Australia buckled under the pressure of trying to protect a long winning streak against the Springboks in Brisbane.
On Saturday, the roles will be reversed when Heyneke Meyer’s team shoulders the expectation of success against a Wallabies side that has nothing to lose.
The rugby debate held around yesterday’s nationwide braais generally pondered how wide the margin of a Bok victory will be this week... the tourists have largely been written off.
After all, South Africa won nine on the trot before referee Romain Poite blew them off Eden Park 11 days ago, while Australia have only won two of seven Tests this year – including one of four under new coach Ewen McKenzie.
Added to this, the Wallabies haven’t won at Newlands since 1992, when winger Paul Carozza scored a brace in an emphatic 26-3 win against Naas Botha’s side.
And, while Meyer’s team is still in the hunt for the title, Australia have just four log points after four rounds.
The Bok management team will work hard to keep the players focused on their on-field assignments, but the reality is that all of these factors will take a mental toll on the players this week.
The Wallabies admitted as much in the aftermath of their biggest home loss against the Boks, an emphatic 38-12 reverse at the Suncorp Stadium earlier this month.
Since then, McKenzie has changed tack and Australia rallied to beat Argentina 14-13 in Perth.
“We certainly needed that win in Perth,” said veteran Wallabies hooker Stephen Moore.
The architect of the Reds’ Super Rugby title-run in 2011, McKenzie has quickly been confronted with the unforgiving nature of Test rugby where risk-management trumps endeavour.
“It’s still very early in Ewen’s tenure,” added Moore. “We’re still finding the best game plan that suits us and the best game plan that he wants us to play.
“We’ve adjusted a few things, not massive things, but little things that are important in Test football, and that helped us a lot against Argentina.”
In Brisbane, the Wallabies invested in territory just 15 times and finished the match with more time in possession of the ball than the Boks.
In Perth, Australia made 27 kicks and allowed Argentina to hog the ball.
“The challenge for us is to play on the right end of the field and, if we do that, we’ll create chances for ourselves to score, that’s just as important as the physicality side of things,” added Moore.
Australia fronted up against Argentina and won a fair share of the collisions to come away with the win.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win and, with any team after a win, you certainly see the confidence and belief improve.”
In the same way, uncertainty and doubt are synonymous with defeat, and the Boks are coming off a 29-15 loss against the All Blacks.
The Boks feel that poor officiating denied them the opportunity to give their best in Auckland.
Similarly, the Wallabies are viewing this week as a chance to redeem themselves after a sub-standard performance against South Africa in Brisbane.
“We didn’t play with a lot of clarity in Brisbane,” said Wallabies No 8 Ben Mowen. “We spoke about doing things before the game and didn’t do them under pressure in the Test. It was disappointing, but also a pretty good lesson for this squad.
“After the game, we spoke about how we drained a lot of juice in the first half trying to achieve things with no reward, and we paid for that in the back half of the second half when they were able to find gaps and convert that into points.
“We took another step in the right direction against Argentina by playing with a bit more clarity about how we wanted to play out of our half. We’ll continue to chip away at that.” - Cape Argus