Do the Boks have anything besides a maul, and can the Wallabies better combat it?

The rugby couldn't have been anymore dramatic last week as Quade Cooper, Australian rugby's prodigal son, capped an exquisite return to the Test arena with the match-winning penalty goal after the final siren.

The Hollywood script writers will have been proud, if perhaps the 80 minutes prior had been low on free-flowing entertainment.

But the contest stayed true to a Wallabies-Springboks rivalry that has been incredibly hard-fought in recent times, and again looks set to be so in Brisbane come Saturday night.

Read on as we isolate some of the key talking points for the first Test of the Suncorp Stadium double-header.


One of the key Australian focuses this week has to be the maul, or at least limiting South Africa's opportunities to attack from the set-piece from close range.

Last week on the Gold Coast the Springboks scored three tries from rolling mauls close to the Wallabies' line, securing the sin-binning of Matt Philip for repeated Australian infringements in the process, which reflects just what a weapon it is.

But, on the evidence of last week anyway, it is the visitors' only weapon, too.

So Australia have had the chance to analyse where they went wrong in trying to defend the Springboks' drive during the week, though Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said it was more about not affording them the chance to use it in the first place.

"It's certainly been a focus, there's a couple of things we got wrong, system errors, but we think we've got a system that when we get it right, we'll be able to nullify their maul. We did a good job on a number of occasions but discipline's the key," Rennie explained.

"We gave away 18 penalties and if they're not kicking for goal, they can put you in the corner and if you give them enough cracks they're gonna hurt you. So we've got to limit their opportunities to maul."

And then there was Folau Fainga'a who, after twice dodging sanction for armless "chop" tackles, finally saw his luck run out when he cannonballed into the legs of a Springboks ball-carrier and was rightfully sent for a 10-minute breather on the sidelines.

Given the tight nature of the match, the position on the field, and the fact that the Boks had already scored once from the lineout drive, it was an indefensible decision from Fainga'a. And he has now been put on notice as a result.

"There's consideration every week on all positions," Rennie said when asked whether Feleti Kaitu'u could have started at hooker. "Look we weren't happy with the fact that Folau, he got sin-binned for tackling without his arms, but there were a couple of other occasions as well. And that's not like him; he's a chop tackler, but he's generally got his arms up.

"So we've had discussions around that, it can't happen. Outside of that he played really well, so we're happy with the mix."

If the Wallabies can shut down the Springboks maul, or at least limit the opportunities to attack from it, the question must be asked: Where exactly will South Africa's other try-scoring threats come from?


Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou will make just his second run-on start of the Test season.

But for the second Test against France in July, the "Tongan Thor" has been used exclusively off the bench and really hasn't been able to impact the game in the fashion that is at the heart of the reason as to why many believe he is best suited to a replacement role.

But with Allan Alaalatoa having departed camp for the birth of his first child, Tupou is likely to have successive starts in the No. 3 jersey and the opportunity to prove why he should be used from the outset more often.

"We know he can start, but what we like about Allan is his work ethic and his detail, a good scrummager, maybe not as destructive as Taniela, but an excellent mauler and excellent defensive mauler," Rennie said in comparing the two tightheads on Thursday.

"So it's been a good mix for us, Taniela's dominance late in the game has paid dividends late in Test matches. But even for the Reds, he's been playing 80 minutes for them, so we're confident we can get a lot of mileage out of him and a good opportunity for him to remind us of what he can do from the start."

As well as his scrummaging, Tupou must make an impact with his ball-carrying. After running for 19 metres off the bench in Auckland, the Queenslander failed to register a solitary metre against the All Blacks in Perth and then in last week's game against the Boks on the Gold Coast.


They won the penalty count 18-11 last week, yet still South Africa weren't satisfied with some of the decisions from referee Luke Pearce.

Coach Jacques Nienaber earlier this week revealed he had sent the team's "clips" of concern to World Rugby, seeking feedback on some of rulings or at least interpretations of the laws, particularly around the scrum and Australia's alleged obstruction of chasing Springboks players.

"We've got a framework that we work with now, which we probably didn't know (before) - it's the same framework they used in the Six Nations, and obviously us not playing any rugby before the Georgia Test match, we weren't 100% (sure). We didn't know what the process was," Nienaber said of the scrum officiating on the Gold Coast.

"But we make our clips like we normally do, and ours went out on Monday - the day after the match, after our review.

"It went to Joel (Jutge, head of referees) from World Rugby, and they reviewed it and they came back to us. The purpose of that is to get alignment from our side, and obviously if discipline was poor and... Everybody makes mistakes. We make mistakes, referees sometimes get things wrong, you can't get everything right."

On the obstruction of some of his players chasing through on box kicks, Nienaber added: "Not all referees are the same in terms of how they interpret the contest and what they would like to see in that contest. It's something we just aligned again after the Test match. The feedback and work from them has been good, from Joel's side and the referee's side. There's good alignment.

