Springboks out of World Cup in nailbiter

9 October 2011

The Springboks dominated the game, but the Wallabies somehow escaped with an 11-9 victory in the Rugby World quarterfinals on Sunday in Wellington.

One short period of loose play cost the Boks the contest as they staked the Aussies an 8-0 lead in the first half. The Springboks and their coaching brains trust will, however, be shaking their heads, wondering how they lost a match they dominated so clearly on the statistics sheet.

South Africa enjoyed a 76 percent to 24 percent territorial advantage, and led the possession stakes 56 percent to 44 percent. The Boks made 53 tackles, the Australians almost three times as many with 147!

Credit the Australians for a massive defensive effort, but it could be something that comes back to haunt them when they play their semi-final next weekend; one cannot imagine how they won’t suffer some negative side affect from the strains of the game against the Boks.

Lineouts and rucks

With Victor Matfield leading the way, South Africa bossed the lineouts. However, at ruck time, referee Bryce Lawrence was less than consistent and allowed a lot of slowing down of the ball. Given the Springboks’ dominance, it was Australia who got away with most of it.

At flank, Schalk Burger was a colossus, playing like the dynamo that took the international scene by storm way back in 2004. How a man of his size puts in the the hits and metres that he does is astounding.

The South African front row, too, stood out, with Gurthro Steenkamp showing the form that earned him a South African Player of the Year Award in 2010.

Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez found his range with his tactical kicking and made it a very uncomfortable contest for Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper and fullback Kurtley Beale.

Jean de Villiers, back in the team with Frans Steyn out through injury, excelled and made a number of sharp incisions into the Australian defence.

‘A ding-dong battle’

Interviewed on the field after the game, Springbok captain John Smit said: “It’s just sad the way it ended. It really was a ding-dong battle between two good teams.

“Australia did well to keep it together under pressure, but I think both teams really put it to each other,” he added.

Asked how it felt to lose a match his team had dominated so much, Smit said: “It makes it hurt that much more. We really went in at half-time saying we need to hold onto the ball and get through phases. We did that and were patient.

“You know, a couple of missed opportunities, a drop kick, a try with Fourie [du Preez], a forward pass to Patty [Lambie]. We did enough to win this game, but we just weren’t accurate enough.”

‘A huge effort’

A battle-scarred Wallaby skipper, James Horwill, lauded his team-mates’ effort. “It was a huge effort from the boys,” he said.

“We started probably the way we really wanted to, and we knew that South Africa are such a good side, experienced, and they were going to come back, and we had some real issues in the second half there to clear out ball, and they put us under a lot of pressure, so I’m really, really proud of the way the guys fought and dug in.

“That was a huge effort that took everything we had.”

For South African coach Peter de Villiers, the loss was about not taking opportunities. “Quarterfinals, semi-finals, finals, it’s all about taking your chances. We had a few and we never converted them into points. Well done to them, they took their chances, and they’re through,” he said.

Two very tense looking teams took to the field in beautiful, sunny conditions, and early on South African showed some dominance in the set scrums, forcing Australia onto the backfoot. The Boks also dominated territory until the eleventh minute.

Captain’s try

After turning over ball, Australia ventured into South African territory for the first time, although the Boks had a throw-in inside their 22. The ball was driven up after it had been won, but it popped out as a ruck was formed. Pat McCabe was stopped by a solid tackle, but Wallaby captain James Horwill had looped around. He took McCabe’s pass and crashed over the whitewash to give his side the lead.

James O’Connor missed the conversion, but Australia had scored points the first time they were on offer.

Kurtley Beale then made whis only telling break of the game after fielding a high-up-and-under and bursting through the Springbok defensive line. He passed inside to Stephen Moore, but Schalk Burger had tracked the hooker and dragged him down 10 metres short of the tryline.

Penalty

After a quarter-of-an-hour the Aussies extended their lead to 8-0. Referee Lawrence pinged the Boks for hands-in at a ruck and O’Connor knocked over the kick from inside the 22.

Heinrich Brussouw left the field shortly after that with a rib injury. Francois Louw came on in his place.

