Whatever the explanation for Australia's decision to treat this match as little more than a game of beach rugby, certain facts are undeniable about South Africa's performance.
Despite the coach, Peter de Villiers, answering "It wouldn't be fair to say that" to suggestions that the Springboks had played a more structured game at Ellis Park, the evidence was there to see. Three of the South Africans' four first-half tries came from positions established by long kicks downfield, or skywards, by the fly-half, Butch James. Instead of trying to run everything out of defence, the Boks used the aerial route to make significant territorial gains. Then they struck, with the ball in hand.
South Africa kept their play simple, more than at any previous time in this Tri-Nations, 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 the home side needed to show was an ability to time a pass and to exploit space and the next score was always just around the corner.
The full-back Percy Montgomery said, in announcing his retirement from Tests after 102 caps, the last of them off the bench here, that his decision had been coming for some time. But the amount of room donated by Australia must have had him pondering whether to play on. The Springbok wing Jongi Nokwe certainly wanted to, but a leg injury incurred in scoring his fourth try in the first 49 minutes – a Tri-Nations record – forced him off the field. Montgomery replaced him for his last hurrah.
South Africa led 27-3 by the break and the match was over. Proper Test rugby is not like this. Teams do not go out and just throw the ball anywhere, run from crazy positions and fall off tackles. 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 who had 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. The Springbok coach said: "We are still only at 60-70 per cent 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."
The Springboks have to show that this was not the one-off it looked, due to the Australians' lack of interest. The Wallabies, with their minds on the final match of the competition, against New Zealand in Brisbane on Saturday week, which will determine the destination of the title, were far from morose. Their 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 a whole season to come to terms with the new game plan demanded by their new coach.
South Africa: Tries Nokwe 4, Bekker, Jacobs, Pienaar, Ndungane; Conversions James 3, Montgomery 2; Penalty James. Australia: Try Mitchell Penalty Giteau.
South Africa: C Jantjes; O Ndungane (L Watson, 60), A Jacobs (Ndungane, 73), J de Villiers, J Nokwe (P Montgomery, 50); B James (R Pienaar, 57), F du Preez (R Januarie, 60); T Mtawarira, B du Plessis (A Strauss, 71), B Mujati (J du Plessis, 46), A Bekker (D Rossouw, 73), V Matfield (capt), S Burger, J Smith, P Spies.
Australia: A Ashley-Cooper; P Hynes (D Mitchell, 51), S Mortlock (capt), T Tahu (R Cross, 50), L Tuqiri; M Giteau, S Cordingley; B Robinson (M Dunning, 57), T Polota-Nau (S Moore, 70), M Dunning (A Baxter, 30), J Horwill, H McMeniman (D Mumm, 70), R Elsom, P Waugh (G Smith, 47), W Palu.
Referee: B Lawrence (New Zealand).Reuse content