The Wallabies won’t be compromising their style or approach to break a decades-long hoodoo in Pretoria – Michael Cheika wants them to do it the “Australian way”.
One of the biggest challenges of Cheika’s coaching coaching career awaits at Loftus Versfeld in Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test against a backs-to-the-wall South Africa (Sunday morning AEST).
In six attempts stretching back to 1963, the Wallabies have never won at the intimidating, 51,762-seat cauldron in South Africa’s Highveld region.
It’s the perfect setting for the Springboks to respond after three losses on the bounce, a selection shake-up from coach Alister Coetzee and lingering questions over whether they’ve lost their aura.
But Cheika says they won’t look to play conservative rugby or change their course just to get the job done.
“We don’t just want to go and try to win in Pretoria,” he said.
“Maybe we think too much about what’s going to happen at altitude or what’s going to be the kicking game from them, instead of just saying, ‘let’s play our game, go here and play to the best of our ability and see what happens’.
“We want to go there and play like Australian teams should play rugby and that’s something that we’ve been working really hard on.
“We don’t think we’ve fulfilled that as much as we wanted to this season.”
‘Clarity’ has been the buzzword around Wallabies training in Johannesburg this week – fitting, because it will take a clear, focused mind to beat a Springboks side that seems to grow an extra leg on home turf.
To that end, Cheika has gone with a largely settled line-up, making only one change to his starting team, with Sean McMahon replacing the injured David Pocock (broken hand) at No.8.
The bench, however, is packed with players with the potential to make a decisive late impact, from lock Kane Douglas – who fought his way back into the side after he was dropped for the win over Argentina two weeks ago – to pace machine Sefa Naivalu, who only became eligible to represent Australia on Monday.
The Fijian-born winger is likely to survive Friday’s bench cull and will make his Test debut, with Scott Fardy tipped to be the unlucky man left out.
Cheika believes the Wallabies have ticked every box in preparation.
“We’ve trained pretty hard because we understand there’s going to be a lot of action in the game, there’s going to be a lot of running, a lot of chasing,” he said.
“If you even want to have the hope of being successful down here you’ve got to be prepared to put everything on the line physically.”
AUSTRALIA vs SOUTH AFRICA – AT A GLANCE
When: Saturday, October 1, 5.05pm local (1.05am Sunday AEST)
Where: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistants: John Lacey (Ireland), George Clancy (Ireland)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Australia: Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Reece Hodge, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Michael Hooper, Sean McMahon, Dean Mumm, Adam Coleman, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), Scott Sio. Bench: James Hanson, James Slipper, Tom Robertson, Kane Douglas, Scott Fardy, Lopeti Timani, Nick Phipps, Tevita Kuridrani, Sefa Naivalu (one to be omitted).
South Africa: Patrick Lambie, Bryan Habana, Jesse Kriel, Juan de Jongh, Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn, Rudy Paige, Warren Whiteley, Oupa Mohoje, Francois Louw, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Adriaan Strauss (capt), Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Julian Redelinghuys, Lood de Jager, Willem Alberts, Jaco Kriel, Lionel Mapoe, Willie le Roux.
Head-to-head record: Australia 36, South Africa 48, draws 1
In Pretoria: Australia 0, South Africa 6
Last five meetings:
Australia 23-17 South Africa (Brisbane, Sept 2016)
Australia 24-20 South Africa (Brisbane, Jul 2015)
South Africa 28-10 Australia (Cape Town, Sept 2014)
Australia 24-23 South Africa (Perth, Sept 2014)
South Africa 28-8 Australia (Cape Town, Sept 2013)