brains against brawn

Wallabies will need to take a left out of the '63 playbook on Saturday night

Happy anniversary and all aboard the Aussie bandwagon!

Exactly thirty years ago, Australia II  lifted the America’s Cup against the odds at Rhode Island. But more pertinently in a rugby sense, it is fifty years since an unheralded Wallaby outfit downed the mighty Springboks in Cape Town.

Those past heroics should definitely be seized upon by Ewen McKenzie’s men who have been universally written off against the Springboks this weekend.

The 1963 Wallaby tourists predictably lost the first of four Tests in Pretoria but then engineered one of the great upset victories. Heavily outweighed and overpowered on paper, John Thornett’s team produced a strategy for the ages.

Although shoved around in the scrums, they won clean lineout ball through spring-heeled Rob Heming and bustled the Boks all over the park with terrier flankers Greg Davis and Jules Guerassimoff leading the charge.

Young halves Ken Catchpole and Phil Hawthorne outsmarted their opposites while the Wallaby outside backs shut down the ever present threat of champion centre John Gainsford.

It was a classic sporting scenario of brains against brawn. Every bit the kind of challenge the Wallabies can meet and overcome at Newlands this Saturday night. (LIVE and FREE on TEN at 12.30 AM)

The Springboks will be hellbent on shunting the Aussie scrum as the building block to exert their clear physical advantage in the pack. They will seek to dominate the collisions as they did in Brisbane and then unleash the speed men in the attacking zone.

Unlike the first clash at Suncorp, the Wallabies have acknowledged they have to be a lot smarter after playing into their opponents’ hands.

Like 1963, the Wallaby halves have a key role to play. Nic White’s kicking game is an essential part of the strategy. Territory is everything because the right part of the field is where you threaten the scoreboard.

Quade Cooper’s kicking options can also be a weapon against South Africa’s up-and-in rush defence.  Likewise, so can his long passing game which to date has been shelved. There are definitely opportunities on that score.

Australia’s player of the Rugby Championship, diminutive flanker Michael Hooper, together with the impressive Scott Fardy and no.8 Ben Mowen, will also need to replicate the mighty deeds of Davis and Guerassimoff half a century ago.

Hooper revealed earlier this week that the Wallabies need to out-enthuse the Boks up front. He appeared to be alluding to the line speed of the defence which lacked intensity in the first encounter.

The All Blacks showed how it is done with their in-your-face tackling at Eden Park. Sprinting off the line either side of the ruck, they were often able to shut down the big runners before they got into stride.

Victory over the Pumas in Perth was heralded as a turning point for the Wallaby campaign in what can only be described as deplorable conditions.  With rain predicted again in Cape Town, ball security must also be a huge focus.

Australia turned over three prime attacking balls inside the first eleven minutes in the 38-12 loss to South Africa in Brisbane.  The Boks are skilled at reefing the ball from the attacking player.

The other achilles heel at Suncorp was accuracy of breakdown support for the ball carrier.  The urgency and enthusiasm Hooper spoke about has to be spot on because backrowers Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen in particular, are very strong over the top of opposition ball.

With eight members of the outstanding ACT Brumbies in the starting team, four in the backs and four up front, the Wallabies boast established combinations to implement a more streetwise gameplan.

New outside centre, 22 yo Tevita Kuridrani, is a massive unit and coach McKenzie needs him to perform the same operation ‘chop down’ so effectively executed by the Wallaby backs in 1963. Joe Tomane and Adam Ashley-Cooper also have an important  role to play in that regard.

Surviving members of the Class of ‘63 have been invited back to Cape Town this weekend. How special. They will get to meet the current team and we can assume that some of their old magic elixir will surely take effect on James Horwill’s squad.

Right now the Wallabies need some inspiration. Bondy and Bertrand were rank underdogs in 1983 and so was current Team Oracle USA and skipper James Spithill who grew up on Sydney’s Pittwater. He and the other three Aussies on board came back from impossible odds against the Kiwis.

The odds say no but I’ll keep the faith. Here’s to another stirring chapter in Australian sporting folklore in Cape Town.