PRETORIA (Reuters) - A disappointing year for both South Africa and Australia will take a turn for the worse for whichever team finishes on the losing side of their Rugby Championship encounter at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Both countries have looked shadows of the teams that challenged New Zealand for dominance at the Rugby World Cup a year ago, when the Wallabies finished second and Springboks third, and find themselves with crises of confidence ahead of Saturday’s game (kick-off 1505 GMT).
Australia lost a home series to England in June and have been convincingly beaten by the All Blacks twice, while a change of coach for South Africa has seen just one win in their four Rugby Championship outings this year.
New Zealand have already clinched this year’s southern-hemisphere championship with two rounds of fixtures still to be played, further underlining Australia and South Africa’s status as also-rans.
It elevates the importance of victory for both on the bone-dry surface at altitude in Pretoria, where Australia have lost all six previous test meetings between the two countries.
With both on the verge of a serious slump, the conviction and confidence that come with a win would be invaluable.
Bok coach Allister Coetzee has made three changes to his side, recalling Pat Lambie at fullback after three months on the sidelines following his concussion sustained against Ireland in June.
There is also a first test start in two years for flyhalf Morne Steyn and a first international start for scrumhalf Rudy Paige. The pair replace misfiring duo Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk respectively.
Sean McMahon will start at eighth man for Australia in place of the injured David Pocock in the only change to the Wallaby starting lineup.
McMahon, 22, who has 11 caps, has been tipped as long-term replacement in the position for Pocock, who suffered a broken hand in the Wallabies’ last international against Argentina.
Coach Michael Cheika said McMahon’s improved lineout play and strong ball-carrying ability made him a clear choice, believing he would be perfectly suited to the high-altitude conditions at Loftus Versfeld.
“It’s nice for us to be able to add a strong ball carrier into the back row. He’s maybe not as tall as your traditional eight, but he’s starting to get some of the qualities that a traditional eight has – ball carries, a strong tackle, which Poey (Pocock) has got, as well,” Cheika told reporters.
Fijian-born wing Sefa Naivalu, who became eligible for Australia on Sept. 18, has been named as a replacement on an extended bench that will see one player omitted before Saturday.
The Wallabies have won just 10 times from 43 attempts in South Africa and in just three of their last 17 matches.
Reporting By Mark Gleeson,; Editing by Neville Dalton