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Can Wallabies expansive play overcome Boks' borefest?

The Bledisloe trophy may already be locked back up in New Zealand and a Rugby Championship title already all but ruled out, but there's still plenty for the Wallabies to play for this weekend when they take on the Springboks on the Gold Coast.

On a three-game losing streak, and putting out their worst performance yet against the All Blacks in Bledisloe III in Perth, the Wallabies can't let the season slip any further into the negative. They lacked cohesion, their work at the breakdown was inefficient, while their skills were downright poor in some instances last week. But, there was just enough sparkle of diamonds among the rocks to see there is possibility within the squad.

Their campaign doesn't get any easier from here though, the Springboks are World Champions, they're on a three-match winning streak, while they've won 15 of their last 18 matches. Their style of play is much different to what the Wallabies have faced so far this year, so the question is, will the Wallabies expansive play give them an edge? Or will coach Dave Rennie change tact?

Already we've seen Rennie make the questionable decision of giving Quade Cooper the No.10 jersey, perhaps out of panic, but the pressure is mounting and now's the time for the Wallabies to right their wonky ship.

QUADE COOPER BACK FROM THE WILDERNESS

It's been four long years since Quade Cooper last pulled on the gold jersey and in a desperate bid to get their season back on track, Rennie has thrown the 33-year-old into the thick of it. An experienced head, Cooper brings a clear voice the team has missed so far this tournament, but can he hold up to the Springboks after such a long absence from the Test arena.

He's got plenty of people in his corner, namely former teammate Will Genia, who played alongside him at the Queensland Reds, the Wallabies, the Melbourne Rebels and even in Japan, as well as former All Black and close friend Sonny Bill Williams who questioned Rennie's decision not to play the Queenslander in Bledisloe III.

Called up into the squad in July more so as a mentor for young fly-half Noah Lolesio, Cooper trained his way into contention with Rennie admitting he was very close to making his return last weekend against the All Blacks, now he gets his chance, and with a winning record against the Springboks, it could be an inspired decision by the Wallabies coach, or it could be the biggest blunder of his tenure. An x-factor player, Cooper's attacking mind is second-to-none, although his execution is sometimes sketchy, but it's his ability to open up the defence - especially a stodgy one such as the Boks' - that could be pivotal in a match that is so important for Rennie and his young side.

His side-step has embarrassed proven defenders' numerous times before, while his silky handling, slick flick passes and impressive kicking game is a skillset the Wallabies have been without so far this series, although whether they're as up to scratch as they were close to five years ago is yet to be seen. But Rennie has backed the veteran, believing he's the man for the job against the Boks.

"You've got to be a triple threat; I think it's an area [kicking into space] where James O'Connor was very good and the best 10s in the world are all very strong in that area. Quade's skill set will be really important, his experience will be really important.

"And I know he's really excited and he'll be anxious going into the game for his first Test in a long time but we bought him in to give us a bit of cover and a bit of depth, and he's earned the right to play."

For much of his career though it's been his defence that has cost him. Almost ten years ago he took to having forwards run at him to help improve his tackling, while his career has been littered with criticism of his poor form, no doubt the big players amongst the Boks will be licking their lips at the idea of taking him on again.

But as 37-year-old Springboks fly-half Morne Steyne has proven, age is just a number in the Test arena, and the value of Cooper's inclusion could be immeasurable.

BOKS' BACK-ROW TRIO A TEST FOR STRUGGLING WALLABIES

It's no secret the Wallabies breakdown has been woeful throughout the Bledisloe series. Rennie has waxed lyrical about how his team needs to be more accurate at the cleanout, while they must be sharper at sealing off. And there's no better time than Sunday to prove they've on-boarded those key messages with the Springboks naming one of the strongest backrows in the rugby world.

Siya Kolisi, the Springboks captain, headlines the beastly trio, Franco Mostert adds some punch, but it's the addition of Duane Vermeulen in his return for the first time since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final that should have Rennie and his team worried.

Vermeulen's last outing for the Springboks was a man-of-the-match performance in the biggest match of his career, but his absence from the Test arena won't have taken anything away from his game. While his coach Jacques Nienaber has cautioned it may take the 35-year-old "time to get used to the pace" again, his knowledge won't have diminished and his ability to find shortcuts will keep the Wallabies on their toes - so to will his rampaging runs with ball in hand.

Mostert, meanwhile is a workhorse who runs himself ragged in a defensive line that's hard to break. Simply look at his stats against the Lions and Pumas, he leads the table for tackles made with 57, shortly followed by Kolisi with 47. Their numbers are huge, while their dominance at the breakdown makes it hard for any team to find any consistency in attack.

The Wallabies meanwhile have struggled to find an impact from their backrow trio. While Michael Hooper remains 'Mr Consistent', and one of the standout players for Australia, Rob Valetini and more specifically Lachie Swinton must step up and reach his level.

A firebrand and full of aggro, Swinton was alarmingly absent throughout the Bledisloe series, perhaps wary of adding to last year's red card, but more likely unable to make an impact. His ball running has been overshadowed, while his work at the breakdown has been ineffective, regularly unable to dislodge his opposition from over the ball. He's yet to find the balance of an enforcer of doing too much and being ill-disciplined, and doing just enough, but worryingly he's slipped into the category of not doing enough.

