Debate may rage over the merits of the Wallabies’ “Pooper” backrow combination but Springboks captain Adriaan Strauss says his side will be on high alert at the breakdown against Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika resisted calls for a back-row makeover, sticking with both natural openside flankers in his starting team for Saturday’s crucial Rugby Championship Test at Suncorp Stadium.
While New Zealand negated the ball-pilfering influence of Pocock and Hooper in last month’s Bledisloe Cup meetings through their thrilling offload game, the breakdown is set to become a key battlefield in what shapes as a must-win match for both sides.
The Springboks won’t be changing their forward-dominated style of play, which should give Hooper and Pocock a golden chance to remind Wallabies fans what they’re good at.
Strauss said South Africa has a plan to deal with them but admitted it wouldn’t be easy to keep the pair quiet.
“They’re very good on the ground, very clever players. The breakdown’s going to be a battle,” he said.
“There’s a lot of tactics to get those guys out of the game but we just need to be sharp and aware of where they are on the pitch and what position they are placing themselves to make those steals and to slow the ball down.
“They find ways to sneak into the rucks.
“We’re very aware of that, we have prepared for that, it’s an area they’re very good at and we’re going to have to step up there.”
South Africa retained their backrow of Warren Whiteley, Francois Louw and Oupa Mohoje, who played together in the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship.
Much like the Wallabies, the Springboks under rookie international coach Allister Coetzee are a rebuilding team under pressure to show progress after some disappointing recent results.
Strauss called for improvements across the board, citing defence and attacking ruthlessness as crucial areas.
“We are an evolving team,” he said.
“We’re definitely not playing the type of rugby we want to play yet, but we know where we’re heading.
“We know we’ve got a lot of shortcomings still. It’s a growing process but we’ve been trying to speed that up.”