MELBOURNE: South Africa have long set the benchmark for using driving mauls to grind down opponents but were impressed by the All Blacks’ execution of the tactic in their humbling of Australia at Eden Park last month.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw scored two second half tries off rolling mauls from attacking lineouts in quick succession as the world champions handed the Wallabies a stinging 51-20 loss to send them crashing to the bottom of the Rugby Championship after two games.
The Springboks relied on the tactic to help get them out of jail against Argentina in Salta and are likely to employ it liberally if given the chance against an Australian team still licking their wounds from the Eden Park fiasco.
“I think the maul is a big part of the South African game,” assistant coach Johann van Graan told reporters in Perth on Tuesday.
“Definitely if there’s an opportunity we’ll maul but it’s not because of what happened in Auckland.
“If you look at those mauls closely in Auckland, the New Zealanders put quite a few backs into the maul. They did something different.
“I think it might have been a surprise. It’s the first time in a few test matches that I’ve seen that. And they did quite well to put their backs in the blind and I think it made one or two guys unsure.”
The Springboks lead the four-nation tournament by a point from New Zealand after two tight wins over the Pumas and may fancy themselves to continue the Wallabies’ winless start at Subiaco Oval on Saturday.
Though victorious, not all has been rosy in the South Africa camp, with alarm bells ringing at home over the pack’s scrum troubles in the opening matches.
The Wallabies also have their problems, and are now down to their fifth-choice hooker in James Hanson after injuries to Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Nathan Charles and Tolu Latu.
Belted at set-pieces and smashed at the breakdown at Eden Park, Australia’s pack has been under fire from local media, and coach Ewen McKenzie named a forwards-heavy bench for the Perth test in full expectation of a stiff test against the South Africa forwards.
The Springboks coaching staff have put an emphasis on training in Perth in putting the scrimmaging in order before Saturday, Van Graan said, and he dismissed criticism of the Wallabies’ pack.
“I think we’ve got a lot of respect for the Wallabies,” he said. “Throughout Super Rugby the players showed the kind of rugby they can play.
“I think against the French pack, they played some brilliant rugby earlier this year, and I think in Sydney, that 12-all draw, it was a big clash between two very good packs.
“Even in Auckland I thought they actually played some very very good rugby so (there’s) no soft Wallaby pack.”
South Africa has been buoyed by the return of inspirational lock Victor Matfield and loose forward Willem Alberts, who both missed the opening two tests and should be fit for selection.