Australia 16 – South Africa 9
I’m tempted to say for the review, read the preview. The core of this story was as predicted – a tough battle that was just one too far for the Springboks. But it was detail around margins that was most interesting from a Wallaby perspective.
In such an evenly matched and hard fought game, it was the small things that made big differences. Twice the Springboks got within touching distance of the line – through Britz and Habana – to be taken down with inches to spare and requiring the TMO. In the 25th minute Horwill – playing like the senior lock, not the rookie – got a hand to a ball that was on its way to a certain try. Both Wallaby tries were in the corner, and both required the TMO (for this ref anyway).
The biggest small difference though, came at the breakdown. Here the Wallaby forwards excelled at contesting on their feet, Horwill, Elsom, Robinson, Waugh and Sharpe all earning free kicks. But it was perhaps the worlds best ever fetcher, George Smith, who almost single handedly smashed the South Africans momentum in the first half. I counted at least 4 steals, all at crucial times in that first 40.
Having 3 enormous ball running back-rowers like the Jaapies do gives you plenty of go forward, but not enough presence on the ground. Someone please tell me Pocock couldn’t be poached by them.
Once again the Wallaby scrum has started well. You’d have to say that Robinson had Van der Linder’s number and it was such a change to see the scrum solid on our own ball. Australia also had parity with the much vaunted Saffa line-out, even without the code-breaking Vickerman.
There was a lot of focus on the rookie combination of Burgess, Giteau and Barnes before this game, and rightly so. Considering the Boks are probably the best in the business at applying pressure through these channels, it got through OK. Despite Greg Martin zeroing in on Burgess’ pass, if the odd mis-fire is what you pay for the quickest delivery in the game, I’d gladly pay it. A good way of not getting caught at the back of the ruck is to get rid of the ball first, and today it neutralised the Boks physicality in this part of the game.
Yet again Barnes was impressive, and the logic of him at 12 was obvious in Perth, with Giteau not having his best game. If this combination can keep improving as it has so far for another year or two, the multitude of options it will give the team is mind boggling. Today, even under pressure, this combo always had options, more than their opposite numbers.
One facet of general play that has also drastically developed for the Wallabies under Aussie Robbie, is the support of the ball carrier. Not just on the front foot, but also when back-peddling. This happened more than you’d have liked today, but each time there were men circling back to relieve pressure. This style of play requires a level of fitness though that the Wallabies just don’t have right now. It will need to lift.
Whilst I’m bored sh1tless with the phrase “work in progess”, that is definitely what this team currently is. While this work got us through today, there’ll definitely need to be a lot more of that p-word, especially at the business end of this tournament.
Tries: Tuqiri, Mortlock
For South Africa:
Pens: Steyn 2, James
Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Peter Hynes, 13 Stirling Mortlock (c), 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 George Smith, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 James Horwill, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Hugh McMeniman, 19 Phil Waugh, 20 Sam Cordingley, 21 Ryan Cross, 22 Drew Mitchell.
South Africa: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Francois Steyn, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Brian Mujati, 19 Andries Bekker, 20 Ryan Kankowski, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Peter Grant.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Television match official: Garrat Newman (New Zealand)
Assessor: Steve Hilditch (New Zealand)