Allegations of set-piece trickery have set the scene for a tense battle for world rugby’s No.2 ranking.
The Wallabies have taken aim at South Africa’s living legend, Victor Matfield, as they deflected one accusation of set-piece trickery with another in Cape Town.
On their first day in the Republic, Australia woke to newspaper headlines of scrum “tricks” but took little time to respond in kind in the build-up to an intriguing battle for rugby’s world No.2 ranking.
Forwards coach Andrew Blades singled out reactivated 115-Test lock Matfield as a master manipulator of referees and his pack would be on guard for a Newlands backlash on Sunday morning (AEST).
The 37-year-old Springbok was incensed after the Wallabies’ thrilling 24-23 win in Perth three weeks ago, alleging their dangerous driving maul was often stopped by players coming in from the side.
Blades revealed they expected the Boks to maintain the rage with “loads of pressure” on Welsh referee Nigel Owens to allow their renowned lineout attacks.
“Victor is very good at manipulating that situation and trying to create something in the back of people’s heads,” he said.
“You even watch it in-game, when he plays for the Bulls, if someone stops their drive he’s straight across to the referees assistant to give him his thoughts, and often at the next lineout there’s a penalty when nothing’s happening.
“That’s just the value of experience. He is a great lineout exponent, probably one of the best ever, and that’s why he is able to control the way the game is played around the lineout.”
Blades said Australia’s success in quelling their lineout drives in Perth boiled down to effective defensive tactics not to compete in the air and nullify the threat on the ground.
“It wasn’t like we were doing anything illegal so we’re happy with that as one of the tactics we take in,” he said.
“But we also understand that the pressure we put on, there’ll probably be a penalty against us.”
A World Cup-winning prop of 32 Tests experience, Blades scoffed at suggestions the Wallabies scrum held their own against the Boks and Argentina through their own crafty tactics.
“We get that from a lot of teams, they try to look at the fact that if Australia has success in the scrum it must be because they’re doing something illegal,” he said.
“That’s just a standard thing we get most weeks, everyone just gets on with it, we’re not worried about it.”
With 50-Test rake Tatafu Polota-Nau (ankle) sidelined, Australia do face an interesting selection at hooker with James Hanson in line to start, but he was often overlooked by Queensland this season, in favour of Saia Fainga’a, when the Reds played South African sides.