Preview: South Africa v Australia

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South Africa will be determined to return to winning ways when they host Australia in a crucial Rugby Championship Test in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The Springboks have plenty to prove to their supporters as they head into this fixture on the back of their worst ever defeat, suffered in their previous match in the competition – a humiliating 57-0 loss to the All Blacks in Albany in Round Four.

That loss was a shock to the system for the Bok players and coaching staff as they delivered several impressive performances – prior to that underperforming one against the world champions – in 2017.

Head coach Allister Coetzee has been roundly criticised in the Republic after that result and knows that anything less than victory against the Wallabies will put him back in the firing line.

After winning just four out of 12 Tests – and drawing with the Barbarians in a non-international match – in 2016, the Boks appeared to be on the right track with an impressive start to their 2017 campaign.

A 3-0 series whitewash against France in June was followed by back-to-back victories over Argentina at the start of the Rugby Championship before they drew with Australia, in the corresponding fixture in Brisbane in Round 3.

However, the nature of their defeat to the All Blacks in Albany exposed the Boks' frailties and showed that they still have a long way to go before they can be judged as a genuine powerhouse at Test level.

Despite that massive loss, Coetzee has made few changes to his matchday squad although Dillyn Leyds, Francois Louw and Ross Cronje are expected to make telling contributions this weekend after being included in the run-on side.

The Wallabies showed in their last three fixtures – against New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina – that they are moving in the right direction.

They were unlucky to lose to the All Blacks in Dunedin before drawing with the Boks but there were plenty of positive signs when they secured a 45-20 bonus-point victory over Argentina in Canberra in the previous round.

Wallaby coach Michael Cheika has placed his faith in several young and inexperienced players with the performances of rookie Test trio Izack Rodda (lock), Jack Dempsey (flanker) and Marika Koroibete (wing) sure to be in the spotlight.

All three aforementioned players have impressed at Super Rugby level this year and done well off the bench for the Wallabies as well but it will be interesting to see how they front up in a hostile enviroment in Bloemfontein.

Rodda and Dempsey, in particular, will be expected to hit the ground running at the coalface of the Wallaby forward effort against a Bok pack who will be determined to dominate up front.

None of the last seven games between these sides has seen an away victory, with Australia’s last victory in South Africa coming in 2011, since then they have lost four on the spin in the country.

The Wallabies’ last four wins in the Rugby Championship outside of Australia have all come against Argentina – their last away win against one of the other sides came in 2011 – against South Africa. 

However, South Africa’s last Test in Bloemfontein was in 2010 when they lost 41-39 to Australia, ending a run of five victories at the venue spanning 2002 to 2009.

Players to watch:

For South Africa: Dillyn Leyds comes in for Raymond Rhule on the right wing. His creativity, vision, hot-stepping and ability to operate as a playmaker should cause problems for the Wallabies defenders. Leyds also has an excellent tactical-kicking game and can create something from nothing with his devastating line-breaks. He will need to step up defensively, as the right wing position has been a problem area for the Boks. 

For Australia: Marika Koroibete is a winger blessed with raw speed and power. He combines these attributes with a lethal ability in the air. The Boks should be prepared for Bernard Foley's cross-kicks to be sent his way and to Israel Folau. The relatively diminutive South African back-three should be tested by both of these players.  

Head-to-Head: Wallabies captain Michael Hooper and the returning Francois Louw will be relishing taking each other on at the breakdown. Both flankers are excellent over the ball and will be used as consistent ball carriers throughout the Test. Hooper will have the edge when it comes to having ball in hand, but Louw may have more grit on the ground. This battle will be epic.

Previous meetings:

2017: The teams drew 23-23 in Perth
2016: South Africa won 18-10 in Pretoria
2016: Australia won 23-17 in Brisbane
2015: Australia won 24-20 in Brisbane
2014: South Africa won 28-10 in Cape Town
2014: Australia won 24-23 in Perth
2013: South Africa won 28-8 in Cape Town
2013: South Africa won 38-12 in Brisbane
2012: South Africa won 31-8 in Pretoria

Prediction: Don't be surprised if this one goes down to the wire again. Home ground advantage will swing it the Boks' favour though. South Africa to win by four points!

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Damian de Allende

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements (one to be omitted): 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Lukhan Tui, 21 Ned Hanigan, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Samu Kerevi, 24 Henry Speight

Date: Saturday, September 30
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)