On the site of Brisbane's old cemetery, the Springboks' hopes of retaining the Tri-Nations title were laid to rest. John Smit's men will return to South Africa this morning after a disastrous away trip, without a point from three matches and apparently without a clue over how to turn around such a collapse in form.
The South Africans were condemned by their captain, who spoke with a frankness that went to the heart of his team's malaise. Smit said: "Our defence was poor, our breakdown work was poor and our attack was ordinary. Defence has been the poorest facet of our game for the last three weeks. In fact, we are very realistic about how poor and average we have been in these weeks."
Australia left a lot of points out on the field, thanks to some unimaginative attacking play in the final quarter, and they were lifted to victory by the quality of their defence. Scrambling tackling cut off a Springbok comeback, after they had trailed 17-3 at the break. Up to the final minute of the first half, there had been four penalties by Matt Giteau to one by Morne Steyn. Then Smit threw a line-out straight to the Wallaby captain, Rocky Elsom, and from the ensuing move Giteau put the wing Drew Mitchell over for the first try of the match. In the second minute, South Africa had seen the centre Jaque Fourie earn a yellow card for a dangerous tackle. For a third week in a row, the Boks played 10 minutes a man down.
Giteau and James O'Connor kicked penalties in the first five minutes of the second half but from 23-3 down the Springboks, inspired by the lock Danie Rossouw, found their best form. Fourie scored after 62 minutes and the prop Gurthro Steenkamp got over from a rolling maul 10 minutes later, after a line-out move. But Ruan Pienaar could not convert either try and Will Genia's sniping score six minutes from the end sealed it.
Australia had outplayed their rivals at the breakdown, where David Pocock gave a man-of-the-match display. It was not a great game, with far too many errors, but it was played at a high pace and the weary Springboks suffered accordingly. The world champions have lost their way.
The Wallaby coach, Robbie Deans, said: "We have got to be satisfied with that. The Boks were desperate and threw everything at us but the boys stood the test of time. It was a good day at the office for us. But we know next week, we face a team [New Zealand] that will do all that and more."
Australia: A Ashley-Cooper; J O'Connor, R Horne, M Giteau (B Barnes, 70), D Mitchell; Q Cooper, W Genia; B Robinson (J Slipper, 59), S Faingaa (S Moore, 53), S Ma'afu, D Mumm (R Simmons, 67), N Sharpe, R Elsom (capt), R Brown (B McCalman, 70), D Pocock.
South Africa: Z Kirchner; G Aplon, J Fourie, W Olivier (J de Jongh, 54), B Habana; M Steyn (B James, 54), R Pienaar (F Hougaard, 72); G Steenkamp, J Smit (capt) (C Ralepelle, 72), BJ Botha (CJ van der Linde, 67), D Rossouw (F van der Merwe, 67), V Matfield, S Burger, R Kankowski, P Spies (van der Linde, 48-55), R Kankowski (D Potgeiter, 55).
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).