D-Day for De Villiers and Deans in race to save face and jobs
Published 28/08/2010 | 05:00
The Tri Nations trophy has already returned to New Zealand; only the scraps remain on the table.
But what important scraps for South Africa and Australia to be fighting over in Pretoria today.
The future of both countries' coaches, the Springboks' Peter de Villiers and the Wallabies' Robbie Deans, could be determined by the outcome of today's game and the next fixture in Bloemfontein next Saturday.
If Australia lose both matches -- and their record at altitude is abysmal -- under Deans they will have lost at least five of their six Tri-Nations matches for a second successive season. The knives will move perilously close to his back.
But if Deans is under pressure, De Villiers is facing possibly a worse fate: ridicule. The South African has taken enormous criticism for the Springboks' played four lost four record in this year's Tri Nations, especially after a poor tour to the northern hemisphere at the end of last year.
The Springboks simply must stop the rot in Pretoria this afternoon and they have the perfect incentive. Local favourite Victor Matfield, a colossus of South African rugby for nine years now, plays his 100th Test, just seven days after Boks captain John Smit reached the milestone in Johannesburg.
Matfield will hope for a happier outcome than Smit experienced last week, the Springboks losing in the final moments to a two-try burst by the New Zealanders after leading for 77 minutes.
Smit has spoken this week of unfinished business, saying: "That was a terrible disappointment, which we want to bury. If we do the work we have to finish the job this time."
South Africa should be strengthened by the return of centre Jaque Fourie, resuming his potentially world-class midfield pairing with Jean de Villiers after a four-match suspension. Also back is Frans Steyn in the No 15 jersey.
Steyn's presence is noted by Wallaby flanker David Pocock, who said: "He is solid, big, reliable and a good kicker. Regardless of his club form in France, when he pulls on the Springbok jersey he'll be ready."
But if South Africa are desperate, Australia too are pretty anxious about the need to win at least one of these two Tests at altitude in the next week. Deans can ill afford to go home and face the All Blacks in Sydney in the final game of the tournament with another failed trip to Africa behind him.
It may be that next week in Bloemfontein is Australia's best chance of victory. Beating the Springboks in Pretoria is notoriously tough.
Yet Australia's attacking options are considerably enhanced by the return of innovative out-half Quade Cooper, after a two-game ban.
Cooper and half-back partner Will Genia bring an exciting potency and unpredictability to the Wallabies' play.
Matt Giteau reverts to inside-centre to accommodate Cooper and Kurtley Beale, now leaner, fitter and faster, is a significant threat at full-back.
The Australians are expecting an improved display from South Africa, especially at the breakdown.
Pocock added: "I thought the breakdown was very well contested by both sides last weekend and that is something we are going to have to work on."
The Springboks should take this one.
SOUTH AFRICA -- F Steyn; JP Pietersen, J Fourie, J de Villiers, B Habana; M Steyn, F Hougaard; G Steenkamp, J Smit (capt), J Du Plessis; F Van der Merwe, V Matfield; S Burger, J Smith, P Spies.
AUSTRALIA -- K Beale; J O'Connor, A Ashley-Cooper, M Giteau, D Mitchell; Q Cooper, W Genia; B Robinson, S Faingaa, S Ma'afu; D Mumm, N Sharpe; R Elsom (capt ), D Pocock, R Brown.
Ref -- A Rolland (Ireland).
South Africa v Australia,
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