Whatever the explanation for Australia’s decision to treat Saturday’s Tri-Nations Test match as little more than a game of beach rugby in the sunshine, certain facts are undeniable about the South Africans’ performance.
Despite their coach’s denials, manifested by a sullen “it wouldn’t be fair to say that” answer to suggestions that the Springboks had played a more structured game, the evidence was there before our eyes.
Three of the South Africans four first half tries were created by positions established from long kicks downfield or skywards by Butch James. His vastly improved tactical kicking was reminiscent of Daniel Carter’s against Australia in Auckland earlier in the tournament when the All Blacks, like the Springboks on Saturday, had turned the tables on their Australian foes.
Instead of trying to run everything haphazardly out of defence as they had done previously, the South Africans used the aerial route to make significant territorial gains. Then they struck with ball in hand. This was proof that even de Villiers had accepted the need for more pragmatism in his side’s game, a greater structure and a proper platform before launching the running attacks.
South Africa also kept their play much simpler than at any previous time in this Tri-Nations competition and they stayed on their feet at the breakdown. They made the ball do the work and that was sufficient because there were so many holes in the Australian defence. All they needed to show was an ability to time a pass and exploit space. Given the hari-kiri approach of the Wallabies, the Springboks could settle down, stay calm and simply await the next score. It was always just around the corner against so woeful an outfit as Australia on this particular day.
The worthy Percy Montgomery said afterwards, in announcing his retirement from Test rugby after 102 caps, that the decision had been coming for some time. But the amount of room donated by Australia in this game (you couldn’t call it a contest) must have had Percy pondering whether to play on. Springbok wing Jongi Nokwe certainly wanted to, but a leg injury incurred in scoring his fourth try in the first 49 minutes (a new Tri-Nations record for a single game) forced him off.
South Africa led 27-3 by half time and the match was over. But proper Test match rugby isn’t like this. Teams don’t go out and just throw the ball anywhere, run from crazy positions and fall off tackles everywhere. Not unless they have a death wish. The second half was like a slightly elevated training session with wave after wave of attacks raining down on defenders with only a limited interest in stopping them. Four more tries ensued.
Therefore, de Villiers’ talk later that someone was always bound to get a hiding if the ‘Boks got things together, was premature.
But the Springbok coach added “We are still only at 60-70% of where we want to be. We can work on staying on our feet at the breakdown and chase our kicks better. But what we saw today is what I expect of this team.”
But now the Springboks have to show this was not the one-off freak it looked due to the Australians’ palpable disinterest.
The Wallabies, with their minds clearly on the final match of the competition against New Zealand in Brisbane on Saturday week which will determine the winners, were far from morose. Coach Robbie Deans said “I’m not sure I can even be bothered to explain this. Today was South Africa’s day, they were desperate and uninhibited.”
What has been surprising from the South African viewpoint is that it has taken them the whole Tri-Nations season to start coming to terms with the new game plan demanded by their coach. That showed you how deep the psyche of structure and organisation had gone in the Jake White era.
Tries: Nokwe (4), Bekker, Jacobs, Pienaar, Ndungane.
Cons: James (3), Montgomery (2)
Pen. Gl: James
Pen. Gl: Giteau
SOUTH AFRICA: C. Jantjes; O. Ndungane (sub. L. Watson 60 mins), A. Jacobs (sub. O. Ndungane 73 mins), J. de Villiers, J. Nokwe (sub. P. Montgomery 50 mins); B. James (sub. R. Pienaar 57 mins), F. du Preez (sub. R. Januarie 60 mins); T. Mtawarira, B. du Plessis (sub. A. Strauss 71 mins), B. Mujati sub. J. du Plessis (46 mins), A. Bekker (sub. D. Rossouw 73 mins), V. Matfield (Capt.), S. Burger, J. Smith, P. Spies.
AUSTRALIA: A. Ashley-Cooper; P. Hynes (sub. D. Mitchell 51 mins), S. Mortlock (Capt.), T. Tahu (sub. R. Cross 50 mins), L. Tuqiri; M. Giteau, S. Cordingley; B. Robinson (sub. M. Dunning 57 mins), T. Polota-Nau (sub. S. Moore 70 mins), M. Dunning (sub. A. Baxter 30 mins), J. Horwill, H. McMeniman (sub. D. Mumm 70 mins), R. Elsom, P. Waugh (sub. G. Smith 47 mins), W. Palu.
REFEREE: B. Lawrence (New Zealand)Reuse content