SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will have the unfamiliar experience of heading into potentially hostile territory for a home test match when they take on a resurgent South Africa side in the Rugby Championship in Perth on Saturday.
Western Australian rugby has been in open rebellion since the Western Force were kicked out of Super Rugby and the chance to make some kind of point to the Australian Rugby Union at the team’s home stadium will be too good an opportunity to pass up.
Australia coach Michael Cheika is hoping the protests will be limited to the wearing of T-shirts in Force blue and suggested the Wallabies could be an agent of conciliation to the Perth public.
“There’s been a lot of talk amongst the team around what Saturday is going to mean, in perhaps a symbolic sense from us as the team to the people over here,” Cheika told reporters in the city on Thursday.
Australia could certainly do with a win after sinking to fifth in the world in the wake of a loss to Scotland at home in June and back-to-back defeats to the All Blacks to open the Rugby Championship.
It is not all gloom on the pitch, however, with a fine performance in the narrow 35-29 defeat to the world champions in their last outing in Dunedin offering plenty to build on.
Cheika was forced to make two changes to his starting side and chose to make two more to a pack he thinks the Springboks will try and bully.
Stephen Moore’s decision to be at the birth of his child gives Tatafu Polota-Nau the start at hooker and offers 20-year-old Jordan Uelese the chance to make his test debut off the bench after just 28 minutes of Super Rugby.
With Western Force winger Dane Haylett-Petty ruled out for the rest of the year with a bicep tear that will require surgery, Reece Hodge will stand in.
The Springboks could hardly be in a better place, riding high at number three in the world having rebounded from their appalling 2016 to win all five tests so far in 2017.
Coach Allister Coetzee made just two changes to the side that beat Argentina 41-23 in Salta two weeks ago, bringing Ross Cronje back at scrumhalf after injury and giving Pieter-Steph du Toit a run at lock in place of the rested Franco Mostert.
“Even though we travelled to three continents in 10 days, this group has the desire to get better, and learn from previous experiences,” said Coetzee.
“The performance in Salta was not perfect, but we are looking forward to the next opportunity to improve as individuals and as a team.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar