The seven ways Wallabies have changed their game
THE Israel Folau saga isn't going to kill rugby. More fumbling, losing footy will, which is why the experimental Wallabies must win in Johannesburg to ignite the World Cup.
Nine grating Test losses from 13 starts last year had the code trapped in a series called "Game of Moans" because gripes were flying about repeat errors, poor patterns in defence, Michael Cheika and most things in between.
Nothing summed up the Wallabies' clouded heads in 2018 better than the last visit to South Africa. After over-complicating things from the kick-off, Kurtley Beale threw a stupid 15m pass near his own line in Port Elizabeth that was intercepted for a try after 24 seconds. Kick the damn ball out.
There is a clarity to selection themes in this Wallabies line-up to face the Springboks early on Sunday morning (AEST) that has to click to grab instant momentum for a World Cup which is just two months away.
New season, fresh start and finally some big footy to break the numbing Folau cycle. You want to be excited. Give us a signpost.
Cheika knows Australian rugby needs a new dawn and perhaps the high-stepping speed of new fullback Tom Banks or a real No.8 like debutant Isi Naisarani will provide spark in more coherent team attack.
Robbie Deans' Wallabies were pumped 53-8 when Australia last played at this hostile high-altitude fortress at Ellis Park in 2008 so there's that too.
"Our goal is to turn that around and fight for Australia," Cheika said.
"A lot has been said about Australian rugby in the last six months or so...this is where we want to show what Australia is about on the field and we're going to put everything out there.
"Even though there may be a bit of noise out there against us. There's a lot people behind us.
"If there's one thing I know as an immigrant kid being brought up in Australia, when we are under the pump, when we're down, or we're underdogs we pull together across the board."
Camps in Brisbane, Sydney and this extended two week build-up in Johannesburg have all been aimed at "better, closer connections in teamwork on and off the field."
So just where are we going to see the flickers of revival?
1. LESS PROGRAMMED BACK PLAY
Halfbacks Nic White and Will Genia will do more playmaking, running and distribution in the new backline ideas of attack coach Shaun Berne. Look for the pacy Tom Banks to be hunting for inside balls off Bernard Foley to open up the Boks in midfield.
2. THE BIG BACKROW
Big, physical types in the backrow is a strong match-up against South Africa but there is more to it. New No.8 Naisarani (110kg) and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (117kg) are the big-bodied henchmen for Michael Hooper that could make "Pooper" obsolete when David Pocock returns.
3. SMARTER KICKING STABLE
Having the big boots of Reece Hodge and Dane Haylett-Petty on the wings is a wise move at high-altitude when kicks can fly 10m further. Still, it will be on Foley to have a good day with the boot and super-sub Kurtley Beale to provide steadying kicks in the second half.
4. MONSTER BALL CENTRES
Selecting Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani as two 100kg-plus ball-runners in the centres is specific to this match up against the physical Boks. The pair lack passing craft and much of the playmaking is on No.10 Foley until Beale enters the game.
5. FORM CALLS
Admirable selection energy to reward the likes of lock Rory Arnold, fullback Tom Banks, flanker Salakaia-Loto, hooker Faingaa and Naisarani for fine Super Rugby form.
6. FINGERS CROSSED
Hooker Faingaa's quizzical hands-apart shrug that he no idea where to throw the next ball after four lineout losses in the Super Rugby semi-final was not a good sign so this is a huge test when the lineout is challenged again.
7. DEFENSIVE CHANGES
The ridiculous space the Wallabies gave sideline channel runners last year must be jammed shut and defensive coach Nathan Grey must have done so or else.
South African coach Rassie Erasmus is wary of the underdog Aussies and more so that they tend to click in World Cup years.
"They do. I was there in 1999 when Steve Larkham kicked that drop goal through my thumbs (to beat South Africa in an extra-time semi-final thriller) at Twickenham," Erasmus said.
"The Wallabies do have that big match temperament, no matter what the results prior, for tending to know how to build up to World Cups and get it right.
"With the changes they've made with Super Rugby (to four teams) and even coming to Joburg early with a bigger squad seems like good planning.
"It feels like they are peaking to the World Cup and that makes everybody nervous."
The Wallabies have the respect of a South African legend. Now, to win and more from the humble Wallabies fan.
Australia v South Africa
Ellis Park, Johannesburg, Sunday, 1.05am (AEST)
Referee: Paul Williams (NZ)
AUSTRALIA: Tom Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Reece Hodge, Bernard Foley, Nic White, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (c), Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Sekope Kepu, Folau Faingaa, James Slipper. Reserves: Jordan Uelese, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Jack Dempsey, Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale.
SOUTH AFRICA: Warrick Gelant, S'bu Nkosi, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Francois Louw, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rynhardt Elstadt, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth (c), Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Schalk Brits, Lizo Gqoboka, Vincent Koch, Marvin Orie, Marcell Coetzee, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn, Dillyn Leyds.
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