It takes an exceptional performance to beat these Wallabies, and while Francois Pienaar's Springboks have yet to prove themselves an exceptional team, their performance in winning yesterday's spine-tingling opening World Cup match was quite, quite exceptional.
With Newlands en fete, South Africa allowed neither the occasion - riddled with emotion after an extraordinarily moving opening ceremony and gut- wrenching tension because of where they were and what they were doing - nor the reputation of the opposition to overcome them. Instead it was Australia, previously-known for cool heads as well as stout hearts, who succumbed.
The holders had made a decent beginning to their defence of the Webb Ellis Trophy, but once Michael Lynagh had scored a dazzling, archetypally Australian try after half an hour they entirely lost their grip on the game and at the same time loosened their grip on the cup. Had it not occurred before our very eyes, we would scarcely have believed it possible.
It was not that the Springboks had any very impressive pattern to their game, for there was no special subtlety to their running and passing, nothing fancy about the way they smashed straight at the Australian defence. But for raw passion and indomitability, this was as good as you could get and it reduced the Wallabies to an error-prone nervousness that had seemed more likely to be shown by the South Africans.
Instead Pienaar and the rest drew nothing but inspiration from the palpable sense of unity, of the Rainbow Nation coalescing, reflected in the warmth of the greeting for President Nelson Mandela from the overwhelmingly white crowd (although there were more non-white faces than when England were here last year).
The preliminaries, both in the weeks leading to this tournament and the pre-match celebration, had dripped with symbolism from the moment the Springboks adopted "One team, one country" as their slogan, and on such a beautiful day as this it was impossible not to be persuaded that it was true.
The fact that it is now the Wallabies who, barring an unthinkable result elsewhere, will have to tackle England in the quarter-finals was possibly the last thing on their minds in the ecstasy of the moment. But it is the Springboks who all of a sudden have the relatively easier path towards the final in a month's time. Even if Australia beat England - by no means certain on this startling evidence - they could then expect to have to do it all over again against New Zealand. And even then there would still be a final to play.
The dramatic turn of yesterday's events could never have been predicted. Lynagh had kicked two penalties and Joel Stransky three when Australia scored their try, a stunning example of their ability to sustain the continuity of a move that constantly threatened to break down. By the time Australia's captain finally crossed the South African line, the ball had passed through 18 pairs of hands and play was in its seventh phase. As well as Lynagh, Eales, Ofahengaue, Gavin, Gregan, Little, Campese and Herbert were all involved.
Lynagh also converted, at which point the Wallabies' nerves should, in theory anyway, have been settling and the Springboks' jangling. But instead the 'Boks calmly regrouped and five minutes after the Lynagh try scored a good one of their own.
James Dalton having led the charge up one wing, when the ball came back through Van der Westhuizen and Stransky, Mulder threw a long pass to Small and Pieter Hendriks brushed off David Campese's badly misjudged tackle to score the try.
From here on, Australia were not in the game until it was too late. Despite obliterating the South African line-out, their wealth of possession was of no value because the Springboks bottled up the midfield superbly and even reduced Campese to fumbling ineffectuality.
In the second half South Africa pushed further ahead with two more penalties and a drop goal by Stransky before Australia's unlikely fate was settled by a second Springbok try, scored and converted by Stransky, after Straeuli and Van der Westhuizen had combined from a short-range scrum.
The Wallabies' time was almost up when Lynagh sent Phil Kearns in for a consolation try. When Lynagh missed the conversion, joy that had been steadily simmering became unconfined. What the Rainbow Nation hardly dared to believe has started to come true.
SOUTH AFRICA: A Joubert; J Small (Natal), J Mulder, H le Roux, P Hendriks (all Transvaal); J Stransky (Western Province), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); P du Randt (Orange Free State), J Dalton, S Swart (both Transvaal), M Andrews (Natal), J Strydom (Transvaal), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), R Straeuli, F Pienaar (capt, both Transvaal). Replacement: G Pagel (Western Province) for Swart, 68.
AUSTRALIA: M Pini (Queensland); D Campese (New South Wales), D Herbert, J Little, D Smith; M Lynagh (capt, all Queensland), G Gregan (Australian Capital Territory); D Crowley (Queensland), P Kearns, E McKenzie (all NSW), R McCall, J Eales (both Queensland), W Ofahengaue, T Gavin (both NSW), D Wilson (Queensland).
Referee: D Bevan (Wales).
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