The Springboks kick off their Rugby Championship campaign this weekend, taking on Australia in Brisbane.
The Wallabies triumphed over South Africa in Perth last season, a result which ultimately cost the Springboks the title after they went on to beat the All Blacks, although the team lists show plenty of changes to the ones that played that day as both sides search for their first choice combinations to take into the World Cup.
For the hosts, the most intrigue surrounds their selection of playmakers, where Reds duo Will Genia and Quade Cooper are joined by the returning Matt Giteau in the midfield, where he wins his first cap for four years. Both Genia and Cooper seem to lift their games when playing with each other, and if they can combine with Giteau to put dangerous runners like Kuridrani and Folau in space, there could well be some breathtaking tries on show.
Of course the battle up front will define whether these backs get the chance to shine – and the Boks will be keen to exert their authority there. Matfield and Etzebeth in the engine room combine lineout nous and grizzled abrasiveness, while the Sharks’ front row trio of the Beast and the du Plessis brothers have a point to prove after a fairly severe loss of form in the past year or so.
All in all, there is a fairly obvious script to this game. The visitors will enjoy dominance in the front five, especially at scrum-time, while the breakdown battle will be a close one – Hooper, Higginbotham and Fardy are all useful there but Meyer has deliberately picked a loose forward trio of Coetzee, Louw and Burger to counteract that. There are tries to be had in the backs, and while the Boks boast exciting runners like Kriel, de Allende and le Roux, if the game becomes too loose, it will be to Australia’s advantage.
Had the hosts had a game to prepare in the way their visitors have, I’d make them narrow favourites – but as it is, with cobwebs to blow away and new combinations to gel (especially featuring players that have been missing from the set-up for years), the Boks will be frustrated if they lose this.