Wallabies captain James Horwill says Australia will play a far more judicious game against the Springboks in Cape Town this weekend in an effort to arrest an unexpected form slump under new coach Ewen McKenzie.

After triumphant early declarations from McKenzie and his playing group that the Wallabies would return to the running rugby of their glory days, Horwill indicated that substantial losses to the All Blacks and Springboks had forced the team to adopt a far more nuanced approach. "You look at the trends in the game and the teams that aren't playing as much footy in their own half are getting the results," he said. "You have to look at that and understand there's something in that. We always want to play positive rugby every game but you need to be smart about it, the way you do it. You have to pick your times."

The retention of Nic White at halfback and Matt Toomua on the bench means the Wallabies will be able to use both players' long kicking games in pursuit of an upset victory at Newlands Stadium, a ground that has not been kind to the Wallabies for two decades.

Horwill said the modified approach did not mean the side would turn into another Springboks, just that they were being smarter about what they would bring to the table.

"A lot of people view it as the more you kick, the duller the game, but look at the All Blacks, they kick a lot – more than most teams – but no one would say the game they play is a dull, boring game plan," he said. "You have to pick and choose your moments, and be more positive in the way you go about things, but you don't want to play too much footy in your own end, because the way the game is being officiated and so forth, you are just opening yourself up to getting points put on you.

"Especially against a team like South Africa, with [five-eighth] Morne Steyn kicking at 90 per cent, if you give them an opportunity in our half there's three points and they can accumulate quite quickly."

The two sides' clash in Brisbane a fortnight ago exposed the Wallabies' potentially devastating vulnerabilities in the physical battle.

After a controversial loss to the All Blacks in New Zealand last week, coach Heyneke Meyer made just two changes and asked his players to lift their game another notch against Australia. Veteran halfback Fourie du Preez will make his first Test start since 2011 and Adriaan Strauss replaces hooker Bismarck du Plessis.

The Wallabies will be boosted by the return of their captain, who has battled a mild hamstring strain and missed the past two Tests.

They have beefed up in the midfield with Tevita Kuridrani at outside-centre, kept impact second-rower Sitaleki Timani in the squad and returned prop Benn Robinson to the 23 in an effort to shore up their struggling set-piece.

But for all the talk of beefing up, Horwill said he believed the Wallabies' "mobility" was an untapped strength for the side.

"When we have the ball in hand we need to make sure that when we do play we can move them around a little bit," he said. "We've still got to dent the line and go forward but with a bigger back line, even though they're big, they're quite mobile. Our forwards are very mobile compared to [the Springboks], so we hope that we can run them around a bit when we do play. We just need to pick and choose our moments."

South Africa: Zane Kirchner, Willie le Roux, J J Engelbrect, Jean de Villiers (c), Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Tendai Mtawarira, Adriaan Strauss, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Flip van der Merwe, Francois Louw, Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen. Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Juandre Kruger, Siya Kolisi, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.