The Springboks produced a balanced performance to smash the Wallabies 32-25 in a bonus-point win that takes them within touching distance of the Tri-Nations title.
A win in Brisbane next week will see them capture the Tri-Nations title, but they effectively need just two points from their last two games to return to the Republic with the coveted silverware.
The Springboks spat in the face of their Australian detractors who labelled them boring by producing a hybrid of the expansive and measured en route to victory. They blitzed the Wallabies with a high-tempo, high-risk approach in the first quarter, then battered them up front with a solid tactical-kicking game in thereafter.
Advocates for the running game will surely have been pleased with what they saw, and the Springboks seemed to have rekindled the ability to hurt their opponents in a number of different ways – a characteristic they last displayed at the 2007 World Cup.
That multi-faceted ability to hurt extended to their defence, which was punishing. They dominated the tackle points, often driving the Wallabies’ ball carriers back. This allowed them to have a crack on the deck, which killed the Wallabies’ ability to get a quick recycle, making them a significantly-less potent attacking force. Defence wins Test matches. Today that widely held view was strengthened, although their prowess on attack must be noted.
To single out individuals in a collective effort as impressive as this would be unfair, but the performance of their loose trio, and the physicality and relentless defence of the tight forwards must be lauded. As must the flair of Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana’s finishing. But in his 50th Test it was scrumhalf Fourie du Preez who stood tallest.
The Springboks were 12-0 up within nine minutes and the first try underlined Du Preez’s class and immense value to the Springboks.
The Springboks were awarded a penalty after some great interplay between the backs. Du Preez, alert as ever, quick-tapped and smashed through four tacklers to score. It was a replica of the try he scored against the Wallabies at Ellis Park in 2006.
Former Springbok coach Jake White admits that that try probably saved the coach’s career. Today coach Peter de Villiers will thank the No 9 for taking him a step closer to achieving something very special in his.
The second was birthed from a centre-field scrum and illuminated the Wallabies’ fragility. It was the most simple of first phase moves, featuring Du Preez breaking right on the dummy run and Spies going left and dishing out to Morne Steyn who in turn found Jaque Fourie. The midfielder sliced through the defensive line with an ease that should never be allowed at Test level.
Steyn missed the conversion but added a penalty shortly thereafter to give his side a commanding lead. Matt Giteau missed two penalties before sinking one, but the Springboks soon further asserted their dominance.
Du Preez launched a bomb which Lachie Turner fumbled. The ball spat loose to Habana who cracked on the gas to leave a string of Wallabies players in his wake. Steyn added the extras and even though Giteau banked another three points, their 22-6 half-time lead was an imposing one.
But the Springboks reverted to an expansive game plan early in the second half, throwing the ball around aimlessly, and this allowed the Wallabies into the contest. In addition their scrums came under immense pressure, resulting in them conceding a number of penalties.
Luke Burgess quick tapped one such penalty from 5m out and found Giteau, who wrong footed a couple of defenders and negotiated the attempted tackles of three more to score. He converted his try to ignite hopes of a dramatic comeback.
However, the Springboks settled back into their groove, and any ambitions the Wallabies had of reversing the deficit were dashed in the 51st minute when Habana scored his 35th Test try.
Again it came from first phase, but credit has to go to the Springboks for the excellent manner in which they executed. From the 5m scrum De Villiers ran a decoy and Du Preez found the winger behind his back. All that was left was for Habana to stroll through a gaping hole in the hosts’ defensive line. Steyn made no mistake with the conversion and a penalty seven minutes thereafter, and at 32-13 the result was effectively sealed.
The Wallabies became increasingly desperate and lateral in their attacks and where never going to trouble a unit as adept at closing out games as the Springboks. The visitors did concede two late tries, to Giteau and Turner, but by that stage, the Springboks had already mentally boarded the plane to Brisbane.
A polished performance from the Springboks, arguably their best since they dismantled Australia at Ellis Park last year. A replication of this performance in Brisbane or Hamilton in the next fortnight will see the trophy return to South Africa and cap a superb year for a brilliant team.
By Ryan Vrede