When Australia achieved their sole Test win in Bloemfontein the VW Beetle design was on the drawing board, the Great Depression gripped the US and chocolate chip cookies had just been invented.
The year was 1933 and the visitors from Down Under triumphed 15-4 in the central high-altitude city where they were vanquished by the Springboks on two subsequent visits.
This evening the Wallabies try again in the “city of roses” to rid themselves of the Highveld hoodoo when they confront South Africa in the penultimate game of a Tri-Nations championship already won by New Zealand.
“The Highveld bogey is something we have talked about a lot. We realize it has been a long time since Australia won there and we know it is a losing sequence we must break,” confessed left wing Drew Mitchell. “We believe we can beat these guys. It is just a case of us needing to be more consistent through 80 minutes. The feeling is that we are very close to breaking the barrier.”
It is 47 years since Australia celebrated a victory in the stamina-sapping 1,000m-plus central region that includes Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Pretoria, where they lost 31-44 in a bizarre nine-try contest last weekend.
Australia managed to fall despite scoring two tries within five minutes of the kick-off, twice leading by 14 points early on and forcing several line-outs deep in Bok territory when only six points adrift as time ticked away.
In stark contrast to many bruising battles between the nations, it seemed as if a pre-match non-aggression pact had been signed with one Johannesburg daily labeling the Test a “farce,” a “sham” and “15-a-side sevens.”
Not that the Springboks cared. Icons like captain and hooker John Smit, lock Victor Matfield and left wing Bryan Habana plus coach Peter de Villiers had been under so much media fire lately that they craved a win, however strange.
Once the golden boy of South African rugby union, Habana woke last Sunday to find he had got a once unthinkable two-out-of-10 rating from a newspaper after gifting the Wallabies two of their four tries.
De Villiers conceded the trio — pivotal figures in the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning team — are exhausted, only to pick them two days later for round three this season with the Aussies, who won 30-13 at home two months ago.
His sole change sees Danie Rossouw replace recent starting XV debutant Flip van der Merwe as lock partner for Victor Matfield with utility back Gio Aplon coming on to the bench because Butch James is injured.
“We feel Danie will be better suited to the type of game we would like to play,” said De Villiers, who found himself in the media glare again this week for the wrong reason.
The coach said he and his squad backed Jacobus ‘Bees’ Roux “100 percent” after the Northern Bulls prop appeared in court accused of beating a municipal policeman to death in a Pretoria street.
“We feel for all South Africans, especially rugby players, because a situation like this can happen to anyone. It is tragic and we wish it on nobody,” he said to the reported anger of rugby and government officials.
A major difference between Brisbane and Pretoria was the breakdown with Zimbabwe-born Wallaby “fetcher” David Pocock reigning supreme in the first meeting, but having much less success last weekend.
Another swing toward the Boks at home came in the line-outs with Matfield ‘stealing’ several Saia Fainga’a throws at crucial moments and the hooker has been replaced by more streetwise Stephen Moore for Bloemfontein.
Lock Mark Chisholm and No. 8 Ben McCalman also come in with Dean Mumm and Richard Brown dropping to the bench. Coach Robbie Deans believes the three changes will inject “energy” into the pack.
South Africa can clinch second place by claiming a bonus-point victory and preventing Australia collecting any, although it will all seem a tad hollow given the manner in which the majestic All Blacks steamrolled to the title.
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