said Friday the Wallabies might be feeling pressure after dropping their past three tests against the Springboks by more than 20 points: 28-8, 38-12 and 31-8. “Maybe they might still feel the psychological pressure of what happened in the past,” de Villiers said. “But we’re not banking on them holding the scars of last year. They’ve come a long way.” Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said his side has forgotten those losses. “It was a long time ago, teams have changed and we’ve got a completely different squad,” Hooper said.
EX-PATS IN THE HOUSE: The Springboks may have flown 10 or 11 hours across the Indian Ocean from their home base to Perth, but the Western Australian state capital affords the visitors a bit of a hometown advantage. There are nearly 20,000 South Africans living in Perth, and thousands of them will help pack the stadium.
WOBBLIES FEARED: Australia lost 51-20 to New Zealand 10 days ago and sits in last place in the championship, level on two points with Argentina but behind on points differential. Meyer says he expects the Wallabies to bounce back. “I truly believe they have a quality, quality side,” Meyer said. “In the wet they played some great rugby where they drew (with the All Blacks). And even the game they lost, I know they lost on the scoreboard, quite considerably, but they showed some brilliant touches and played some great rugby.” The All Blacks host Argentina in Napier in the other match Saturday.
GOOD DECISION?: McKenzie abandoned the experiment of using Kurtley Beale at flyhalf and named the New South Wales Waratahs halves pairing of Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps for Saturday’s match. Meyer thinks it’s a great idea, and has labeled the new combination as “one of the best backlines we’ve ever faced.”
“Australia’s got an unbelievable, an exceptional backline,” he said. “They’re big, they’re quick and they’re in-form.”
THE TEAMS: Australia: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (captain), Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Sam Carter, Sekope Kepu, James Hanson, James Slipper. Reserves: Saia Fainga’a, Pek Cowan, Ben Alexander, James Horwill, Scott Higginbotham, Matt Hodgson, Nic White, Kurtley Beale.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Jan Serfontein, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar; Duane Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Louw, Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Lood de Jager, Warren Whiteley, Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Damian de Allende.