Rugby Union: Mallett's misery grows

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The Independent Online
Australia 32

South Africa 6

SOUTH AFRICA'S World Cup plans were left in tatters after they crashed to a record defeat by Australia in their Tri-Nations match yesterday.

The Springboks, who hold the world and Tri-Nations titles but are struggling with injuries this season, were outplayed by a rampant Wallaby team as they slumped to their third straight defeat in the past month. South Africa's loss was not only their biggest against Australia but also their second worst result against any nation in their proud rugby history, only marginally better than last weekend's 28-0 loss to New Zealand.

"We've had a shocking run of injuries lately but that's no excuse," said the South African coach, Nick Mallett. "Everyone has always said that one of the strong points in South African rugby is our depth but it's obvious we don't have the depth for international level."

The Australian full-back Matthew Burke contributed 17 points with a try and five goals while winger Joe Roff scored twice and fly-half Tim Horan once as Australia posted their 10th victory on the trot, matching the record of the 1991 World Cup-winning side. "This team is starting to come together very well now. We're improving week by week but we know there's still a long way to go," said the Australian coach, Rod Macqueen. "I think we played very well but South Africa have obviously got problems. They didn't seem to be as well organised as they have in the past but I'm sure they'll be a very different proposition by the World Cup."

South Africa started the match well, dominating the early scrums and lineouts but, with most of their key backs absent through injury, were forced to play the game tight, running their forwards off the rucks and mauls. Their tactics proved effective over the first quarter of the match as they held the Wallabies to 6-6 after Braam van Straaten and Burke kicked two penalties apiece.

Eventually the Australians, who had lost their last three matches to South Africa, took control through their more expansive game. They scored their first try in the 20th minute when Horan shrugged off the South African centre Robbie Fleck to dive over after a period of sustained pressure.

The Australians almost scored again in the 35th minute when Horan sent the flanker Matt Cockbain on his way but he dropped the ball over the line after being hit by a heavy tackle from the winger Stefan Terblanche. It mattered little, however, as the Wallabies added a second try 14 seconds before half-time when Burke split the defence and scored out wide, then converted his own try to give the home side a 20-6 lead.

The Wallabies, who play New Zealand in Auckland next week, added a further two tries in the second half, both from Roff, as they threatened to run away with the match. Roff scored his first on the hour when he backed up a break from Cockbain and the hooker Jeremy Paul, then added a second eight minutes later after Horan sent him on an unimpeded run to the line.

Adding to South Africa's woes was news that two of their players would be out of action after suffering injuries during the match. The centre Pieter Muller strained a medial ligament while prop Os du Randt damaged a hip.

"There's not really all that much I can say about the way things are going for us at the moment," Mallett said. "If you come to Australia and New Zealand with inexperienced and injured players then you're on a hiding to nothing."

Jason Jones-Hughes, the centre wanted by both Wales and Australia, will be fined by Australian officials if he refuses to join the Australian Barbarians on their upcoming tour of New Zealand. Jones-Hughes has said he intends to appeal against the International Rugby Board's refusal to let him play for Wales.

South Africa: P Montgomery; B Paulse (P Rossouw 60), R Fleck (D von Hoesslin 65), P Muller (D Kayser 11), S Terblanche; B van Straaten, W Swanepoel; O du Randt (O le Roux 49, W Meyer 63), N Drotske, C Visagie, S Boome, K Otto, J Erasmus (capt), A Leonard, A Venter.

Australia: M Burke; B Tune, D Herbert, N Grey, J Roff; T Horan, G Gregan; D Crowley, J Paul (P Kearns 76), P Noriega, D Giffin, J Welborn, M Cockbain (M Connors 60), T Kefu (T Strauss 49), D Wilson (capt).

Referee: P O'Brien (NZ).