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By Qantas Wallabies Media Unit
A new flyhalf and two notable individual career milestones mark the Qantas Wallabies line-up named today for Saturday’s (1am, Sunday morning, AEST) fifth Test of The Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship.
Australia faces South Africa at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria in a game that could determine second spot in the inaugural Rugby Championship.
Former schoolboy star Kurtley Beale will play his 30th Test match, but his first at flyhalf, after being named in the number 10 jersey as the replacement for Quade Cooper, playing outside of his Melbourne Rebels team-mate Nick Phipps.
An Australian Schoolboys representative at flyhalf for three straight years as the star of the St Josephs (Sydney) first XV, Beale also cut his teeth in Super Rugby as a flyhalf for the NSW Waratahs, before starring as a fullback after his long-awaited introduction to the Test arena at the end of 2009.
Australia will be led for the fourth time by Western Force second row Nathan Sharpe, who makes the 110th appearance of his 11-year Test career, since his debut against France in Melbourne in 2002.
In doing so, Sharpe levels with Australia’s premier former openside flanker George Smith, as the country’s most capped forward. The 110-Test tally accumulated by the pair has been bettered only by Australia and the game’s most capped player, the ex-halfback and current Australian Rugby Union board member, George Gregan.
Up front, the popular NSW Waratahs front-rower Benn Robinson will become just the third prop, and the 36th Australian player overall, to feature in 50 Test matches.
Robinson, who led the Waratahs for the first time in Super Rugby earlier in the year, plays his 50th Test in South Africa after taking his maiden bow on the international stage in the Republic six years ago when he made his Wallaby debut at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
The absence of the injured Cooper is the only change to the Qantas Wallabies starting side from that which rallied from 13 points behind to beat Argentina 23-19 on the Gold Coast at the team’s most recent outing.
NSW Waratahs second rower Kane Douglas, who made an impressive Test debut against Argentina, has retained his place, with Sitaleki Timani falling short in his bid to return from a hamstring strain. He was ruled out after not entirely satisfying team medical staff following a rehabilitation run yesterday.
The Queensland Reds second rower Rob Simmons comes in on a bench which features five forwards, while the evergreen Western Force halfback Brett Sheehan is one of two back reserves, alongside Anthony Fainga’a.
Sheehan, who was recalled to the Wallabies when injury rubbed out Will Genia, played the last of his three Tests to date against South Africa at Johannesburg in 2008. All three of his previous Test appearances have been made on South African soil.
Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says that although this represents Beale’s first time in the Test number 10 jersey, he had long been viewed as an option in the position.
While yet to start a Test match as a flyhalf, Deans says that Beale had spent much of his international career as a playmaker operating from fullback anyway, and would not face any great change in his duties as a result of the positional switch.
The reigning John Eales Medal winner operated from the back, with Saturday’s fullback Berrick Barnes in the front line, when Australia beat Wales at Sydney in June; but Beale still finished the game with more touches from first receiver in the attacking line than had the selected flyhalf.
“The [jersey] number might be new but his role within the game won’t be,” Deans says of Beale.
“Although his season hasn’t been without challenge, Kurtley stepped up with his involvements on the Gold Coast, making a difference when he was on the field. He’s brought that enthusiasm forward with him since we’ve been in South Africa, has worked hard on the training track, and is excited about the opportunity ahead. He has good memories from some of his experiences over here.”
Both Beale and Barnes have worked at training this week with the former Springbok and now Wallaby kicking consultant, Braam van Straaten.
While Barnes, whom pleased but didn’t surprise Deans with his accomplished debut outing as a Test fullback against Argentina, will retain the lead-off goal-kicking duties; Beale reaffirmed his prowess with the boot by nailing the long range penalty goal which finally saw off Los Pumas at Skilled Park.
This followed his immortal after the siren penalty goal from halfway which secured Australia’s first victory on the South African high veldt for 47 years on the team’s most recent visit to the South African heartland, at Bloemfontein, two years ago.
The Australian team named today features eight survivors from that memorable evening in the Free State: Beale, centres Adam Ashley-Cooper and Anthony Fainga’a, Barnes, Sharpe, Robinson, hooker Saia Fainga’a and prop James Slipper.
While the Wallabies have enjoyed the better of their relationship with the Springboks since that night, Deans warned that Saturday’s challenge at a ground where Australia has never won; would be the team’s toughest yet.
“They are proud men, and they don’t lose at Loftus very often,” Deans said of the Springboks.
“While they are coming off a tour which would have disappointed them, they were in both contests and will feel that they could have won on both occasions. That will only spur them on, as will the atmosphere which is always electric for Test matches in Pretoria.”
Deans also warned of the threat posed by the Springbok goal-kickers, even in the absence of the usual Bok sharpshooter, Morne Steyn, with his replacement Johan Goosen, inside centre Francois Steyn and halfback Ruan Pienaar all accomplished goal-kickers.
“Discipline is always key, but there’s no doubt about its importance when you play South Africa as they always have goal-kickers who can routinely kick goals anywhere on our side of halfway, or even from 60 metres at altitude in Francois’s case.”
While citing discipline and field position as key elements, Deans believes that playing at altitude shouldn’t be an imposition, both due to the belief gained from Australia’s success on its most recent visit to the high veldt, but also after a good preparation which has allowed the squad nine days of preparation and acclimatisation in Johannesburg prior to kick off.
