“We are nervous, especially defensively, for these guys!”
Those were the startling words from Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer yesterday when speaking about the challenge the Wallaby backline will present in Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash at Patersons Stadium.
It’s not often that an international rugby coach lets his guard down, he may have said it intentionally – to give Australia a false confidence – but a more likely scenario is that he is genuinely worried about whether the Boks can hold out a new-look and more dynamic Wallaby backline.
Coach Ewen McKenzie shuffled his cards on Tuesday and eventually picked in-form Waratahs halfbacks Nick Phipps at scrumhalf and Bernard Foley at flyhalf, but resisted shifting Kurtley Beale to No12 to restore the ’Tahs inside-back combination, instead retaining Matt Toomua.
But there is a new face at outside centre, and he is the giant Brumbies midfielder Tevita Kuridrani, who could be a handful on attack, and then the fleet-footed Adam Ashley-Cooper adds extra bite at right wing to complement the strike-running of fullback Israel Folau.
“They are a brilliant backline, as they are big and quick, and have a very good kicking game now. Australia have the physicality and the skill, which makes it difficult for the opposition.
“One thing you can give them credit for, it is very difficult to prepare for them.
“If you look at the kick-offs, they are one of the most difficult teams to work out because every single kick-off is contestable,” Meyer said yesterday.
“Big carrying backs, they are also smart, and it’s always been tough battles against Ewen, and I know Jim McKay as well from Leicester.
“We said to our guys that if we want to win this game, we will have to make more than 200 tackles, which is very high for an international match.
“But that’s what it took the last time (in Brisbane last year).“
The major concern for Meyer is outside centre, where Jaque Fourie’s unavailability creates a problem.
Yesterday he named Jan Serfontein at No13, stating that the Bulls youngster and captain Jean de Villiers would play as the old-style left and right centre, meaning they would switch between the two centre roles throughout the game.
And to complicate matters further, Serfontein missed the first two training days this week due to flu, although he did participate yesterday.
“I still think Jan’s best position is 12, but nowadays there’s not that big a difference between the centres. So I believe these are the two best centres at the moment and on form, and they interchange as well to keep the opposition hopefully guessing, and we will use both their strengths.
“I just feel Australia’s got an exceptional backline, with great players on great form. They did well in Super Rugby, and I feel that at 13, it is probably the most difficult position to defend, and Jean is very experienced and a great defender, and he will help the youngsters as well. I would’ve loved Jan to train more, especially on defence.” - The Star