Knox, the outside-half understudy to Michael Lynagh for much of his career and subsequently dropped from Smith's Australian squad, guided Australian Capital Territory into the final of this season's Super 12 competition then, unwanted at home, headed to South Africa to play rugby for Natal. But when Smith's preferred outside-half, the inside-centre convert Tim Horan, broke his thumb in last week's 33-18 defeat by the All Blacks, the besieged coach had little option but to call on the veteran for a comeback appearance.
The Knox effect was easily evidenced, with Australia's backs - lifeless and predictable last week - scoring three of the Wallabies' four tries; the wing Ben Tune picking up a brace. Knox, 34 this month, also proved a capable goal-kicker in the absence of the injured full-back Matt Burke, landing three conversions and two penalties.
Smith, who has never tired of his own voice during this Tri- Nations campaign, viewed the win as a team effort. "It doesn't really matter about me, I'm not that important." he said. "Everyone can see the team has a lot of passion and pride in themselves. We have lost a lot of players and have beaten the world champions. That was a great victory."
It was Australia's highest winning score in a Test against the Springboks, eclipsing their 28-20 success in 1993. They benefited from some feeble Springbok defence in scoring four early tries to virtually wrap up the match before halftime, taking a 26-10 lead into the break. "It was easy out there by the way the forwards played," Knox said. "Scoring four tries in the first half-hour was wonderful. It was a little easy but I came down to earth a little in the second half."
The dig at Smith was not far away. "Luckily I had a few blokes like David Wilson and James Holbeck to do the tackling for me," Knox added.
Knox set up the opening score for his ACT Brumbies team-mate Stephen Larkham in the eighth minute with a well-timed pass near the corner. Larkham, who came on at halftime last week for Horan, looked far more comfortable in his provincial position of full-back.
The man of the match, Tune, also benefited from Knox's vision and quick delivery to score in the 19th and 40th minutes. In between Tune's tries, the No 8 Daniel Manu charged through to score under the posts from a line- out won by John Eales, who played with a composure missing from his game a week ago.
Two of South Africa's biggest men helped the Springbok cause, with tries to Os du Randt, their 19-stone prop, and Mark Andrews, the 6ft 7in lock, and Jannie de Beer touched down in the final seconds. It was never going to be enough, though, said Carel du Plessis, another coach who could shortly be feeling the selectorial axe after a recent series loss to the Lions followed by successive Tri-Nations defeats to New Zealand and Australia.
"They were very motivated and they put a lot of pressure on our first- and second-phase possession," he said. "And we had some bad first-up tackling which you can't afford at this level."
Australia: S Larkham (ACT); B Tune (Queensland), J Little (Queensland), J Holbeck (ACT), J Roff (ACT); D Knox (ACT), G Gregan (ACT); R Harry (NSW), M Foley (Queensland), A Heath (NSW), O Finegan (ACT), J Eales (capt, Queensland), M Cockbain (NSW), D Wilson, D Manu (NSW). Replacements: T Coker (ACT) for Manu 56; B Robinson (ACT) for Cockbain 58; A Blades (NSW) for Heath 71;
South Africa: R Bennett (Border); A Snyman (Northern Transvaal), P Montgomery (Western Province), D van Schalkwyk (Northern Transvaal), P Rossouw (Western Province); J de Beer (Free State), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); O du Randt (Free State), N Drotske (Free State), D Theron (Griqualand West), K Otto (Northern Transvaal), M Andrews (Natal), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), A Venter (Free State), G Teichmann (capt, Natal). Replacement: A Garvey (Natal) for du Randt 61.Reuse content