Australia 16 South Africa 9: De Villiers' men prove unable to think out of the box

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Not long after he took over as South Africa's coach, Peter de Villiers called into question the extent to which his players had become pre-programmed.

"The fact is, they were so spoon-fed by the previous regime," he said. "Now we are asking them to think a bit, it is a culture shock for them. They are scared to make decisions because they have been so spoilt. Everything was there, they didn't have to decide on anything. They didn't take the blame for anything."

Those words came home to roost at the Subiaco Oval on Saturday. After victory over New Zealand in Dunedin, this was a step backwards. Badly missing their injured captain, John Smit, South Africa's ability to change direction based on circumstances was absent.

The Wallabies are not a great side – they are a work in progress, as their coach, Robbie Deans, says. Yet it was they who started to find rhythm and continuity here. The Springbok scrum, so feisty the previous week, was a gross disappointment and the Australian flanker George Smith, with the help of an overwhelmed referee, ruled the breakdown.

"We hoped they might struggle to get up again after Dunedin," said Deans. "It's tough to get up week after week. But from our point of view, we took another step today."

South Africa had the best of a poor first half but missed three try-scoring chances and Lote Tuqiri's try five minutes before the break, brilliantly constructed off first-phase ball, edged Australia ahead 5-3. That became 13-3 through Stirling Mortlock's 45th-minute try and a Matt Giteau penalty. The Boks closed to 13-9 with Steyn's second penalty and another by Butch James, but there was no spark and when Bryan Habana dropped the ball as he dived for the line their last chance had gone. Berrick Barnes then dropped a late goal.

For the Springboks, this was a glorious chance squandered. Unless you can deliver at the height of the battle, you cannot call yourself the real deal.

Australia: Tries Tuqiri, Mortlock; Penalty Giteau Drop goal Barnes. South Africa: Penalties Steyn 2, James.

Australia: A Ashley-Cooper; P Hynes, S Mortlock (R Cross, 49), B Barnes, L Tuqiri; M Giteau, L Burgess (S Cordingley, 74); B Robinson, S Moore (T Polota-Nau, 74), A Baxter (M Dunning, 74), J Horwill, N Sharpe (H McMeniman, 74), R Elsom (McMeniman, 21-28), G Smith, W Palu (D Mitchell, 79).

South Africa: C Jantjes; JP Pietersen, F Steyn, J de Villiers, B Habana (R Pienaar, 67); B James (P Grant, 67), R Januarie; G Steenkamp (T Mtawarira, 50), S Brits (A Strauss, 50), CJ van der Linde (B Mujati, 78), B Botha (R Kankowski, 67), V Matfield, S Burger (Kankowski, 48; A Bekker, 62), J Smith, P Spies.

Referee: B Lawrence (New Zealand).