South Africa surged back onto the attack and put the Wallabies under huge pressure after forcing turnover. Australia, though, regained possession near their posts in one of a number of incidents that could have been deemed “hands-in” by the men in yellow.

The Springboks had an opportunity to get onto the board in the 27th minute when Australia were blown up for going offsides. The kick was from 50 metres out, just left of the uprights, but Morne Steyn’s effort passed to the left and the eight-point gap remained.

A South African counter-attack almost produced points, but a kick through by Morne Steyn was snatched out of the air by Will Genia

The Boks then spurned an opportunity to kick at posts when they were awarded a penalty inside the Australian 22. They opted to set up a lineout five metres from the tryline, but conceded possession at a ruck.

On the board

With two minutes left of the half, South Africa finally got onto the scoreboard. David Pocock, who did a fantastic job of slowing the Springboks’ ball down all night, was blown up for being offsides and Steyn slotted an easy kick from just 24 metres to make it 8-3 in favour of the Wallabies.

With time up, Louw forced another penalty with an superb tackle and steal from Genia. There was no time to kick for a lineout and attack from there, so Steyn went for posts from 49 metres out, right on the left-hand touchline. His effort was left of the mark and the teams went into the break with the score South Africa 3, Australia 8.

South Africa once again swung onto the attack in the second half and five minutes in looked to have finally breached the Australian defensive line. Du Preez placed a nasty high-up-and-under on Cooper, who was tackled and then driven over as the Springboks forced a turnover.

Forward pass

The ball was moved quickly to the right where De Villiers made a nice outside break. He passed outside to Pat Lambie, who raced over the tryline, but the referee, correctly, deemed the pass forward.

Just 10 minutes into the second stanza, coach De Villiers rolled the dice by bringing op his two most impactful substitutes at the World Cup, with Bismarck du Plessis replacing John Smit and Francois Hougaard taking over from Bryan Habana.

South Africa’s dominance of the lineout was underlined in the 55th minute when Australia conceded a penalty by going through the Bok line. It was 15 metres in from the left touchline and 24 metres out. No problem for Steyn, who made it South Africa 6, Australia 8.

Almost immediately the Australians were under huge pressure again as Bismarck du Plessis charged down a Cooper 22-metre drop out.

South Africa in front

On the hour-mark, South Africa hit the front. It began with a lineout steal from Matfield, then a turnover from a well-placed hugh-up-and-under, and it ended with a coolly taken drop goal from Steyn.

Willem Alberts then entered the fray in the 64th minute, replacing Pierre Spies at eighthman.

With the Springboks still dominating territory, they came ever so close to extending their lead with 12 minutes to play. The Wallabies desperately cleared their line from some suffocating South African defence and Pat Lambie fielded the ball. He took his time and let fly with a drop kick that shaved the right hand upright, just on the wrong side.

A clever kick by Berrick Barnes forced South Africa back into their own territory where Australia subsequently won a lineout. Danie Roussouw, in an act uncharacteristic of the discipline shown by the Springboks, pulled Radike Samo down at a lineout and conceded a penalty.

Final points

James O’Connor nailed the opportunity and Australia went back into the lead by 11 points nine with eight minutes to play.

South Africa fought manfully to force another scoring chance, but their efforts came to nought as the Wallabies celebrated an extremely hard-fought victory when the final whistle sounded.

South African nation proud

Miller Matola, CEO of Brand South Africa, said in a statement after the game: “Despite their loss the Springbok team has made the South African nation proud. Throughout the country, indeed throughout the world, millions of South Africans have played their part by waving our flag with hope and wearing our jersey with pride – all in support of our team.

“Once again we have demonstrated the unifying and uplifting power of sport. Indeed, we are world-renowned not just for sporting excellence, but for showing how sport can unite a nation and make history.

“In New Zealand, our global South African community have further enhanced our reputation for friendliness, passion and pride in our nation.

“As Brand South Africa we call upon every South African to continue to keep the the pride, passion and spirit of our Rugby World Cup campaign alive.”

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