Peter Bills: Springboks continue relentless Tri-Nations title march

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The Independent Online

With a power that is intimidating and a swagger that hallmarks all the best teams, the Springboks are marching relentlessly towards their first Tri-Nations title since 2004.

Yesterday’s comprehensive win, their third in three weeks, has put them overwhelmingly in control of this year’s competition. A single victory from one of their three away games, two in Australia and one in New Zealand, will surely be enough to add the title of Tri-Nations champions to those of reigning World champions and conquerors of the Lions.

Once again, South Africa were happy to rely on the boot of Morne Steyn to get them home. Steyn is kicking with metronomic precision and at Newlands yesterday, he added another 24 points, through seven penalties and a drop goal, to the 31 he scored against New Zealand last week. That is a total of 81 points from his first six Test matches, a phenomenal scoring ratio.

Yet as before, Peter de Villiers’ side again disappointed when it came to turning all the pressure into tries. Australia outscored them by two tries to one, a quite bizarre fact given South Africa’s overwhelming superiority.

After Adam Ashley-Cooper's try for Australia just 100 seconds after the kick-off, Matt Giteau got another after 66 minutes. Victor Matfield got South Africa'sd only try in the 28th minute after a brilliant grubber kick to the Australian line by John Smit.

Yet it maybe that these Springboks never will expand their game sufficiently, perhaps because their coach is frightened to embrace a bolder, riskier and more attacking game plan. They lack the quality of finishing to match their excellent approach play. But can we call them the complete side whilst this situation exists ?

Certainly, to see a half time lead of 23-10 increased by just a paltry six points in the whole second half, was a huge disappointment for South African fans, especially given another superb technical performance at the breakdown by Heinrich Brussow. Having outplayed Richie McCaw in the last two weeks, Brussow this time got the better of George Smith, an extraordinary double scalp.

It appears that no side in world rugby can handle the combined pressures of forward power and super efficient goal kicking which is the crux of the South African game.

Those are the two key struts upon which Peter de Villiers is maintaining the Springboks as the No. 1 nation in world rugby. Just as New Zealand crumbled twice in recent weeks, so the increasingly harassed Wallabies struggled to survive the grilling up front and not make fundamental mistakes.

If we thought New Zealand had found some bizarre ways of conceding penalties to the all-conquering South Africans, then the Australians managed even more. Similarly dumb acts as the All Blacks had committed were replicated by some of the Wallaby players, notably Matt Giteau and Richard Brown who were both yellow carded within two minutes of each other near the end of the first half.

It piled the pressure on the visitors at Newlands and offered the Springbok juggernaut plenty of scoring opportunities.

Once again, the South African line-out was a mixture of precision, refined technique and outstanding timing. They won not just their own ball but gobbled up the Australian throw on several occasions, six in fact in the first 50 minutes alone.

This was ruinous not just to Australia’s game plan but their morale. Of course, the Springbok combination is perfect with Bakkies Botha’s power and Victor Matfield’s salmon-like leaping. The duo, who were making a world record 50 Test appearances together yesterday are the bedrock, the heartbeat of this South African side.

Surprisingly, there were times when the strong Springbok scrummage struggled, not through a lack of power but because of either poor technique or occasional lack of concentration. To see Al Baxter, the Wallaby tight head prop, driving back ‘Beast’ Mtawarira even just on a couple of occasions, was a shock and John Smit looked a little vulnerable against Ben Robinson.

But as ever with the great sides of world rugby, this was a collective effort. The commitment all over the field was immense, as Wallaby fly half Matt Giteau found early in the second half. Giteau got the ball out wide, in support of a colleague, but was suddenly enveloped by four Springboks, including forwards like Bakkies Botha and Pierre Spies who had got right across the field at speed to cover.

Later, Botha hunted down and crushed Wallaby centre Berrick Barnes like a lion bringing down a zebra in a game park. For me, Botha was the man of the match at Newlands and for sure, such commitment makes good teams great ones.