PRETORIA – Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth has done well to contain his inner demons since being elevated to the Springbok captaincy, but he has set free his teammates to go out and “smash” the Wallabies “out of the park” in the Rugby Championship encounter in Perth today.
Often the fiery character in the Springbok pack, and the one player almost certain to get into some sort of confrontation, Etzebeth is calling on his team to have a similar no-fear attitude, especially in the first 20 minutes of the game, if they are to gain the early ascendancy against the Australians (12pm kickoff SA time).
Etzebeth, though, expects the Wallabies to come out with that same aggressive attitude in what many have already touted as the sternest test for the Springboks so far this year.
“There is always talk in a game about the first 20 minutes and guys coming out firing. We must just control that, and we must also come out in the first 20 and try to smash them out of the park. I know they will do the same,” said Etzebeth in his captain’s press conference in Perth on Friday.
There is no doubt that the Wallabies will be far superior to France and Argentina – both beaten convincingly by the Boks.
While the Boks’ series win against a fatigued French side and the back-to-back wins over the Pumas saw the men in green and gold make giant leaps from the woes of last year, the reality is the Wallabies represent a significant jump in intensity.
And with the Australians having shown their own growth and might in their narrow loss to the All Blacks in Dunedin two weeks ago, Saturday’s Test stands as a major test of character.
Etzebeth is under no illusion about what awaits his men. Australia are still third in the world rankings, one spot ahead of the Springboks.
“We have prepared well and are looking forward to this challenge.”
Referring to the Wallabies’ courageous performance against the Kiwis in Dunedin, Etzebeth added: “I think that was a pretty good performance, and I think they were unlucky not to win that game, it was a close one and they really played well.”
As upbeat as the Wallabies will be, going into this hard-to-predict encounter, the Springboks will be quietly confident of pulling off their first win in Perth in eight years as their five-match winning run is nothing to be scoffed at.
“If you win five in a row, there is always a good mood in the camp, positivity and some confidence, and it is always nice to start a season with five wins out of five Tests,” said the Bok captain.
The truth of the matter is that the South Africans have stuck to a winning formula primarily driven by their new team culture, but also by sticking to a basic and effective plan.
The Springboks have worked extremely hard at exploiting the fundamentals of the game to their benefit, starting with dominant set-piece play, a lethal and accurate attack and a rock-solid defence.
And this is where they will hurt the Wallabies, who had their frailties in the scrum and on defence horribly exposed by the All Blacks in their first two Tests of the competition.
While the Wallabies’ scrum has been falling apart, it is the one area where the Boks have experienced their biggest improvement, and with Tendai Mtawarira, Malcolm Marx and Coenie Oosthuizen looking in devastating form, the scrum could be the area where the Springboks begin to dismantle today’s opponents.
“I won’t sit here and identify any weak points. I think our scrum has been good in the past two games against Argentina, so that is something we worked on to try and improve every week,” said Etzebeth.
Ultimately, it will all probably come down to which team smashes the other the hardest, but for the Boks, theirs will not just be a 20-minute mission.
They will need to carry that fearless attitude throughout the 80 minutes if they are to have a chance at victory and maintain their unbeaten run in the competition.
Teams For Perth
Australia: Israel Folau, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Kurtley Beale, Reece Hodge, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Sean McMahon, Michael Hooper (captain), Ned Hanigan, Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio.
Bench: Jordan Uelese, Tom Robertson, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Simmons, Jack Dempsey, Nick Phipps, Samu Kerevi, Curtis Rona.
South Africa: Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronjé, Uzair Cassiem, Jaco Kriel, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth (captain), Coenie Oosthuizen, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira.
Bench: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Lood de Jager, Jean-Luc du Preez, Francois Hougaard, Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende.
Referee: Glen Jackson. Kickoff: 12pm SA time.