Rugby

Wallabies vs. Springboks Preview — Why Cooper Could Cause the Boks Problems

What can you expect from the highly-anticipated encounter between the Springboks and Wallabies on Sunday?

The Springboks will reignite their long-running rivalry with the Wallabies when the two sides meet at the CBUS Super Stadium on the Gold Coast on Sunday, 12 September 2021; with both sides throwing some curveballs for one another to deal with.

One of the big headlines of the week is that powerhouse eighth man Duane Vermeulen will make his first appearance for the Springboks since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final. Vermeulen joined the Springbok squad at the start of the Lions Series in August, with some water-boy moments under his belt, but has yet to play a match. The Bulls loose forward has fully recovered from the ankle surgery he had earlier this year.

Scrumhalves Faf de Klerk (leg strain) and Herschel Jantjies (hip pointer), and flank Marco van Staden (ankle) are also back from injury as Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made 13 changes to his matchday squad for the match – seven in the starting lineup and six on the replacements bench.

Five of the changes to the starting team that defeated Argentina 29-10 in the second round of the Rugby Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay were amongst the forwards. Vermeulen takes over from Jasper Wiese at the back of the scrum, and Eben Etzebeth comes in for Marvin Orie at lock, while a new front row of Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe (both props) and Bongi Mbonambi (hooker) will be in action.

The two changes in the backline are on the right wing, where Sbu Nkosi replaces Cheslin Kolbe who took a knock to the leg at training, and scrumhalf, where De Klerk returns for the first time since the second Test against the British & Irish Lions in place of Cobus Reinach.

Malcolm Marx (hooker), Ox Nché, Vincent Koch (both props), Van Staden, Wiese and Jantjies, meanwhile, will join Damian Willemse (utility back) and Kwagga Smith (loose forward) on a powerful replacements bench, which features a six-two split of forwards.

Over in the Wallabies camp, coach Dave Rennie has made a bombshell announcement (but also somewhat expected) that Quade Cooper will be making his comeback for the Wallabies in the No. 10 jersey. Cooper’s last Test was more than four years ago, when he ran out against Italy at Suncorp Stadium in June 2017. The mercurial flyhalf has a strong record against the Springboks, boasting nine wins against the reigning world champions over his 70-Test career.

While Cooper was and has been known to be a high risk/reward type player, the 33-year-old has matured dramatically over the past two seasons playing with Kintetsu Liners in Japan, showing greater patience and structure in attack and a better all-round defensive game, while still having those trademark moments of flair.

What the Springboks do well is isolate known threats, and they’re arguably the best in the world at it. Their defensive strategy is second to none, but the one threat is the unpredictability of Cooper. While he himself may not have the dancing feet of yesteryear, his vision and ability to isolate space can’t be ignored, and with the likes of a settled back three in Marika Koroibete, Andrew Kellaway, and Tom Banks, along with former Reds partner Samu Kerevi at centre, Cooper has some options in the chamber.

Even Cooper’s final season with the Reds (and time with the Rebels) showcased far greater game-management from the flyhalf, despite the Reds’ overall shortcomings:

The fixture will also be the starting debut for Angus Bell, the youngest member of the squad as he joins hooker Folau Fainga’a and tighthead prop Allan Alaalatoa in the front row, with the latter set to bring up his 50th appearance for the Wallabies.

After returning to the Test side last week, Izack Rodda earns a starting berth in the second row alongside Matt Philip.

The backrow remains unchanged for the third consecutive Test with blindside flanker Lachlan Swinton and No 8 Rob Valetini joining Hooper, who will again run out in the No 7 jersey.

Australia have won eight of their last 10 matches against the Springboks at home, but the two sides have never met at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast in the storied 88 year playing history.

Australia: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Angus Bell. Replacements: 16 Feleti Kaitu’u, 17 James Slipper, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Leota, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Nic White, 22 Reece Hodge, 23 Jordan Petaia.

Springbok: 15– Willie le Roux, 14 – Sbu Nkosi, 13 – Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, 11 – Makazole Mapimpi, 10 – Handré Pollard (vice-captain), 9 – Faf de Klerk, 8 – Duane Vermeulen, 7 – Franco Mostert, 6 – Siya Kolisi, 5 – Lood de Jager, 4 – Eben Etzebeth, 3 – Frans Malherbe, 2 – Bongi Mbonambi, 1 – Steven Kitshoff. Replacements:
16 – Malcolm Marx, 17 – Ox Nché, 18 – Vincent Koch, 19 – Marco van Staden, 20 – Kwagga Smith, 21 – Jasper Wiese22 – Herschel Jantjies, 23 – Damian Willemse.

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