The Springboks are winning without playing that well, and now the greatest prize dangles before them. Victory over New Zealand in Dunedin this Saturday would make them the first South Africa team to retain the Tri-Nations title.
Furthermore, they would become the first Springbok side to win a Test in Dunedin and the first to beat the All Blacks in three successive Tests.
To achieve all that, they will need to be more clinical in their finishing than they have been thus far this year. A couple of glorious first-half opportunities went begging on Saturday.
They did make 121 tackles. The whole team buys into the defensive ethos and understands the patterns and positions required. Only when the fly-half Andre Pretorius missed a one-on-one on Morgan Turinui early in the second half, allowing the South Africa-born centre Clyde Rathbone to score for the second year in a row against his former countrymen, was the door prised open.
But too much attention may be being paid to defence at the expense of attacking opportunities. Bryan Habana showed his potency with two blistering 80-metre runs for tries and, in Jean de Villiers, there is enormous skill closer in. They have a fast, strong back row too. But at present goals are being kicked by Percy Montgomery (he landed three penalties and dropped a goal) and there is an absence of true conviction elsewhere.
Thus, it was not a great Springbok performance. Australia are a strictly limited side, full of endeavour but short on quality, and this loss was their fourth in a row, the first time that has happened since 1981. For them to get so close - they turned a 17-9 second-half deficit into a 19-17 lead with 12 minutes left before Habana's second try stole the win - showed South Africa's uncertainty.
That may be added to by their wing Breyton Paulse's suspension after being cited for kicking the Wallaby prop Al Baxter late in the game. Paulse will miss the match in Dunedin as part of a three-week ban.
Australia: Try Rathbone; Conversion Rogers; Penalties Rogers 3, Giteau. South Africa: Tries Habana 2; Penalties Montgomery 3; Drop goal Montgomery.
Australia: D Mitchell; M Rogers, C Rathbone (A Ashley-Cooper, 77), M Turinui, L Tuqiri; M Giteau, G Gregan (capt; C Whitaker, 69); B Young (M Dunning, 38-44; 55), B Cannon, A Baxter, D Vickerman, N Sharpe, R Elsom (J Roe, 55), P Waugh (G Smith, 69), D Lyons.
South Africa: P Montgomery; B Paulse, J Fourie, J de Villiers, B Habana; A Pretorius (J van der Westhuyzen, 60), E Januarie (F du Preez, 50); O du Randt (G Steenkamp, 55), J Smit (capt), C J van der Linde, B Botha (A van den Berg, 64), V Matfield, S Burger, J Smith, J van Niekerk.
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).Reuse content