Springboks tighten grip on Tri-Nations

11 August 2009

The Springboks strengthened their chances of a third Tri-Nations title after beating Australia 29-17 at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday. It was their third win in a row in the competition, and solidified South Africa’s number one ranking in world rugby.

While the Boks remain unbeaten, both Australia and New Zealand have suffered two defeats each. With three matches remaining for John Smit and company, one more win, away from home, should be enough to take South Africa to the title.

With victories by nine points, 12 points, and 12 points over the second and third ranked teams in the world, the Springboks have scored convincing wins in their three outings. The main criticism of those wins is that the Boks have scored only four tries and conceded four too. Fair enough, but then one must ask how many tries might South Africa have scored if they had not chosen to kick those penalties.

Winning and losing

Make no mistake, both New Zealand and Australia would gladly sacrifice tries for victories. Who is the pressure on now among the coaches? Most certainly not Peter de Villiers, but All Black coach Graham Henry, after two losses to South Africa, is feeling the heat. That’s what winning and losing does.

While the Wallabies managed to match the Springboks in the scrums, they were dominated in the lineouts and rucks. This allowed South Africa to create pressure, forcing turnovers and penalties. The pressure was even evident in the card count, with three Wallabies visiting the sin bin while no South Africans were shown a card.

After edging out Richie McCaw in the first two Tri-Nations tests against the All Blacks, Bok flanker Heinrich Brussouw again upstaged a legend when he got the better of Wallaby flanker George Smith on Saturday. Brussouw has been the find of the Tri-Nations and such has been his impact and meteoric rise that he is being talked about as a possible nominee for IRB Player of the Year.

World record for lock pairing

Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha played together as a lock pairing for a world record fiftieth time. They celebrated the milestone by playing a massive role in the South African victory. Matfield, with the support of Botha, Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, and Danie Rossouw, won seven Australian throw-ins at lineout time, while Botha was one of the leaders of the Springboks’ domination of the rucks.

Morne Steyn was again outstanding in his goal kicking, and together with scrumhalf Fourie du Preez played a major part in winning the territorial battle.

The experience and composure of the South African team was on display from early on after they had conceded an early try to the Wallabies.

It came from an excellently executed move by the Australians who, after winning a lineout, moved the ball to the left. Captain Stirling Mortlock, with an angled dummy run to the inside, created some space on the outside. The ball passed sharply through the hands until it found Adam Ashley-Cooper inside of Lachie Turner.

Australian try

Sizing up the situation well, the fullback decided to hold on to the ball and ran hard into the half-gap. He shook free of a poor attempted tackle by JP Pietersen and crashed over the tryline with SA fullback Francois Steyn unable to stop his momentum.

Matt Giteau converted beautifully from the sideline to put the Australia 7-0 ahead. The packed Newlands crowd was momentarily quieted by what had been a well constructed and confidently executed try.

After eight minutes the Springboks made it onto the scoreboard when the Wallabies were caught offsides after the home side counter-attacked and took play into the Australian 22. Morne Steyn, predictably, made them pay.

In the tenth minute Steyn was again on target. This time around the Australians were pinged for obstruction as the Springboks followed up a high-up-and-under from Fourie du Preez.

South African lead

Swarming defence three minutes later saw Australia lose huge chunks of ground and when they resorted to holding onto the ball on the ground referee Alain Rolland penalised them again. Steyn stepped up and slotted the kick to put South Africa two points ahead.

The South African lead didn’t last long. After Australia had made some good ground from a quickly taken penalty, Mortlock was brought down on the SA 22-metre line on the right. The ball was passed back inside and Berrick Barnes, with a fantastic kick, nailed a left-footed drop goal to put Australia 10-9 in front.

When Australia, under great pressure, gave away another penalty at ruck time in the 20th minute, referee Rolland called both captains to warn against the constant streams of indiscretions in the rucks.

Steyn nailed yet another penalty to restore the lead to the home side.

South Africa roared back onto the attack and after sustaining the pressure for some time they were rewarded when Steyn landed a sweetly struck drop goal.

SA try

There was no let up as the Boks continued to apply the pressure and in the 27th minute they pried open the Australian defence. After setting up a ruck just outside the Aussie 22, the ball was passed to captain John Smit, standing in the flyhalf channel.

Under pressure, he stabbed through a left-footed grubber. With Bryan Habana in hot pursuit and the ball bouncing about unpredictably, the Wallabies failed to control it and Matfield, following up, managed to snaffle it and dive over the line for a try.

Thanks to Smit’s neat little kick, the five-pointer was celebrated with a good number of grins passing among the South African team.

Steyn was off target for once with his conversion attempt, but South Africa had doubled up Australia’s score at 20-10.

Horrendous challenge

In the 34th minute, Wallaby flyhalf Giteau took out Du Preez with a horrendous early challenge that caught the scrumhalf in the air. The number-10 led with his elbow and was shown a yellow card. It could have been worse.

Incredibly – and it fuelled South African fans’ perceptions that they are treated unfairly in disciplinary proceedings – Giteau wasn’t cited after the game; his “tackle” on Du Preez was certainly far worse than the one that earned Schalk Burger a ban at the 2007 World Cup.

A minute after Giteau’s departure, Australia were reduced to only 13 men when Richard Brown was blown up for playing the ball from an offside position at a ruck.

Comfortable lead

Steyn punished the Australians with yet another successful penalty kick to increase the South African lead to 23-10.

Just before the half-time whistle, Pierre Spies made a scything break through the stressed Australian defence, but was pulled up a metre short of the tryline.

The teams changed sides with SA leading 23-10 and Australian in major trouble with only 13 men on the field.

After the break, however, Australia played intelligently to keep the Boks pinned deep in their half, thanks mainly to some fine tactical play by Barnes, who had stepped in as flyhalf in the absence of Giteau. By the time Giteau and Brown returned, there had been no further damage inflicted by South Africa.

A quarter of an hour into the second stanza, the Springboks increased their lead to 16 points. Once again, it came from pressure exerted by following up a well-placed kick and by pressure at a ruck. A high-up-and-under by Morne Steyn was taken by Turner, but he received man and ball at the same time. At the resulting ruck, referee Rolland penalised the Australians once more for holding onto the ball on the ground. Steyn then kicked another three points.

Australian response

Australia scored a second try 10 minutes later after they had earned a scrum deep inside the SA 22. Giteau took the pass from Burgess drifting to the left. Then with some good stepping, he managed to stretch out and score in a covering tackle by Spies. Giteau converted his own try, leaving the score at 26-17.

At only nine points between the teams, it felt as if the gap should have been bigger between the two sides, especially after the Springboks’ rampaging first half, but the game had gone off the boil in the second half and the Australians had fought back commendably to claim a second try.

With the game into its final 10 minutes, the Springboks upped the intensity and forced their way deep into Australian territory, but the Wallabies’ admirable defence continued to hold the home team out.

Third yellow card

Then, with only a minute remaining, the Wallabies had a third player sent to the sin bin when George Smith was carded for an offence at a ruck. A penalty by Morne Steyn – a record seventh against Australia – made the final score 29-17.

The Springboks, after a very busy time in very tough tests against the British and Irish Lions, the All Blacks, and Wallabies, have a break from the international programme until 29 August. They then resume their Tri-Nations campaign against the Wallabies in Perth.

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material