Last week the Wallabies were regularly slow to the breakdown and put in ineffectual hits to dislodge their opposition, this week they face a similar if not tougher test in the Springboks and only efficiency at the breakdown will see them survive.

CAN THE WALLABIES EXPANSIVE PLAY OVERCOME BOKS' DOUR GAME PLAN

It's the complaint heard around the rugby world, the Springboks are boring. Their game plan is simple and negative, requiring their players to bash their opposition, scrummage and maul them off the park while slotting penalties from any distance.

According to Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard their game is a thing of beauty and he has nothing but admiration for the way South Africa play the game, even if the wider rugby community have criticized it. Meanwhile, South Africa have warned they won't be changing their ways any time soon, and why would they? It earned them the Rugby World Cup and a 2-1 Lions series win. So how do the Wallabies counter it?

Joining the Wallabies during the week veteran prop Greg Holmes said Australia must keep their faith in their running game in order to upset the World Champions. They need to run the Springboks off their feet in order to nullify their big players and their strong set piece.

"If we impose our game on them, it's only going to benefit us," Holmes said on Tuesday. "You have to nullify that set piece. They're a big team. I think we've got the players here to do that.

"If we can impose our fast-paced game, get some field position against them, start running them off their feet and make them uncomfortable, that's how you have to beat them.

"That's what we're trying to do."

This could be tricky though, with the Boks opting once again for a six-two bench split with an extra loose forward available for when the starters are run ragged. But after watching the Lions attempt to outdo the Boks at their own game, the Wallabies best bet is to avoid the arm wrestle and take their chances out wide.

The Wallabies found some diamonds amongst the rocks in their Bledisloe series sweep, especially in Samu Kerevi who in his return to the gold jersey split the defence on several occasions and earned 97 run metres, while Pete Samu, Michael Hooper and Rob Valetini have put the Wallabies on the front foot on several occasions.

But importantly, for the Wallabies game plan to work execution must be at a much higher level than what was witnessed in Perth. Perhaps the addition of Cooper at fly-half will add some calmness to the backline as well as more options with his impressive skillset - most importantly his kicking

With the Boks defensive line committed to rushing, the Wallabies must be adventurous, look to the 50-22, expose the defence out wide and create a platform for which they can run off.

CROWDS A WELCOME SIGHT FOR BOKS

It's been a long two years for the Springboks. After the high of winning their second Rugby World Cup title in Japan in 2019, the Boks went the whole of 2020 without playing a match, before they welcomed the British & Irish Lions and then the Pumas. But even with the return of Test rugby in South Africa, there was still something missing - crowds.

Travelling to Australia two weeks ago to play out their four remaining Rugby Championship clashes, playing in front of fans is one of their last demons to overcome and it's got players both nervous and excited.

The 2019 World Cup final was the last time the Springboks played in front of the crowd. It was a loud, raucous, cacophony of sound and would no doubt seem a world away to what the players have encountered as the 'new normal' over the last few months.

COVID created havoc in the lead up to the Lions series, and could have easily forced the series cancellation, instead it saw the matches played out in empty, cavernous stadiums where sound systems belted out artificial crowd noises, the reserve benches could be heard screaming at their teammates while players had no competition to be heard on the field.

Players may tell you they don't hear the crowd, they block it out, they're too focused on their job to hear the screams and shouts or the boos and whistles. But the complete absence of crowds has brought into stark relief how much they play a role in a match.

Tens of thousands of fans cheering, booing, screaming and shouting can undoubtedly influence a match, it brings excitement, feeling and passion and the Springboks will tell you it's not the same without them.

On Tuesday, Boks' assistant coach Deon Davids said the players were excited to see a strong crowd in the stands, but it means re-thinking communication.

"We're really excited to be playing in front of a capacity crowd again, but it means we will have to adapt our on-field communication," Davids said.

"But it will be fantastic to play in front of a big crowd and hopefully it will spur our players on to perform even better."

Forward Ox Nche echoed his thoughts.

"To have fans out there is going to be unreal, I can't even remember how it feels to play in a full stadium," Nche said. "I'm a bit nervous about it but also very excited."

KOLBE ABSENCE BRINGS SLIGHT RELIEF FOR WALLABIES

It's a bad setback for the Boks, but brings slight relief for the Wallabies with world-class wing Cheslin Kolbe ruled out of the Gold Coast Test through a leg injury.

One of the most threatening players on the edge, Kolbe made England's defence look silly with his amazing step during the World Cup final in 2019, while he's seemingly taken his game to another level while playing in France, finding space and flair he's been without in South Africa, so his absence on Sunday is a big miss.

While the Springboks forwards get plenty of accolades for their brute strength and impressive set-piece, Kolbe regularly produces magic and has on many occasions broken a game wide open with just a little space on the edge.

The Springboks are convinced replacement Sbu Nkosi will easily fill the void left by Kolbe, but whether his workmanlike manner will stand up will have to be seen.

The Wallabies should remain wary though, Nkosi has a nose for the try line, having scored eight in 12 Tests.