1 September 2008
Recent unhappy thoughts of a disappointing Tri-Nations 2008 campaign were erased at the weekend as the Springboks ended their competition with a record 53-8 victory over the Wallabies. The win brought the curtain down on Percy Montgomery’s outstanding career.
South Africa entered their final Tri-Nations match needing a win to avoid a first-ever home whitewash in the southern hemisphere’s flagship rugby competition. Incredibly, when the dust had settled on their clash in Johannesburg, the Boks had prevented that ignominious record with a sensational 45-point victory.
South Africa’s loss to the Aussies at the Absa Stadium in Durban had been the world champion’s third on the trot and after that lacklustre performance they had come in for heavy criticism in the week leading up to the clash at Coca-Cola Park (formerly Ellis Park).
Most experts felt the Boks needed more structure in their approach. The question was whether or not it would be on show in Johannesburg, and what effect it would have on the Springboks’ play.
The answers to the questions were clear: there was more structure on show on Saturday and with it came more opportunities. By making effective use of those opportunities, the Springboks raced to a record margin of victory over the Wallabies as they outscored them by eight tries to one.
The score makes clear the dominance that South Africa enjoyed in all phases of play. The direction that was absent in their disheartening losses earlier in the Tri-Nations was back and Springbok fans were treated to a rich dollop of traditional Bok rugby.
The effectiveness of the approach that had won South Africa the 2007 Rugby World Cup left one wondering why there was ever an attempt to play the game in any other way. It also left Bok supporters hoping that their team will from now on stick to the tried, tested, and successful.
Australia were first on the scoreboard after five minutes of play when, after they had kept the Springboks pinned in their half of the field, Butch James was trapped offsides. Matt Giteau slotted an easy penalty attempt to put his team 3-0 ahead.
South Africa went onto the attack from the restart and eventually capitalised from a knock on by Wallaby skipper Stirling Mortlock. The Boks moved the ball left, but looked pretty static until Andries Bekker ran onto a pass into a gap and raced through to dot down. Butch James converted to increase SA’s lead to 7-3.
Only three minutes later, South Africa had crossed for a second five-pointer. Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez took a quick tap and spun the ball wide. Jean de Villiers drew a defender and passed to Jongi Nokwe for an easy run-in. James was wide with his kick, but the Boks’ lead had grown to nine points at 12-3 in front.
Australia had an opportunity to get back into the game four minutes later, but Lote Tuquri dropped a pass with an open goal line in front of him.
After 25 minutes, the Springboks extended their lead. The Australians were shoved off the ball after a scrum near their own try line and South Africa made them pay for conceding the tighthead; Du Preez moved it wide and after a few pick ‘n drives Nokwe was freed up for another easy canter over the line.
James was off target with conversion, but South Africa’s lead had grown to 17-3.
The flyhalf had another kick at goal shortly afterwards from right in front after Springbok pressure led to the Wallabies conceding a penalty. This time he was on target and SA led 20-3.
Bok loosehead prop “Beast” Mtawarira had been making Matt Dunning’s life miserable in the front row and after just 32 minutes the Australian coaching staff had seen enough as Al Baxter substituted Dunning.
Four minutes the Springboks scored their bonus point try and Nokwe again benefited after he found himself on the end of an overlap once more. Schalk Burger made a break from a lineout before finding De Villiers with a pass. He pulled three defenders in before releasing Nokwe to cross for a hat-trick of tries.
Butch James added the extras and South Africa took a 27-3 lead, which was the score when the halftime whistle sounded.
Any concerns that the Springboks might go off the boil in the second half were quickly dispelled when they added a fifth try only three minutes into the second stanza.
De Villiers made a break and his centre partner Adi Jacobs, running a good angle, burst through the Australian defence. A neat sidestep wrong-footed the last defender as Jacobs raced through for a long-distance try.
James kicked the conversion and South Africa were 34-3 ahead.
After 50 minutes the lead was extended as Nokwe scored a Tri-Nations’ record fourth try in a single game.
A clever grubber kick by Conrad Jantjes was gathered by Odwa Ndungane and left wing Nokwe, looking for work on the right, was on hand to take the offload from Ndungane and crash over for another try. Unfortunately for the flyer, he was injured in the act of scoring and had to be substituted.
James missed the kick, but the lead had been extended to an astonishing margin of 39-3.
A few minutes later Matt Giteau intercepted and ran through to dot down for the shellshocked Aussies, but the try was disallowed and the flyhalf penalised for straying offsides.
Not long afterwards, though, the Wallabies finally cracked the South African defences. After retaining possession through a number of phases, they worked the ball up to the Springbok try line. They then moved the ball quickly to the left where Drew Mitchell crossed in the corner for the five-pointer.
The conversion attempt by Giteau was wide of the mark, leaving the score at 39-8.
After about 15 minutes without a change to the score, Ruan Pienaar, on for James at flyhalf, scored the Springboks’ seventh try with a brilliant solo effort during which he beat three defenders before crashing over near the uprights.
Percy Montgomery knocked over the conversion to put South Africa 46-8 ahead.
Nail in the coffin
Two minutes from the end the Boks struck again to make their victory margin over the Wallabies their biggest ever. Substitute Danie Rossouw made a powerful run that split the Australian defence and then committed the final defender to the tackle before passing to Odwa Ndungane, who rounded off the move.
Montgomery added the extras to make the final score 53-8.
It was a vastly improved performance by the Springboks and the woes at the breakdown where Victor Matfield and company had played second fiddle during their three successive losses were comprehensively rectified; more players were committed to the loose ball and SA bossed the breakdown.
The pack, with “Beast” Mtawarira to the fore, dominated the set scrums and the lineouts, which had been strangely unreliable in Durban, were more solid.
South Africa’s defence, upon which Springbok teams pride themselves, regained its hard-hitting edge and the game plan that won the Boks a World Cup was once more in evidence.
Coach Peter de Villiers insisted the Springboks were still a long way off the level they could achieve, putting their performance at only 60 to 70 percent of its potential. However, observers have by now learnt to take his pronouncements with a pinch of salt.
SA skipper Victor Matfield, upon whom cheers rained down during the after-match interviews, praised his team, saying their character had shown itself when the pressure was at its greatest.
Australia’s coach Robbie Deans quipped: “We’ve already seen in this tournament how little it takes to go from being a victor and enjoying the experience to a loser and not enjoying the experience.”
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