Australia 16 South Africa 9: Mortlock rips open Boks

Centre's strength exposes a host of problems for the underwhelming world champions
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The Independent Online

In Perth yesterday the Springboks missed 33 tackles, conceded 26 turnovers and lost the rucks and mauls 101-54. End of story. You cannot win any game with figures like that.

This was as disorganised and disappointing a performance by a Springbok side as hasbeen seen in a long while. The dramatic change in their fortunes and performance from a week earlier, when they had been good enough to beat New Zealand in Dunedin, was a matter of serious concern for their coach.

"We didn't foresee this," said Peter de Villiers. "We expectedto have a better contest. Ibelieve we controlled a lot of the game but on the day they outstripped us, especially on the ground. We didn't deliver but all credit to the Australians. They deserved it tonight."

The Springbok management wisely kept their counsel with regard to the referee, but Bryce Lawrence's actions rendered words redundant. He was abysmal. The breakdown became an enormous free- for- all, with players allowed to dive over the top, drift around the fringes and put their hands all over the ball on the ground.

The ensuing chaos suited the Australians down to the ground. The flanker George Smith had the time of his life, pilfering ball and exposing the Springboks' lack of a proper fetcher. The loss of Schalk Burger through injury after 48 minutes did not help the South Africans.

Some scrum feeds were so crooked they missed both front and second rows, and Lawrence missed simple knock-ons and forward passes. South Africa's Victor Matfield was twice taken out in the air at line-outs with no penalty awarded. The Springboks' problems, however, went much further than that. Their scrum was never convincing, so much so that well-worn jokes about Australian scrummaging may have to be put away. The Wallaby pack looked moresolid and threatening here than South Africa's.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, the Springboks' tackling was poor. The centre Stirling Mortlock powered straight through Jean de Villiers for Australia's second try, after 45 minutes, because the Springbok was far too upright in the tackle.

It was a mess of a match. The Australians are no great side and their Kiwi coach, Robbie Deans, knows that. They did enough on the night, though, fuelled by character and courage and the example of Mortlock's try soon after half-time, a crucial moment that visibly swelled the home side's confidence. But they could and perhaps should have conceded two first-half tries. They had much the worse of that opening period, yet led 5-3 at the break thanks to a superbly constructedtry which was finished by Lote Tuqiri after a long line-outthrow and a clever, angled run by Peter Hynes.

The Springboks were poor, alarmingly so, and yet they still finished within touching distance of a draw or even a win. After the Wallabies had got themselves out to 13-3 after 50 minutes, with a Matt Giteau penalty, South Africa closed the gap to 13-6 with a penalty by Butch James. Then, with 14 minutes left, the world champions put together their one quality back-line movement of the night. It ended with Bryan Habana diving for the corner.

Had he made it, and had the score been converted, the Springboks would have been level. But Habana, so often the scorer of dazzling tries, lost the ball as he dived. "I set myself high standards but I felt I let myself personally and the team down in that situation," he said.

Frans Steyn did kick hissecond penalty in the 70th minute to make it 13-9, but a late drop goal by the Wallaby centre Berrick Barnes clinched the victory. The Springboks took home a losing bonus point.

Deans said: "The pride was the thing, and as a result of that pride there was a willingness to engage and defend. It was a tough encounter and both sides created chances. Mortlock's try epitomised the effort, willingness and desire just to get over the line. If you don't come with that against a team like the Springboks, you just won't be in the contest."

Next up is an intriguing match on Saturday when New Zealand come to Sydney for the first meeting of the two coaches, Deans and Graham Henry, since the latter was reappointed after the All Blacks' World Cup failure. Many in New Zealand think Deans should have had the job.

"It's going to be very special," said Deans, with a smile. "There will be a lot of interest and a fair amount of banter flying."

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 (H 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, 57), 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 (R Kankowski, 48; A Bekker, 62), J Smith, P Spies.

Referee: B Lawrence (New Zealand).

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