Australia V South Africa: Key Battles to Watch
Australia host South Africa in the third round of the 2013 Rugby Championship on Saturday, desperate to get their first win of the tournament and to snap an unbeaten Springboks' run that is starting to gather momentum.
Another defeat for the Wallabies—they lost their two opening games to New Zealand—and they can write off any hopes their still have of challenging for the title.
It has been a difficult introduction for new Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, and his side desperately need a win to properly launch the post-Robbie Deans era.
But this South Africa side are making steady progress under Heyneke Meyer, and while they are by no means the finished article they will give nothing away.
We take a look at the key battle that are likely to decide who finishes on top in Brisbane—the Wallabies or the Springboks.
Quade Cooper vs. Morne Steyn
The prodigal son returns for Australia in the shape of local favourite Quade Cooper, who gets his first start in a Wallabies shirt in 10 months.
McKenzie had no choice but to give the mercurial Cooper the No. 10 jersey ahead of Matt Toomua because the Wallabies quite simply need to go all out for the win.
And Cooper will fancy his chances against the methodical Morne Steyn, who kicks beautifully but does not play on the gain line quite like his Queensland rival.
Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium is the home of Cooper's Super Rugby side Queensland Reds and the attacking maestro will fancy his chances against Steyn and Co.
McKenzie will know that Cooper has enjoyed some success against South African teams in the past.
But while Cooper may have more personal attacking armoury than Steyn, the South African will punish any indiscretions.
A team's discipline gets stretched when they are under severe pressure and Steyn is just the man to take advantage, as he showed by getting his side over the line when they were misfiring in Argentina last time out.
Front Row vs. Front Row
The Springboks pride themselves on their scrummaging and have recalled the power of Bismarck du Plessis at hooker to pile the pressure on the Wallabies vulnerable front row.
Bismarck du Plessis packs down between his brother Jannie and the mighty Tendai Mtawarira, and the trio will be confident of giving the Wallabies front row a torrid time, despite the new regulations.
The Wallabies front row are under growing pressure after clearly failing to hold their own in both summer defeats to the British & Irish Lions and more recently against New Zealand.
All the talk has been about the return of Cooper, but prop Sekope Kepu—who replaces Ben Alexander at tighthead—arguably could have a bigger say on the result of this game.
If the Wallabies can at least gain parity in the front row then they have the strike runners to trouble the Boks all over the park.
Props Kepu and James Slipper, along with hooker Stephen Moore, need to show they have come to grips with the new engagement rules and give the Wallabies a solid platform from which to play that game.
The Lions showed how it is possible to beat Australia with sheer power and the first place cracks start to show is in the front row.
Top Six Inches
Many a successful coach has explained how a critical component of winning test matches is being able to make the right decisions under pressure.
They refer to the "top six inches" as being crucial when a team has to make decisions about how best to defend a series of attacks on their goal line, or at what stage to go for a winning drop goal with the clock running down.
The ability to think is very often affected by the team that feels the most pressure, the Wallabies will have to fully clear their heads of doubts before running out at the Suncorp Arena.
The spoils were shared between these two teams last season, so the Wallabies know they have the capacity to beat the Boks.
But there is a growing feeling amongst the Boks that they are not far off becoming a pretty special outfit, and a record of seven consecutive wins is starting to back that up.
The team that best uses the top six inches on Saturday is most likely to come out on top.
Centres vs. Centres
The Lions managed to gain a significant edge in midfield in the final Test, while New Zealand also had success in this area against the Wallabies.
Australia have shown themselves to be susceptible to powerful backs running hard and fast to get over the gain line and giving their team the go forward needed to set up further attacking plays.
Australia centres Christian Lealiifano and Adam Ashley-Cooper are no shrinking violets but they will need to be water tight on Saturday as they know exactly what is coming their way.
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