Mortlock puts the boot in

Tri-Nations: Under-fire Mallett sees Australia inflict a fourth successive defeat
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Australia warmed up for next week's Bledisloe Cup rematch with the All Blacks by comprehensively outplaying South Africa at Sydney's Olympic Stadium yesterday, keeping alive their hopes of a first Tri-Nations series victory in the process.

Australia warmed up for next week's Bledisloe Cup rematch with the All Blacks by comprehensively outplaying South Africa at Sydney's Olympic Stadium yesterday, keeping alive their hopes of a first Tri-Nations series victory in the process.

The Wallabies condemned the Springboks to a fourth consecutive Test defeat with a polished performance straight out of their World Cup manual, combining superior attacking flair with a return to the formidable defensive qualities on which that triumph was built.

John Eales' men were in complete charge from the moment wing Stirling Mortlock plunged over for a try in the right corner after 23 minutes to ease his side into a 13-6 lead, and from then on it was only a question of how wide the victory margin would be.

Mortlock, under pressure beforehand owing to Ben Tune's return to the Australian ranks, landed all six of his kicks at goal to finish with a 21-point haul that earned him the man-of-the-match award.

The replacement hooker Jeremy Paul grabbed the only other try in the 57th minute, and the only surprise was that the Wallabies did not extend their winning margin in the last half hour.

But credit for that must go to the Springboks, who matched the vibrancy of their first quarter efforts with a late rally that denied their hosts the late deluge of points that sunk them on their most recent meeting with the Wallabies.

For coach Nick Mallett however, the misery goes on. Already under fire from those who have questioned his tactics, his future looks increasingly insecure. "I don't want to stand in the way if the South African Rugby Football Union decide there's somebody better," he said. "I have a two-year contract and I would like to see it through, but the situation could become such that the pressure might be on them to make adecision."

This contest again underlined their deficiencies when compared to their southern hemisphere rivals, a glaring lack of attacking invention and repeated indiscipline undermining their tortured efforts to move into the modern era.

They started off with all the vigour and commitment one would expect of a team knowing what reception another defeat would bring on their return to Johannesburg and were deservedly level at 6-6 as the first quarter drew to a close, Mortlock and Braam van Straaten landing two penalties apiece.

The visitors were handicapped, however, by the lack of an authoritative presence at stand-off, Van Straaten frequently to be seen out in the backline while wings Pieter Rossouw and Breyton Paulse bore the brunt of the play-making responsibilities.

Australia, by contrast, had Stephen Larkham directing operations, and he was the catalyst for the game's best move after 23 minutes. Receiving the ball 40 metres out, he performed a sumptuous switch with centre Daniel Herbert, and Jason Little and Joe Roff made the most of the space created to present Mortlock with a score in the right corner.

The wing converted and proceeded to add his third and fourth penalties before half-time to give his side a commanding 19-6 interval lead.

While the Wallabies consistently switched the point of attack, with scrum-half George Gregan again demonstrating his immense talents, South Africa's passing was tele-graphed and predictable by comparison, allowing an eager Australian back row to mop up the Bok runners with ease.

On the occasions they looked like breaching the Wallaby defensive wall, over-anxiety was their undoing. Ten minutes into the second half, several phases brought them to within sight of the Australian line, only for Rossouw to lose the ball. Twice more they let opportunities slip, through Percy Montgomery and Thinus Delport.

By then the game was up, and Australian minds had probably already drifted to next week's decisive clash with New Zealand in Wellington.

Australia: C Latham (Queensland); S Mortlock (ACT), D Herbert (Queensland), J Little (New South Wales), J Roff; S Larkham, G Gregan (all ACT); R Harry (NSW), M Foley (Queensland), F Dyson (Queensland), D Giffin (ACT), J Eales (Queensland, capt), M Connors, D Wilson (both Queensland), J Williams (ACT). Replacements: J Paul (ACT) for Foley 40, T Kefu (Queensland) for Williams 45, M Cockbain (Queensland) for Connors 59, B Tune (Queensland) for Roff 63, G Panoho (Queensland) for Dyson 69, R Kafer (ACT) for Little 78.

South Africa: T Delport (Golden Lions); B Paulse, R Fleck, D Barry, P Rossouw; B van Straaten (all Western Province), W Swanepoel (Golden Lions); R Kempson, C Marais, C Visagie (all Western Province), A van den Berg, M Andrews (both Natal), C Krige (Western Province), A Venter (Free State), A Vos (Golden Lions, capt). Replacements: W Brosnihan (Natal) for Andrews 57, Andrews for Van den Berg 71, O Le Roux (Natal) for Visagie 64, J Smit (Natal) for Marais 64, J van der Westhuizen (Blue Bulls) for Swanepoel 65, P Montgomery (Western Province) for Van Straaten 66.

Referee: E Morrison (England).