Reuters - Thu, 22 Jul 09:21:00 2010
South Africa may have felt relieved to depart New Zealand after two bruising losses to the All Blacks, but the Tri-Nations champions can expect little respite from a fresh Australian side in Brisbane on Saturday.
For all coach Peter de Villiers's talk of a new South Africa liberated of their traditional awe of the All Blacks, the Springboks reaped only injuries and suspensions from their New Zealand tour and go into the match at Lang Park with their title defence on the brink of collapse.
Instructively, De Villiers's usual bluster has taken a back seat to the more pragmatic business of selections for the Wallabies game, given the immediate goal of simply keeping his team in the tournament.
The Springboks coach resisted changes to the side that was thumped 32-12 in the Auckland opener, but his faith was scarcely repaid with an ensuing 31-17 loss in Wellington.
Against the Wallabies, themselves under scrutiny after scratchy June Tests against England and Ireland, the play-book has been thrown out the window and the Springboks will line up with nine changes, including four to the starting 15.
With their usually dependable combination of muscle and high-kicking completely unravelled by the attack-minded All Blacks, the Springboks have decided that ball-carrying will be the key to victory on Lang Park's slick surface.
"Of all the Super 14 teams and the surfaces that are used, (Lang Park) is rated the quickest one," De Villiers said in Brisbane this week.
"We know (the Wallabies) can run the ball and they are very quick across the field so we opt to bring some speed into our team."
To provide that speed, Ruan Pienaar has been given the nod over scrumhalf Ricky Januarie, while flanker Ryan Kankowski and feather-light winger Gio Aplon have also been promoted.
All will be required to shut down the Wallabies' dangerous Queensland Reds midfield pairing of Quade Cooper and Will Genia, who tormented a number of South African Super 14 sides at the venue with their speed and incisive passing earlier this year.
Genia's return from a broken thumb will give under-pressure coach Robbie Deans some heart after the scrum-half's brilliance was sorely missed during Australia's uninspiring 22-15 win over Ireland at the same ground last month.
The Wallabies also welcome back experienced front rower Benn Robinson and lock Nathan Sharpe from injuries to bolster a pack that was savaged by England's forwards during their split two-Test series.
With utility Adam Ashley-Cooper switched to full-back to mop up the Springboks' aerial bombs, the daunting task of minding flying winger Brian Habana falls to a 20-year-old with virtually no experience out wide, James O'Connor.
"I've had a few one-on-ones with Habana in the past so it's been a good experience so far," O'Connor said.
A loss, while devastating for the South Africa, will be almost as galling for the Wallabies, whose one bright spot in a gloomy Tri-Nations last year was their 21-6 upset of the Springboks in Brisbane.
Deans, who has publicly admitted his tenure could rest on this year's Tri-Nations results, may take more heart from the past than the present, given the Springboks have proven unable to score a try at Lang Park in 13 years.