Thursday 23 November 2017

Australia get back on track

Boks' woe affects Ireland, writes Brendan Fanning

After four stages on their road to the World Cup Australia are back on track.

Faced with the prospect of going into their final Tri Nations game -- against New Zealand in Brisbane in a fortnight -- with just one win from three, they overturned a clueless Springbok side in Durban yesterday (14-9). How South African rugby have allowed coach Pieter de Villiers to remain in charge all the way to the World Cup is a mystery.

First, the Aussies: they desperately needed a win here and despite a dodgy end-game, when again they looked unsuited to the task of closing down a contest, they hung on. They had two big issues coming into this game, which slipped and slid its way to the finish as rain poured down in King's Park: stopping the scrum from going backwards; and kicking the placed ball over the bar.

Again James O'Connor took the responsibility from the tee and finished with a 50 per cent rate. Despite a good strike rate in the Super 15 this season, he still doesn't come across as top class Test-match kicker.

The best news for them was the circumstances surrounding his handy kick for the last score. The Wallabies walked the South Africa scrum backwards more than 10 metres into their own 22 for Bryce Lawrence -- who will handle Ireland's game with Australia in the World Cup -- to give them the penalty. It was the coach's decision to take off the prop Jannie du Plessis and shift captain John Smit over to tighthead that opened the door to the Aussies.

The Wallabies had done a decent job this year in shoring up their scrum, and then they lost loosehead Benn Robinson to injury last month. Sekope Kepu has had fairly mixed experiences in his place. In an attempt to blend him in as fast as possible coach Robbie Deans has started him in all four Tests this season, along with Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander. It is the only area of the side to remain unchanged over that period. And how Kepu heaved a sigh of relief when he saw du Plessis disappear in the final quarter and Smit move over.

De Villiers has made the basic mistake of nominating as captain a player who is no longer worth his place in the side. Certainly Smit is a handy man on the bench, but the combination of the Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck, and the 'Beast', Tendai Mtawarira, is the best front row they have.

This changes the complexion of Ireland's World Cup campaign, for if we come second in the pool then the likelihood is that we would face South Africa in the quarter-finals.

Now, with the Boks zero from three in the Tri Nations, Samoa and Wales -- whose scrum was dismantled by England yesterday -- will feel better about life.

Certainly that's how the Wallabies feel this morning. They showed how deadly they can be in exploiting mis-matches in the way they carved out their only try, for Pat McCabe, early in the second half having turned over 6-0 at the break, and they were very competitive at the breakdown.

Just how much this win has helped them we won't know until Auckland on September 17.

Sunday Indo Sport

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