PERTH, August 28 – Coach Robbie Deans has made good on his threat to drop players as he attempts to dig the Wallabies out of their Tri-Nations hole against the in-form Springboks here on Saturday.
Deans and his Wallabies are under pressure after failing to win any of their opening three games in the southern hemisphere championship with the Australians propping up the tournament standings with just two losing bonus points.
Australia’s already tenuous hopes of winning their first Tri-Nations’ crown in eight years will disappear with another defeat on Saturday against the unbeaten Springboks.
Deans has dropped the Wallabies’ most-capped prop Al Baxter from the starting XV and demoted winger Drew Mitchell for the safer pair of hands of Peter Hynes.
Injuries forced Deans to make two other changes with Ryan Cross replacing inside-centre Berrick Barnes and Mark Chisholm coming in for lock Nathan Sharpe.
Deans has hinted that the substitution of Ben Alexander for Baxter at tight-head could be seen as a changing of the guard in the Wallaby scrum.
"I’ve got no doubt Al will be looking at it and feeling it to that end and I’ve got no doubt Benny will be hoping that is the case," he said.
Alexander’s inclusion follows his impressive second-half scrummaging display in the 29-17 loss to the Springboks at Cape Town earlier this month, while Baxter has been punished for too many collapses on his side of the scrum.
"Ben has done more than cope in every instance," Deans said. "He’s actually made a difference to our scrum every time he’s come on. Ben has done really well with the time he has had and it’s now the moment for him to push on."
Deans is looking to Alexander and loose-head prop Benn Robinson to give the Wallabies the edge in scrummaging power against the world champions.
Deans is also expecting an improvement in the kicking game of flyhalf Matt Giteau after his indifferent performance in last weekend’s 19-18 loss to the All Blacks in Sydney.
With Barnes out of the lineup there is added importance on Giteau’s kicking game against the South Africans, who rely heavily on tactical kicking.
"We’re very confident you won’t see a kicking game like that last one from Matt," Deans said.
"They’re not really elements that have arisen through pressure, they’ve been skill execution. It’s been out of the ordinary for him but it’s eminently fixable."
The Wallabies believe the Springboks cracked their lineout code in the Cape Town loss, with South Africa, led by Victor Matfield, winning nine lineouts on the Wallabies’ throw.
Chisholm, who will be in charge of the Wallabies’ lineouts, said a new set of calls had been devised for the Springboks on Saturday.
The Springboks have made two changes with Ruan Pienaar to start at fullback ahead of Frans Steyn and flanker Schalk Burger, back after an eight-week suspension for eye-gouging, in for injured Danie Rossouw on the reserves bench.
"We are going to throw everything into this weekend’s match and only then focus on the next game (against the Wallabies next week), whatever the outcome," coach Peter de Villiers said.
"The Wallabies have had a few injury problems but we will not underestimate them in any way. They are playing at home and they remain a very good side."
Although the Springboks have only won once in their last 13 Tests in Australia they have a much better record in Perth.
This will be the sixth meeting in Perth with each side having won twice and a 14-14 draw in 2001. There is only a seven-point difference between the teams over the five Tests here.
Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez will play his 50th Test match, the fourth Springbok this season to reach the milestone.