Promoted halfback Nick Phipps has backed the Wallabies’ tight five to make amends for the All Blacks’ shellacking when they host an abrasive Springboks pack led by comeback king Victor Matfield in Perth this Saturday.
Called into the starting line-up at the expense of Brumbies No.9 Nic White, Phipps was quick to extinguish concerns the Boks would also catch out the Wallabies forwards after their lacklustre last-start effort against New Zealand.
An embarrassing 51-20 drubbing in Auckland prompted some soul-searching after being buoyed earlier in the season by a three-Test cleansweep over France.
It won’t bode well for Phipps if they put in a repeat performance, however, as the damaging Springboks pack will create havoc for the Waratahs No.9 at the ruck.
“Our tight five are pretty filthy about what happened. They’re stinging,” Phipps said.
“It’s a very big focus for us this week that we stand up and really be counted.”
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer has made six changes to his starting side following their two narrow wins over Argentina, recalling veteran lock Matfield, 37, as one of four changes in the forwards.
It’s sure to be a spicy affair for Matfield, who made his Test comeback earlier this year after the Wallabies delivered him a premature retirement in 2011 by booting South Africa out of the Rugby World Cup in a controversial quarter-final.
Also recalled to the side is ruck barnacle – hooker Adriaan Strauss – along with Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira and abrasive flanker Marcell Coetzee.
One of the primary reasons Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has called Phipps into the starting side is for his gutsy defence against the big South Africans.
“At times he plays like an extra forward, he’s the second-highest tackler for the Waratahs this season,” McKenzie says.
“They get good momentum with their ball carriers – he’ll be good at organising and pitching-in in defence.”
After playing second fiddle for several seasons, Saturday night will be the first time Phipps will wear the No.9 jersey since December 2012.
This start will be different to his previous eight, he says, with his Super Rugby title-winning form making him feel like he’s finally earned it.
“The other starts I have had before were off the back of a few injuries,” he said.
“Being able to completely earn it is very relieving.
“I am a completely different player now to what I was four years ago.”
With Waratahs teammate Bernard Foley also promoted to No.10 at the expense of Kurtley Beale, the duo will rekindle the playmaking partnership that led the Waratahs to their maiden Super Rugby title one month ago.
“I have played a fair bit of footy with Bernie growing up so knowing my little mate is out there is quite calming,” Phipps said.
“I know exactly where we want to go and what he wants to try and do – I’ll do my very best to get him there.”