MELBOURNE (Reuters) - South Africa's faith in its conservative game-plan will be put to the test on Saturday as Australia bid to upset the world champions for the second time in a week to keep their Rugby Championship hopes alive in Brisbane.
The Springboks have made a virtue of winning ugly this season but the 28-26 loss to the Wallabies on the Gold Coast shone an unflattering light on their blueprint of forward muscle and stubborn defence.
With undefeated New Zealand heavily favoured to beat winless Argentina in the second match of Saturday's Lang Park double-header, South Africa need a galvanising win to keep in touch with the All Blacks before meeting them in the last two rounds.
Coach Jacques Nienaber and his staff played down the Wallabies loss as an "off night" and believe improved discipline and skill execution should be enough to stave off back-to-back losses for the first time since 2018.
They have made only one tactical change to the Gold Coast side that lost after the siren by a Quade Cooper penalty kick.
Australia are at a different stage in their trajectory, seeking back-to-back wins for the first time under Dave Rennie.
While the All Blacks are like Kryptonite to the Wallabies, South Africa hold little fear, particularly at home.
Australia have not lost to the Springboks at home since 2013 or to any side at Lang Park since England in 2016.
Rennie has largely rewarded the team that jagged a win on the Gold Coast while conceding three tries to one.
Defending South Africa's powerful maul has been a focus during the week, after their opponents created all their tries from lineout drives.
"There were a couple of things we got wrong, system errors," Rennie said on Thursday.
"We think we've got a system that when we get it right we'll be able to nullify their maul."
While Australia and South Africa have opted for continuity in selections, a completely overhauled team will look to continue the All Blacks' ominous form after their 39-0 thumping of Argentina.
Selectors are using the clash to test the squad's depth while resting key players ahead of the Springboks matches which may well decide the tournament.
Coach Ian Foster has turned over the entire pack and installed Damian McKenzie as starting flyhalf to ease Beauden Barrett's workload.
Argentina, who lost their first two matches away to the Springboks, may be grateful to meet what is essentially an All Blacks 'B' team.
Coach Mario Ledesma complained this week that his squad was underdone coming into the tournament and that "no-one seems to care" about the welfare of his players in the era of COVID-19.
"When it comes to quarantine, travelling and this and that, it seems to be a big issue, player welfare and mental health," he said.
"When it’s against Argentina, nobody seems to care, nobody was talking about us being in quarantine.
"I’m not putting it as an excuse, but that is the reality."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)