The Qantas Wallabies team to play South Africa in The Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship and Mandela Challenge Plate Test on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria (kick-off: 5pm SA time, 3am, Sunday 30 September AEST) is:
15. Berrick Barnes (NSW Waratahs)
14. Dominic Shipperley (Queensland Reds)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs)
12. Pat McCabe (Brumbies)
11. Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds)
10. Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels)
9. Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels)
8. Radike Samo (Queensland Reds)
7. Michael Hooper (Brumbies)
6. Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs)
5. Nathan Sharpe (Western Force, captain)
4. Kane Douglas (NSW Waratahs)
3. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)
2. Tatafu Polota Nau (NSW Waratahs)
1. Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)
16. Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
17. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
18. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
19. Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)
20. Liam Gill (Queensland Reds)
21. Brett Sheehan (Western Force)
22. Anthony Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
Australia v South Africa in South Africa – Historical Notes
• This will be the 79th meeting between Australia and South Africa at all venues. Australia has won 33 and South Africa 44, while one match has been drawn.
• Prior to South Africa’s readmission to international sport in 1992, the Wallabies had won just seven of the 31 matches played against the Springboks.
• The scoreboard stands at 26 wins to 20 in Australia’s favour, along with a draw, for the period since then.
• This tally includes two matches played on neutral territory at Rugby World Cups. The most recent was in last year’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Wellington. Australia’s thrilling 11-9 victory, which was achieved via a James O’Connor penalty goal nine minutes from fulltime, added to the 27-21 win Australia enjoyed over South Africa after extra time in the 1999 World Cup semi-final at Twickenham Stadium in London.
• Ten of Australia’s previous wins have been attained on South African soil, with the Springboks taking the other 30 matches that have been played.
• Australia has won its last two matches on South African soil, and three of six under the stewardship of Robbie Deans since he took over in 2008. Prior to this time, Australia had won just once in South Africa in the professional era (1996-2007).
• Australia has won three times previously at high veldt venues – in 1933 and 2010 at Bloemfontein and 1963 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The Wallabies have been beaten on all five previous visits to Loftus Versfeld in 1963, 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010.
• Australia led 21-7 at one point on its last visit to Loftus two years ago, and held a 28-24 halftime advantage, before falling 31-44 in the 2010 Tri Nations match. A week later, in a similarly high scoring contest, fullback Kurtley Beale kicked an after-the-bell penalty goal to clinch for the Wallabies a 41-39 success at Bloemfontein. This represented Australia’s first win on the South African high veldt for 13 matches through 47 years.
• Australia is chasing its sixth win in succession against South Africa on Saturday. Success would extend the new record for consecutive wins by Australia against South Africa since that country was readmitted to world sport in 1992. The previous record, of four in a row which was achieved through 1999 and 2000, was eclipsed when Australia notched up its fifth consecutive win over South Africa earlier this month in Perth.
• The current winning run was begun by the historic 41-39 win at Bloemfontein in 2010.
• As well as setting a new Australian record for consecutive wins over South Africa, the win at Perth earlier this month – which retained for Australia the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate for a third straight year – also represented the Wallabies’ seventh win from the last eight matches against the Springboks dating back to the final meeting of the 2009 Tri Nations in Brisbane.
• Prior to last year, Australia had not won back-to-back Tests against the Boks on South Africa soil. Saturday’s clash at Pretoria sees the Wallabies bidding for three wins in a row in the Republic, but a first win (at its sixth attempt) from Tests at Loftus Versfeld.
Loftus Versfeld – Background Notes
• Loftus Versfeld, which is home to the Super 14 champion Bulls, has hosted 30 previous Tests featuring the Springboks, from which the home side has won 22 and lost eight.
• Australia was the first visiting side to appear at Loftus in a Test, losing 14-3 to South Africa in 1963.
• The ground, which houses 50,000 seats, hosted the 2009 Super 14 final where the Bulls beat the Chiefs.
• It was also used for six matches in the 2010 FIFA football World Cup which was held in South Africa.
• The requirements around the Football World Cup necessitated the relocation of the 2010 Super Rugby final, with the Bulls hosting the Stormers at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto as they swept to their third title in that competition.
• Loftus Versfeld hosted six matches at the 1995 Rugby World Cup including the Bronze Final and the quarter-final between South Africa and Samoa where the Cape-coloured winger Chester Williams memorably scored four tries.
• A year later, Loftus was the venue where New Zealand clinched its first ever series win on South African soil, by winning the second Test.
• The ground was zoned for sport in 1914, with the first grandstand accommodating 2000 people built in 1923, and changing rooms and toilet facilities added in 1928, largely paid for out of the profits of that year’s All Black tour of South Africa.
• Known as the Eastern sports grounds until 1932, the grounds were re-named Loftus Versfeld to honour the memory of the founder of organised sport in Pretoria, who died that year.
• The Northern Transvaal Rugby Football Union (now Blue Bulls RFU) was established in 1938 after breaking away from the Johannesburg-based Transvaal RFU.
• Northern Transvaal won its first Currie Cup in 1946. That team included the immortal Springbok, (Dr) Danie Craven. In 2009, when the team beat the Cheetahs in the final, the Blue Bulls clinched South African domestic supremacy for the 20th time.
• The 1997 Tri Nations Test at the ground saw Australia concede its highest ever score against South Africa.
• South Africa has lost just two of its last 11 Tests at Loftus since 2000, with both of those being won by the All Blacks, in 2003 and 2006. Qantas Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans was coaching co-ordinator for the 2003 All Blacks who, in beating South Africa 52-16 at Loftus, inflicted the heaviest ever home defeat on the Springboks.
South Africa v Australia at Pretoria
1963: South Africa 14, Australia 3
1997: South Africa 61, Australia 22
2001: South Africa 20, Australia 15
2005: South Africa 22, Australia 16
2010: South Africa 44, Australia 31