Springboks slip up Down Under

7 September 2009

The Springboks’ bid to wrap up their third Tri-Nations title came up short in Brisbane on Saturday when a fired-up Wallaby team beat the world champions 21-6.

The hosts managed to play more of the game in South Africa’s half and showed some dominance at scrum time, although their efforts were aided by referee Wayne Barnes, who had the Boks scratching their heads as he blew up both props, Beast Mtawarira and John Smit.

Make no mistake, the Australians deserved to win as they managed to apply pressure throughout and were ultimately rewarded with the test’s only two tries. But Barnes’ lack of policing at ruck time was well exploited by the Wallabies. They managed to disrupt South African ball with tactics that many other referees would have blown up.

‘No excuses’

However, a grim looking Springbok captain John Smit said after the contest: “There are no excuses. Excuses are for losers, so we have no excuses.

“We’ll have to do the job against the All Blacks in Hamilton next week. We’ve got one more chance, one game, and we have to make the most of our opportunity.”

While South Africa enjoyed the better of the lineouts, Smit suggested that the Boks expected more of themselves at the set piece: “We won all our lineout ball,” he said, “but by our standards we need to be winning at least half of theirs.”

Wallaby skipper George Smith, after four Tri-Nations losses in succession, was thrilled to be on the winning side again. “I’m far happier with our effort,” he said.

‘Fantastic’

“We put a lot of work in, not only this week but throughout the Tri-Nations, and to get the reward now is fantastic.”

Smith continued: “Well done to the Springboks for resisting us so well for the majority of the match, but in the end we made our possession and territory count. There was a collective understanding for us that we had to repay the Australian public for their loyalty.”

Reflecting back on the match and where his team had excelled, Smith said: “I was very impressed with the way we scrummed and the way we handled the lineouts. There’s a few things we need to work on, but I’m just delighted with the outcome.”

While Smith felt he knew where the Wallabies had got it right, SA captain Smit couldn’t quite put his finger on where it went wrong for the Springboks. “It’s hard to pinpoint where it went wrong,” he said. “We had our moments and just couldn’t put it together.”

‘The new grey area of rugby’

Bok coach Peter de Villiers was clearly unimpressed by referee Barnes’ decisions at scrum time. He called the scrums “the new grey area of rugby”, adding: “You do not know which way it is going to go, and sometimes it is more guesswork.”

Early on in the contest, Jacques Fourie made a sharp break, but South Africa’s progress was stopped inside the Wallabies’ 22-metre area when they turned over possession. It was the first of what would prove to be a good number of breaks by Fourie and his centre partner Jean de Villiers.

Australia took the lead after five minutes when Bakkies Botha was blown up for being offsides. Matt Giteau stuck over the penalty.

Brilliant tackle

The Wallabies looked odds-on to score after 16 minutes when winger Lachie Turner received the ball in space on the right hand flank. He raced for the corner and dived for the line. However, Bryan Habana was flying across from the left in cover defence and hit Turner in mid-air and knocked him out of play with a brilliant tackle.

Just two minutes later Habana was back at it again, this time stopping Giteau from scoring after the flyhalf had broken through the South African defence before failing to beat the winger in a one-on-one situation.

After South Africa forced their way deep into Australian territory, a clearance from the Wallabies found Habana. He tried a long distance dropped goal, but he hit the ball badly and the kick was way off target.

De Villiers then made a sharp break through the Australian backline. He fed Fourie, who cut inside and was then brought down only five metres from the tryline. The ball control at the ruck wasn’t good, however, and the ball went loose. Fourie du Preez charged down an attempted clearance before the Australians were finally able to clear their lines.

Lead doubled

After 25 minutes Australia doubled their lead to 6-0 when Heinrich Brussouw was penalised for playing the ball with his foot while lying on the ground at a ruck. Giteau slotted the easy kick.

The Springboks responded by surging onto the attack and after a couple of minutes of pressure and retained possession, Morne Steyn struck a drop goal to get South Africa onto the scoreboard.

Not to be outdone, Giteau snapped over a drop goal of his own six minutes later, to put Australia 9-3 ahead.

Four minutes from the break, Steyn became the fastest South African to 100 test points when he kicked a penalty after replacement hooker Stephen Moore was blown up for playing the ball on the ground. His achievement is all the more remarkable when one considers that in his eight tests, he has come on as a substitute three times.

Just before the break, the Springboks launched an attack that took them deep into the Australian 22. From a ruck, Du Preez fed Brussouw and he dived over the tryline to score. Referee Barnes, however, ruled the scrumhalf’s pass forward and the Boks were denied points.

Second half

South Africa started the second half well and a monster tackle by captain Smit on Moore forced a turnover. The Boks made ground into the Australian 22 but, as happened often during the game, they turned over possession while in a good attacking position.

Steyn attempted a second drop goal four minutes into the second period, but he didn’t strike the ball cleanly and it passed just to the left of the posts.

A sweeping Australian attack saw Rocky Elsom make good ground before Bismarck du Plessis was pinged, rather questionably, at a ruck only 10 metres from the South African tryline. Wallaby scrumhalf Will Genia took a quick tap and dived over the line. His opposite number, Fourie du Preez, however, ripped the ball loose as Genia went over to prevent an Australian score.

Counter-attack

Australia continued to do most of the pressing, forcing the Springboks to play from deep inside their own half. The pressure nearly paid off just after the hour mark when the Wallabies launched a counter-attack, using the width of the field.

A grubber into the left hand corner of the South African 22 was fielded by Adi Jacobs, on for an injured Bryan Habana, just before a number of chasing Australian backline players. Caught right up against the sideline, only five metres from the tryline, Jacobs flung a pass inside over his shoulder. Giteau, however, snatched the pass out of the air and dived for the corner.

Fourie reacted quickly and hit the flyhalf with a strong tackle. The television match official was called on to rule on whether or not Giteau had scored and replays showed that Fourie had forced him over the sideline before the ball had been grounded.

Try

Only two minutes later, the Wallabies scored the opening try of the match. A well-executed backline move freed up Adam Ashley-Cooper and a nicely judged pass from Berrick Barnes put Ashley-Cooper through a gap. Substitute Schalk Burger was too late on the cover defence and the centre ran through unopposed to score.

Giteau added the extras to put Australia 16-6 ahead.

The Wallabies continued to keep the Springboks pinned in their own half, which led to the Boks trying to play from very deep.

With four minutes remaining, scrumhalf Du Preez attempted to launch a counter-attack, but when he was tackled by Elsom the ball went loose. There was a suggestion that the big flanker might have knocked on, but referee Barnes waved play on.

Victorys secured

Wallaby fullback James O’Conner scooped up the loose ball and found himself in the clear. He raced through to score the Wallabies’ second try and secure the victory.

Giteau missed the conversion, but not long after that the final whistle sounded and the Springboks were left without a point from the match.

This coming weekend, in Hamilton, John Smit and company can wrap up the Tri-Nations title if they, at the very least, hold New Zealand without a bonus point. The Springboks, however, have bigger ambitions than that, and they want to capture the Tri-Nations silverware with a victory.

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