Springboks coach looks for big improvement against Wallabies
ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber is under no illusions as his World Cup-champion Springboks attempt to win their first rugby match in Australia in nine years.
Coming off a 35-23 home loss to New Zealand two weeks ago, the Springboks will have a chance to make amends in Saturday’s Rugby Championship afternoon match at Adelaide Oval.
Nienaber wasn’t pleased after his team’s loss to the All Blacks, despite the Springboks opening the tournament with a 25-10 win over New Zealand.
“We had a thorough review of our last match, and we have identified the areas of our game in which we need to improve,” said Nienaber. “We know we need to make a big step-up in the quality of our performance to start the tour on a positive note, and that is a big objective for us this weekend.”
South Africa made two changes to its starting XV — Faf de Klerk returns at scrumhalf and Warrick Gelant was given a start on the wing.
De Klerk is available again after missing the loss to New Zealand because of a concussion. He replaces Jaden Hendrikse, who dropped to the bench. Gelant replaced Jesse Kriel, who sustained a head injury against the All Blacks.
For the home side, Reece Hodge has been named at fullback for the Wallabies in anticipation of an aerial assault from the Springboks.
The 57-test veteran replaces Tom Wright in the No. 15 jersey and Noah Lolesio replaces James O’Connor at flyhalf in two of the six changes made by head coach Dave Rennie in the wake of a 48-17 loss to Argentina in San Juan two weeks ago.
Australia’s back three was badly exposed by the Pumas’ contestable kicking game, with Hodges’ selection designed to counter anything similar from the Springboks.
“South Africa’s got a good kicking game and they will back their (defense), so we’ve got to make sure we can win that air battle,” Rennie said. “Hodge at the back gives us a big kicking game, which we reckon will be important.
“His ability to identify space and find grass in behind them with his booming boot is a big part of the reason we picked him. We certainly know what’s coming and we’re going to have to get in front of that, bring a lot of physicality and kick smart.”
Elevated from the Australia A squad after a season-ending injury to Tom Banks, Hodge started at fullback in the narrow third-test loss to England and came off the bench in the two tests in Argentina.
Wright shifts back to the right wing and Marika Koroibete will be on the left edge.
The Wallabies are unbeaten in their last seven tests at home against the Springboks, who haven’t won in Australia since 2013.
“They’re almost at full strength and they’ll be grumpy after their second-test loss to the All Blacks,” Rennie said. “Based on last year’s couple of wins, that’ll only create a bit more of an edge for the Springboks.”
Wallabies captain James Slipper added at a media conference on Friday: “We’ve got a big task ahead of us, we know what’s coming.”
Argentina, which plays New Zealand in the other tournament match Saturday, leads the Rugby Championship standings after two rounds and is ahead of Australia on points difference. All four teams have won once and lost once but Argentina and Australia have taken a bonus point from their first two games.
The Wallabies and Springboks meet again next Saturday at Sydney.
Australia: Reece Hodge, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Marika Koroibete, Noah Loesio, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight, Jed Holloway, Matt Philip, Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper (captain). Reserves: David Porecki, Scott Sio, Taniela Tupou, Darcy Swain, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Andrew Kellaway.
South Africa: Damian Willemse, Warrick Gelant, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Joseph Dweba, Ox Nche. Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jaden Hendrikse, Elton Jantjies, Frans Steyn.
More AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports