With the Brumbies knocked out of the Super Rugby Pacific title race, the focus of Australian rugby fans now turns to the opening Wallabies Test on July 9 (AEST).
The clash with the world champion Springboks in Pretoria kicks off the truncated Rugby Championship and is the first Test of Eddie Jones’ second coming as Wallabies coach.
Jones will have taken some heart from the competitiveness of the Brumbies in the 19-6 semi-final loss to the Chiefs but yet again the Super Rugby champion will come from New Zealand as the defending champion Crusaders visit Hamilton for the decider.
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Australian teams are now 0-16 in Super Rugby finals games on New Zealand soil and you have go back to Michael Cheika’s 2014 Waratahs to find a non-Kiwi winner.
“I’m excited but also nervous about this first Test match,” Wallabies legend Tim Horan said on Stan Sport.
“It’s so hard to win over in South Africa. Last year I thought it was one of the best Test matches I’ve seen for the Wallabies, down there in Adelaide (in a 25-17 win).
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“It was incredible and just the way the Springboks then, the following week, they bounced back in Sydney (in a 24-8 win)
“The clashes between these two sides are enormous. But 52,000 people over on the Highveld in Pretoria (at Loftus Versfeld). Very hard place to win.”
The All Blacks won the 2022 Rugby Championship, sharing a 4-2 record with South Africa but collecting an extra bonus point.
The Wallabies finished third with a 2-4 record and Jones will demand an immediate performance improvement after dramatically replacing Dave Rennie in January.
“You’ve got to be confrontational against the Springboks, especially up front. Eddie Jones knows that. What backrow do you pick for the Wallabies?” Horan added.
“Do you leave Michael Hooper on the bench and pick Langi Gleeson and (Rob) Valetini and Pete Samu as your backrow, Lachie Swinton as well, a big body player. So Eddie Jones has got a few more weeks yet but it’s going to be a cracking Test match…
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“And very quickly, a week later, you’re in Sydney against Argentina (on July 15).
“That’s the two matches where Eddie Jones starts tinkering with his team.
“Post those two games, you’ve got to pick and stick moving towards the World Cup.”
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