31 August 2009
The Springboks are on the verge of claiming their first Tri-Nations title since 2004 after beating the Wallabies 32-25 in Perth on Saturday with a commanding performance that also netted the Boks a four-try bonus point.
With scrumhalf Fourie du Preez controlling the game from the base of the South African scrum, the Springboks took control of the contest from the start by running in two tries within the first 10 minutes.
Following their three victories at home, many overseas-based media outlets had taken to criticising the style of rugby used by the Boks in their wins – calling it boring, predictable, and kick-and-chase – but in Perth the South African side demonstrated that it has the ability to play a number of different styles of rugby and still win.
One man who was not critical of John Smit and company was the Wallaby coach, Robbie Deans, who said after the match: “The Boks scored four tries and have always been a side capable of playing any which way they choose.
“Their first priority was to win the Tri-Nations and they have done that easily and, to be fair, convincingly. They have played the way they had to do to achieve that.”
Interestingly, while there has been criticism of the Springboks’ manner of victory during this season’s Tri-Nations competition, neither Australia nor New Zealand have been setting the world alight with try-scoring.
The All Blacks, usually acknowledged for their ability to run the ball, have scored only four tries in four matches. The Wallabies have managed six tries and the Springboks eight, and the Boks are the only team to claim a four-try bonus point in the Tri-Nations this year.
The bottom line is that fans want wins; style is secondary to the result. And the bottom line in the Tri-Nations is that South Africa needs only two points from the team’s two remaining matches to secure the Tri-Nations title. They face the Wallabies in Brisbane on Saturday and then finish their campaign against the All Blacks in Hamilton a week later.
Springbok captain John Smit, looking ahead, acknowledged that the Boks don’t have a good away record in the Tri-Nations, but said there is an opportunity for the side to change that. With confidence, experience, and far-less experienced opposition, Smit’s men have a good chance to achieve the results he is hoping for.
The victory in Perth was more convincing than the scoreboard indicated as South Africa built up a big 32-12 lead before two late tries earned the Wallabies a measure of consolation. But from the first minute to the last, it was the Springboks in charge.
From the kick-off, Aussie flanker Richard Brown failed to deal with a kick from Fourie du Preez and the Boks won an attacking lineout. A break by Jean de Villiers put his centre partner Jaque Fourie through, but he was brought down just five metres from the tryline.
The Boks were blown up for obstruction and the danger was averted, but being penalised became a regular feature in the game. South Africa were blown up 15 times to Australia’s four on the day, but they still won convincingly.
Five minutes into the contest, South Africa opened the scoring. After a drive by the forward pack to just outside the Australian 22, the ball was moved wide to the left, with Morne Steyn and Jean de Villiers making inroads before passing to Bryan Habana. When he was brought down, the Wallabies infringed at the ruck and the Springboks were awarded a penalty.
Du Preez, summing up the situation perfectly, took a quick tap, and with a number of Australian backs turned, scythed through the defenders before bursting through two tackles on the tryline to score. Steyn added the extras to put South Africa into a 7-0 lead.
Four minutes later, the Springboks had try number two. From a scrum, the Boks moved the ball left and Steyn found Jaque Fourie with a superb flat pass, in a gap and almost already through it when he received it. The big centre side-stepped fullback James O’Connor to dot down next to the uprights.
Unbelievably, Steyn missed the conversion, leaving South Africa 12-0 ahead.
Australian kicking woes
Australia had an opportunity to put their first points on the scoreboard when Smit was penalised at a ruck, but Giteau was off target with his kick at goal.
Steyn then showed how kicking was meant to be done when he knocked over a penalty from the right touchline after Ben Alexander has been blown up at scrum time.
Giteau missed another shot at posts after Heinrich Brussouw was penalised for going offsides. Finally, however, in the 26th minute, Australia scored their first points when Giteau hit the mark after Bismarck du Plessis had been pinged for not rolling away at a ruck.
On the half-four mark, Steyn was wide right with a penalty attempt after the Springboks had forced the Australians onto the back foot with a strong driving maul.
Shortly after that, South Africa scored their third try. Giteau kicked deep from a drop out and Du Preez fielded the ball. His high-up-and-under came down outside the Australian 22, wide on the South African left. Under pressure from De Villiers, Lachie Turner fumbled the catch and knocked the ball into the hands of Habana. The Springbok flyer rounded the home side’s defence on the touchline and raced over for the five-pointer.
Steyn’s conversion put the Springboks into a 22-3 lead.
Giteau responded with a penalty for Australia, but at half-time the home team trailed 22-6.
Two minutes after the break, the Wallabies scored their first try of the game. After winning a penalty at a ruck deep inside the Boks’ 22, Australia took a quick tap and the ball was passed to Giteau. He broke inside off his left foot, between two tackles and somehow forced his way over under the uprights, stretching out his right arm to touch down.
He converted his own try to reduce South Africa’s advantage to 22-13.
Set move rewarded
Habana should have scored South Africa’s fourth try, but he knocked on with the tryline at his mercy. He made up for it only moments later, however, when he went over after a good set move from a scrum.
Spies fed Du Preez from the base of the scrum and the scrumhalf raced into a gap to draw the defenders towards him. As he was about to be tackled he released a skip pass past De Villiers, who was virtually on his shoulder, to Habana. The winger had doubled around the centre and was in the clear. He went over for his second try of the match and South Africa’s bonus point score.
Steyn’s successful conversion put the Springboks at least three scores ahead at 29-13.
In the 65th minute, the Boks were finally on the right side of a penalty decision at scrum time by referee Bryce Lawrence. Steyn struck another penalty to extend South Africa’s advantage to 19 points.
Late Australian flourish
With five minutes left in the game, the Wallabies crossed for their second try. Substitute Quade Cooper created space for Giteau behind him by running out wide and then releasing the flyhalf into the gap with a well-executed inside pass. Giteau went over for his second try under the posts, but was wide with his conversion attempt when he hurriedly tried a drop kick.
In the final minute, Australia earned a bonus point for finishing within seven points of the Springboks, which, truth be told, was not a fair reflection of the game. From inside the South Africa 22, Lachie Turner burst through a muddle of bodies dotted on the ground where a ruck had taken place only moments earlier and went over for a try.
Giteau converted to make it 32-25 and the final whistle sounded on Australia’s fourth loss in succession in the 2009 Tri-Nations competition.
It was South Africa’s fourth win in succession – two victories over Australia and two victories over New Zealand.
One more win would ensure the Springboks the Tri-Nations title. However, just two bonus points from their remaining two matches would be enough.
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