Johannesburg (AFP) – South Africa coach Allister Coetzee is plotting a “massive response” to a humiliating loss when they host Australia Saturday in a Rugby Championship clash set to decide second place.
The proud Springboks, twice world champions, were annihilated 57-0 away to world champions New Zealand in the previous round two weekends ago.
It was the heaviest reverse suffered by South Africa in their 126-year history, eclipsing a 53-3 drubbing from England in London during 2002.
The result shattered Coetzee and his team, who had gone to Auckland hopeful of at least putting up a good fight after five victories and a draw this season.
But ahead of the clash with the Wallabies at Free State Stadium in central city Bloemfontein, Coetzee insisted the Auckland horror show was a one-off experience.
Victory for the Springboks, who are three points above the Wallabies in the standings, will seal second place while New Zealand are poised to win a fifth title in six attempts.
“We have buried Auckland,” the coach stressed to reporters ahead of the penultimate-round match in the southern hemisphere championship.
“It was a sub-standard performance from us that is now in the past as we plan a turn-around strategy.
“New Zealand were unbelievably good and everything worked out for them,” he said, recalling a match in which the Springboks conceded eight tries.
“The key now is how we respond against the Wallabies — it is going to be massive.
“I and my fellow coaches are hurting, the players are hurting, and our supporters are hurting. The time to show character has arrived.
“Our matches against the Wallabies, and the All Blacks in Cape Town next weekend, are about digging deep,” said the 54-year-old.
Assistant coach Franco Smith echoed the optimism of Coetzee, saying ball retention would be key to overcoming Australia after a 23-23 draw in Perth this month.
“You can see the determination and hunger in the players during every training session,” he said.
“We had to rein them in,” he added, referring to a squad trimmed to 27 before the team announcement. “The guys cannot wait to get out there and play.”
While Australia regularly beat South Africa at home, they struggle in the republic, especially at the 1,500-metre (about 5,000 feet) altitude of the Highveld.
But their last visit to Bloemfontein was joyful as a monster Kurtley Beale penalty delivered a last-gasp 41-39 triumph seven years ago.
“I do not know,” replied Australia coach Michael Cheika when asked what caused the Wallabies to suffer so severely from “altitude sickness”.
“It might be in our heads,” he suggested. “We just have to go to Bloemfontein and do our best.
“I want this group to get a bit smarter, play more consistently and improve our poor away record against the Springboks.”
Both Coetzee and Cheika have made three changes to the teams that started in the previous round, where a strong second-half showing gave Australia a 45-20 home win over Argentina.
South Africa will give winger Dillyn Leyds a first start in place of defensively suspect Raymond Rhule and fit-again scrum-half Ross Cronje replaces Francois Hougaard.
The other change seeks to improve the Springboks at the breakdown with Francois Louw recalled for his first Test this year in place of less experienced Jean-Luc du Preez.
Australia give first starts to winger Marika Koroibete, lock Izack Rodda and loose forward Jack Dempsey with Henry Speight, Rob Simmons and Ned Hanigan dropping to the bench.