SOUTH AFRICA celebrated a return to the top of the rugby union pile after the Springboks clinched the Tri-Nations title with a victory over Australia at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
"We are the champions!" screamed the back pages of both major South African English Sunday newspapers. The major Afrikaans-language newspaper trumpeted "Bokke Bo!" (Springboks on top) on the front page and "Konings van Wereld- rugby" (Kings of world rugby) on the back.
With a year to go to their defence of the World Cup, the Springboks are once again riding on a high. "I can say now that South Africa are the best team in the world," said their coach, Nick Mallett. "What's more they might be one of the best Springbok sides ever," he added.
The Wallaby captain, John Eales, praised South Africa, saying: "They're the best side in the world this year." The Springboks, now unbeaten for 14 matches, led 16-12 at half-time and scored a try in each half to win the southern hemisphere tournament. The scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen, a key player in the 1995 World Cup victory said: "This side is better than the World Cup one." he said.
South Africa set the seal on a crushing victory through a fine display of kicking from full-back Percy Montgomery.
South Africa: Tries Garvey, Skinstad; Conversions Montgomery 2; Penalties Montgomery 5. Australia: Penalties Burke 5.
South Africa: P Montgomery; S Terblanche, A Snyman (F Smith, 80), P Muller, P Rossouw; H Honiball, J van der Westhuizen; R Kempson (O le Roux, 48), J Dalton, A Garvey, K Otto, M Andrews (B Skinstad, 52), J Erasmus (A Aitken, 7), A Venter, G Teichmann (capt).
Australia: M Burke; B Tune (N Grey 78), D Herbert (J Little 6), T Horan, J Roff; S Larkham, G Gregan; D Crowley, P Kearns, A Blades (G Panoho 67), T Bowman, J Eales (capt), M Cockbain (O Finegan 58), D Wilson, T Kefu (W Ofahengaue 50).
Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).