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South Africa v Australia – Teams and prediction

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 07: Springbok team during the South Africa men’s national rugby team photograph at Southern Sun Pretoria on July 07, 2023 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Johan Rynners/Gallo Images)

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP, ROUND ONE: The Springboks take their first steps in 2023 when they host Australia at Loftus on Saturday with new captain Duane Vermeulen leading them in the challenge to keep their unbeaten record in Pretoria against the Wallabies intact.

With a record of four wins and two losses in their last six matches, South Africa have slipped to fourth in the world rankings over the last year, with New Zealand marginally ahead of them in third place behind France and Ireland in second and first respectively.

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has opted to rest several of his first-choice players but despite that, he has still selected a competitive side under the captaincy of Vermeulen.

While it will be the first sign of what Nienaber has in store for this World Cup year, all eyes will be on Eddie Jones, who is in charge of Australia 20 years after leading the Wallabies to the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final.

He will be tasked with returning the team to the heights he managed before heading to England.

Jones is famous for playing mind games with opponents and has been fairly quiet about the style of rugby his side will be playing, but he has included some heavy artillery in his side, none more so than Will Skelton.

Australia will have the added advantage of Jones’s knowledge of the opposition with his history with South Africa which was also instrumental in Japan’s unlikely win over the South Africans in the 2015 World Cup when he coached them.

The visitors have only beaten Wales and Scotland in their last six matches, but with the backline that South Africa have gone with for this Test, there will likely be cracks that the Australians can exploit.

The Wallabies head coach has brought four debutants to Pretoria, while co-captain James Slipper has managed to overcome a knee injury to take his place in the starting line-up.

Carter Gordon, Richie Arnold and Zane Nonggorr are the three players that will be hoping to come off the bench for their first cap in this match, while 22-year-old Tom Hooper will play from the start joining Michael Hooper and Rob Valetini.

Slipper, David Porecki and Allan Alaalatoa will form the front row in front of Nick Frost and Skelton, while Nic White and Quade Cooper will make up the halfback pairing.

It will be Cooper’s first outing in South Africa since 2013.

So great is the desire of Australia to end a 60-year losing streak against South Africa in Pretoria, head coach Eddie Jones has been discussing it since April.

One of the seven defeats the Aussies have suffered was a humiliating 22-61 loss in 1997.

The closest they came to success was in 2001 when they fell 15-20.

The five-point loss 22 years ago marked the debut of Jones in his first stint as head coach of a team that has won the World Cup twice.

Now, the 63-year-old Tasmanian is hoping to begin a second spell in charge by creating history through a victory at Loftus in the opening round of the 2023 Rugby Championship.

“In the cauldron of Loftus Versfeld you just have to remain calm and super killer-focused in that atmosphere,” he said.

In the build-up to the Test, Nienaber has maintained that he is not sure what to expect of the new-look Wallabies under Jones.

“It’s tough to prepare to face Australia because we’re not sure if they’ll play with an Eddie Jones or Dave Rennie mindset, so the key for us is to focus on ourselves,” he said.

“We have to be able to adapt to whatever they throw at us on the day.

“From a tactical and technical point of view, we are not sure, and with that we will have to find solutions on the field.

“The nice thing about that is we can fully focus on ourselves. We will have a look at what they did against us and in their incoming and end-of-year tours last year,” the coach added.

Players to watch

For South Africa: Making his first start in a Springbok jersey, flyhalf Manie Libbok will have the enviable task of keeping an eye on one of the most experienced generals around, Quade Cooper. It will be a massive test for the 25-year-old, but his exploits in the United Rugby Championship for the Stormers this season will boost his confidence. Debutant Jean Kleyn will have all the eyes of South Africa on him and he will have his hands full keeping an eye on the gargantuan locks of Australia. The front row of the Boks will be under the spotlight as everything starts in the engine room, but this role is nothing new for the experienced Steven Kitshoff, who is a strong scrummager, while he also does well at the breakdown.

For Australia: One man who will relish the physical battle against the world champions is the man-mountain Will Skelton, who is expected to give his side an advantage in the tight exchanges. The big lock is known for his tireless work up front and will have to hit the ground running in Pretoria with his dominance at close quarters while countering the effects of the altitude. Michael Hooper is another player who will be vital to the Wallabies cause. The veteran openside flank is back on leadership duty for his country after being named as co-captain – along with James Slipper. Flyhalf Quade Cooper, making his return to the Test arena after spending most of the past year on the sidelines due to an Achilles injury, is still an excellent playmaker who can unlock the tightest defences. His goal-kicking, game management and distribution skills will be the key to his team’s fortunes in this encounter.

South Africa by 12 points


South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Evan Roos, 21 Deon Fourie, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Damian Willemse

Australia: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Suliasi Vunivalu, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Tom Hooper, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 David Porecki, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Samu Kerevi, 23 Carter Gordon

Date: Saturday, July 8 July
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17.05 (16.05 UK & Ireland time; 16.05 GMT)
Expected weather: Quite hot with temperatures reaching 22°C. During the evening the temperatures will drop to 10°C.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (NZR)
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams (NZR), Andrea Piardi (FIR)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (NZR)

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