Boks vs Wallabies: My, how the heavyweights have fallen
They clash this weekend in a contest that used to be one of the most important in rugby. No longer, sadly
Australia’s Wallabies and the Springboks will clash for the 86th time (and the 15th time in Brisbane) this weekend in a contest that used to be one of the most important in rugby.
But this weekend’s Rugby Championship fixture is between sides that have mustered a paltry 28 wins out of 65 matches between them since Rugby World Cup 2015. That suggests it will be a scrap between middleweight contenders.
Australia have managed just 14 wins from their last 34 Tests since finishing as runners-up at the World Cup. The Boks have won only 14 of 31 since claiming bronze in England.
It’s been a spectacular fall from grace for both teams, with Ireland, England and even Wales surpassing them in the past 24 months. The All Blacks, of course, stand alone on top of Mount Rugby Excellence.SA Rugby tried to address the Boks’ situation by firing coach Allister Coetzee after two seasons and bringing in Rassie Erasmus as a replacement.
In terms of pure results there has been a marginal improvement with three wins from six matches under Erasmus this year. That represents a 50% winning ratio compared to Coetzee’s 11 wins from 25 matches (44%) in 2016 and 2017. But Erasmus has only been in the job for a few months and needs a little more time to revive the team, or not. Under Erasmus the Boks did win a home series against England and have also shown better signs of attacking prowess.
The Boks have scored 19 tries in six matches this season, at 3.1 per game. Considering they have played against Wales, England and Argentina, that is a useful return. Under Coetzee the Boks scored only an average of 2.4 per game over two years.
Obviously away Tests in Australasia, especially next week’s meeting against the All Blacks in Wellington, represent a much tougher fortnight for the Boks, but the early attacking signs are promising.
The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) by contrast has chosen to stick with coach Michael Cheika through this lean run, which includes the Wallabies losing six of their last seven Tests.
The ARU simply doesn’t have the finances to sack Cheika mid-World Cup cycle and replace him with a high-profile coach. And even if they did fire Cheika, there is no guarantee results would improve immediately. Like SA, they don’t have enough high-quality playing depth to become consistent winners at the highest level.Both sides are capable of playing sublime rugby. But neither is able to sustain that high level for an entire match. Erasmus has an excuse as he is rebuilding a team virtually from scratch after the Coetzee era. Cheika has no such fallback position, but he will limp on to RWC 2019 regardless.
The Wallabies have every chance of beating the Boks this weekend after two heavy losses to the All Blacks in the opening two rounds of the championship. But equally, the Boks are capable of winning in Brisbane, especially as they appear to have the better pack on paper.
History favours the Wallabies at home, and especially in Brisbane. Australia have won 11 of 14 Tests played in Brisbane against the Springboks, winning the last two in 2015 and 2016.
They have also won 24 of 38 home Tests against SA, although overall the Boks lead with 46 wins to 36 defeats in their 85 previous clashes, with three draws. Two of those draws occurred last season in Perth and Bloemfontein.
The Boks’ last win at the Suncorp was in 2013 when they triumphed 38-12 with their best away performance in Australia in the professional era. Although that win was only five years ago, it feels like a lifetime has passed since.
History and home ground favour the Wallabies at home but the Springboks should have scant fear of this Australia team because they have little to lose and everything to gain.