"And we will probably get another opportunity to talk with them, hopefully on Thursday or Friday we will have a meeting again, just to get clarity with our captain and vice-captain, and almost get a relationship going so that when they meet on the pitch, it's not the first time that they will have a chat about certain things.

"We definitely addressed that, and a couple of other things as well."

While Nienaber has done nothing wrong in dealing either with World Rugby or referee Luke Pearce, it does continue a narrative of complaint that was started by director of rugby Rassie Erasmus with his now infamous YouTube synopsis of Nic Berry's refereeing in the first Lions Test.

That is only amplified by the fact that the Boks actually won the penalty count 18-11 at Cbus Super Stadium, while the teams were shown two yellow cards apiece. A touch of panic, perhaps?

What Nienaber has done however has put both the scrum and aerial contest in the spotlight of this week's referee, Englishman Matthew Carley. Given the way the Springboks play, and how the Wallabies looked to combat them last week, Carley will have the chance to set early parameters for both contests.


Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi and Willie le Roux. A list of names that when strung together should make any opposition shiver, except when there's no fear that the Springboks will unleash them.

It's well known that the Boks have a fearsome and talented forward pack. People have written poems about their scrummaging, while others sing songs about their lineout and mauling... only joking, but you get the picture. Their forward pack is lauded, and rightly so, last week they scored three rolling maul tries, were beastly in the scrum (until they weren't) and their back-row is huge. But you can't win them all using just your forward pack, as was made clear last week.

Which brings us back to their potent backline. It's filled to the brim with talent, but why do they seem to be hiding in the shadows?

Ahead of last week's match outside centre Lukhanyo Am was at pains to point out how talented their backline is: "We've been blessed in South Africa for having great backline players, especially centres.

"Our generation has taken over that responsibility, and I think we're doing a fairly good job, and we definitely strive to do better at all times.

"I've played with Doogs [de Allende] for just over two years and we've learnt and fed off each other."

But when it came to last Sunday's Test, you could have been forgiven for thinking they weren't even out there for the little ball they received.

Across both games in Round 3 of the Rugby Championship the Springboks passed the ball the least of the four teams, on just 54 occasions, compared to Australia with 129 and the All Blacks at 243 - TJ Perenara alone passed the ball more times than South Africa. While de Allende ran the ball twice compared to his opposite Samu Kerevi with 17 runs, and Mapimpi just the once compared to Marika Koroibete with eight.

They were lambasted after the match for being one-dimensional and too conservative; although it certainly doesn't help when your fly-half is having an off night with the boot either. The Boks rely heavily on the aerial battle, which is their bread and butter, but the Wallabies were effective at neutralising that threat.

Australia appeared to finally strike the balance between keeping ball in hand and putting pressure back onto South Africa with some measured kicks in behind. They'll be looking to up the ante this weekend, keep patient, retain that tactical approach and frustrate the opposition.

How the Boks adjust, or at least better execute their tried and tested game plan, will go a long way to deciding this one.


He's Mr Reliable, or Mr Resilient according to Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, but is Michael Hooper the best Wallaby of all time? Maybe not just yet, but he certainly warrants spot in the conversation.

The Wallabies honour roll isn't short of world-class, inspirational talent. Think George Gregan or George Smith, David Campese and his goose-step, John 'Nobody' Eales, the Ella brothers or Stephen Larkham, the list could go on and on, and Hooper has no doubt cemented himself right near the top as one of the most impressive talents Australia has produced.

On Saturday night he'll run out to become Australia's most decorated captain, overtaking Gregan's record of 59 Tests as Wallabies captain, sealing himself in Australian rugby's record books for a long time to come.

A remarkable talent and inspirational leader, Hooper has been a major cog in the Wallabies machine ever since he made his debut nine years ago. And Rennie has no doubt the 29-year-old will break Gregan's all-time Wallabies Test record (139).

Paying tribute to the flanker, Rennie said he's been left "gobsmacked" by the public's questioning of Hooper's talent throughout his career.

"I think if people query his abilities as a player I'm gobsmacked around that, because if you speak to rugby players around the world and rugby people all around the world he's hugely respected," Rennie said on Thursday. "I think people's opinion is often reflected on the success of the team, and he's been the captain, so if the team loses and he's the skipper the responsibility is on him."

Labelled an 'Energiser bunny' by some pundits, Hooper's ability to produce the try-saving tackle, tackle-busting run or the breakdown turnover is incredible to watch and can only be marveled by players and fans alike.

"I'll start off as a player, I just think his form has been incredible, you see it time and time again," Rennie said. "The amount of collisions, his ability to link, and his ability to show desperation and make key tackles, he's a fantastic example to the rest of the group. "I don't think I've coached anyone that trains full-on like he does, and plays full-on, he's been fantastic and it's a hell of an achievement."

Australia would love nothing more than getting Hooper the win in his record-breaking match.