De Villiers keeps dominant Boks on a tight leash

South Africa 29 Australia 17
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The Independent Online

South Africa are half way to being a great side. But only half way. Great sides don't rely just on goal kicking to win matches. Great teams may bully the opposition up front, like these Springboks, but their game-plan does not end there, apart from a No 10 who kicks the leather off the ball.

When did you last see a Springbok side bring their full-back into the attacking line on the switch from a first-phase move? When did Peter de Villiers' side last spread the ball down the back line and set up Bryan Habana in some proper space? It took 25 minutes here on Saturday before Habana even got a pass. Then it came with two or three defenders on him.

Nothing has changed in South Africa since Jake White's team won the World Cup in Paris two years ago. They smash opponents apart up front and when the inevitable pressure induces errors, they kick penalty goals. The only change is in the name. Substitute Morne Steyn for Percy Montgomery.

Overall, Robbie Deans' Wallabies were no more effective at taming the African forward monster than Graham Henry's All Blacks had been the previous week. This time, Steyn kicked seven penalties and dropped a goal. Last week against New Zealand, Steyn kicked eight penalties as well as scoring a try and converting it.

A great side would have transformed a 23-10 half-time lead into a thumping, triumphant 45-point victory through running rugby and tries. Instead they let Australia close the deficit to 26-17 in the second half.

The standard of the Springboks' attacking play is at best mediocre. This Springbok coach, like the last one, is too cautious, too fearful of defeat to utilise a diamond back line. These Springboks are hugely effective up front. However the world champions are utterly squandering the genius of some of the most talented players in their history; Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and Habana. One try in 80 minutes (against two by the overwhelmed Wallabies) from all that territory, all that possession?

Australia made the perfect start, Adam Ashley-Cooper scoring a try after 100 seconds. Matt Giteau later added a second, Victor Matfield replying for the Boks. But Australia could not live with their opponents' power and constantly infringed. Steyn took full advantage.

In terms of brutal efficiency if not aesthetic pleasure, the South Africans are in a class of their own in this year's Tri-Nations. Deans, the Australia coach, tried to put a good face on it when he said: "The scrum was excellent. Defence was good, our kick and receive work improved and our work around the contact area was good. To win the second half, under duress was a pretty good effort." De Villiers added "We struggled after half-time but the opposition did not allow us to play. "

South Africa: Try Matfield; Penalties M Steyn 7; Drop goal M Steyn.

Australia: Tries Ashley-Cooper, Giteau; Conversions Giteau 2; Drop goal Barnes.

South Africa: F Steyn (R Pienaar, 60); JP Pietersen, J Fourie, J De Villiers (A Jacobs, 72), B Habana; M Steyn, F Du Preez (R Januarie, 76); T Mtawarira (J Du Plessis, 69), B Du Plessis, J Smit (capt), B Botha (A Bekker, 76), V Matfield, H Brussow, J Smith (D Rossouw, 53), P Spies.

Australia: A Ashley-Cooper; L Turner, S Mortlock (J O'Connor, 30), B Barnes, D Mitchell; M Giteau, L Burgess (W Genia, 56); B Robinson, S Moore (T Polota-Nau, 50), A Baxter (B Alexander, 50), J Horwill (D Mumm, 41), N Sharpe, R Brown, G Smith, W Palu (D Pocock, 56).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).