Australia kept alive their Tri-Nations dreams and consigned South Africa to another season at the foot of the table when they beat a bumbling Springbok team 27-15 in Durban on Saturday.
Rugby 365 reports that it was another game in which the Boks digressed to shockingly poor levels, but all credit to a Wallaby team that showed how to win from the trenches despite some obvious limitations.
The win saw the Wallabies move to within one point of the All Blacks at the top of the table, with a game in hand, and another encounter with South Africa at Ellis Park next week they are handily placed in the tournament.
The tournament will be decided in Brisbane on September 13, when Australia host New Zealand.
In Durban the Springboks again added milestones. They did so with a win in Dunedin. They did so in their big, pointless defeat at Newlands and now they added the first Wallaby win in South Africa wince 2000, their first away win in the Tri-Nations since 2001. It was the second highest score the Wallabies have scored in South Africa but then the highest – 31 in 2002 – was a losing score. This was a winning score.
The points’ difference was not as big and the South Africans scored points this time, but in fact it was a bigger beating than the one they had suffered at the hands of New Zealand in Cape Town last week.
The “World Champions” have now lost three Tri-Nations matches in a row. The essence of the problem remains the same – no obvious sign of a game plan, rank carelessness at the tackle and a disregard for basics.
Basics – like catching and passing a rugby ball. The Springboks made 17 handling errors which does not take into account ball lying around neglected so that the Wallabies won just about every 50-50 ball going. Basics like winning your own first phase ball. Before the game the Wallabies said they were going to target the line-outs. People chortled. The Springboks lost five of their own line-outs, the Wallabies none. The Springboks had two quick throw-ins. In actual line-outs on their own throw they won eight to five. That’s laughable. They need to catch kick-offs.
Watch the lead-up to Stirling Mortlock’s try and you will see it started when Victor Matfield dropped the kick-off. But the biggest basic of all is the protection and presentation of the ball at the tackle – protection so that they cannot get it and then presenting it in the best way possible to enable your side to play on as quickly as possible. The Wallabies won 16 turnovers off the Springboks. By going in lower and parallel to the touch lines and close to each other they dominated the tackle – as happened in Perth and Newlands and will, it seems, continue to happen for the foreseeable future.
Basics like kicking and chasing kicks. It started off well enough but soon it became kicking for kicking’s sake, while Matt Giteau was clever.
Basics like playing people in position. When Andries Bekker, Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira are more likely to receive the ball on the wing than the wings chosen for the match, there is something wrong. Jongi Nokwe must be the most anonymous wing in international rugby.
On top of that there was the ability to take chances. The one South African capable of doing it, it seems, is Adrian Jacobs, but the Wallabies made the very most of their opportunities with fewer visits to their opponents’ 22 – fewer visits but always looking more likely to score. The tries scored by Mortlock and Tuqiri particularly make the point – seizing the opportunity.
By contrast the Wallabies were intent and alert. They contested everything with a will. They were cohesive and obviously understood what they were doing and how to do it.
And here Giteau was masterful. He was the bandmaster and each of the members of the band was playing off the same sheet music. It was above all at the tackle that they earned their victory and here once again George Smith was magnificent but then so was Rocky Elsom and Stephen Moore and all the others.
There was clearly great determination in the Springboks side. None was more determined than Butch James who got stuck in. His clever kick got the Springboks a first line-out five metres from the Wallaby line. Schalk Burger tried to peel round the front and then the Springboks went on a seven-phase bash which ended when Juan Smith was free-kicked. Jacobs had a break and Bekker a dash down the left wing. It all looked promising but gradually is fizzled out.
The first points came when CJ van der Linde – not for the first time – was penalised for his manner of entry into a tackle – head first into Sam Cordingley. Giteau goaled. 3-0 after eight minutes.
From a line-out South Africa attacked and De Villiers and Mtawarira were at the line but a free kick brought Wallaby relief.
The Wallabies suffered a blow just before 20 minutes were up when Berrick Barnes had to leave the field with a damaged shoulder, to be replaced by Ryan Cross.
Peter Hynes was penalised for coming in at the side of a tackle, but James was well wide with the kick.
A grubber and a flykick had the Wallabies really close but Nokwe saved the situation. In doing so he conceded a free kick. The Wallabies tapped and started charging. Benn Robinson was close and then Rocky Elsom and then Robinson was even closer. In fact the matter was referred to the TMO who was able to confirm that the calm prop had indeed scored a try. It was near the posts and Giteau had no difficulty in putting the Wallabies 10 points ahead after 27 minutes.
At this stage the Wallabies were enjoying 61 percent of possession.
When Conrad Jantjes batted a ball back infield, the Wallabies caught him and were there in aggressive numbers. Jantjes was free kicked and again the Wallabies tapped and bashed. This time the defence held.
Half-time came with the Wallabies leading 10-0.
Early in the second half Elsom was penalised for an air tackle in a line-out and James goaled. 10-3.
Bbut that was cancelled when Mtawarira was penalised for going in skew at a scrum. 13-3 after 50 minutes.
Drew Mitchell, as hairless as Jantjes, footed through but Jacobs saved, conceding a five-metre scrum in the process – but the defence held and the Springboks looked like scoring at the other end when De Villiers and Jacobs combined. However, another turnover ended the chance. (It was the seventh time the Springboks had yielded a turnover in the Wallabies’ 22.)
Van der Linde was penalised for a shoulder charge and the Wallabies attacked going through phases till they came back from the far right to Tuqiri who raced away from a diving Fourie du Preez. Du Plessis tapped his ankle but the big wing rolled over for the try which Giteau converted. 20-3 after 61 minutes.
Then after five try-less halves (200 minutes) of rugby the Springboks scored a try. Again it was De Villiers who broke, going straight. Luke Watson and Brian Mujati carried it on. There was a tackle/ruck near the Wallaby line and Jacobs snatched up the ball and darted straight ahead for a try just behind the tackle. Montgomery converted. 20-10 after 64 minutes.
That try was immediately nullified when Matfield knocked on the kick-off. That gave the Wallabies a scrum and they scored from it in the simplest of ways. Mortlock did a scissors with Giteau and ran 27 metres to score under the posts. He cut past Burger and then Bekker and then Van Niekerk and then Watson who grasped at his chin. The Springbok defence had been so resolute, but this, uncharacteristically, was certainly now the worst form. 27-10 after 66 minutes.
From a line-out on their left the Springboks attacked far right and Montgomery played a clever ball back inside to Jacobs who swivelled and thrust over the line with Mitchell unable to hold him back. 27-15.
Man of the Match: George Smith and Rocky Elsom were great and so were Stirling Mortlock and Lote Tuqiri and Sam Cordingley, with his smooth service but our choice is Matt Giteau, who did more than anybody to assure the Wallabies a decisive victory.
Moment of the Match: It has to be Stirling Mortlock’s try – for its daring and simplicity and for the way it emphasised that the Wallabies were going to win and win well.
Villain of the Match: In France the crowd from time to time expresses its disapproval of the home team’s performance. When Jantjes knocked on tat Absa Stadium, the home crowd booed. When the final whistle went, they booed. They booed the Springbok captain and they booed the Springbok coach. It was an ugly and unsporting sound.
For South Africa:
Tries: Jacobs 2
Tries: Robinson, Tuqiri, Mortlock
Cons: Giteau 3
Pens: Giteau 2