Aussies burst Boks’ bubble

2009-09-07 00:00

COACH Robbie Deans, celebrating his 50th birthday in Brisbane on Saturday, wrote the perfect script and the Wallabies, Springboks, and referee Wayne Barnes all read their lines perfectly to keep the Tri-Nations competition bubbling on.

Deans’ selection worked a treat, he exploited the Springboks’shortcomings and his inspired Wallabies, astute and intense, were full value for their 21-6 win at the Suncorp Stadium where the Springboks have not won in seven internationals since 1971.

The Springboks are still Tri-Nations favourites, nine log points clear at the top, and a bonus point against the All Blacks in Hamilton on Saturday will probably be enough to seal the title. But the bubble has been burst and the Boks, hit by fitness concerns, will be under fierce pressure from critics and a rugby public who saw a Tri-Nations triumph as a fait acccompli.

While the Wallabies, enthusiastic and well coached, knew precisely where they were going, and the route they would follow, the Boks appeared confused and fell neatly between two tactical stools.

Gone was the simple, effective territory game that had brought them Tri-Nations success over the All Blacks and the Wallabies.

The Boks initially tried to match the Australians in a high-tempo contest. This not only played into the hands of the physical, mobile Wallaby pack and their two specialist fetchers, but also highlighted, again, the damning fact that this Springbok team cannot play for 80 minutes. By the final quarter they were huffing and puffing, and this time, because they were behind on the scoreboard, playing deep in their own half and without the ball, they were simply blown away.

There is also no doubt that the streetwise Wallabies, and Deans, played referee Barnes better than the Boks. The Englishman allowed the Wallabies to fringe at the rucks and spoil the Boks’ possession at the breakdown. But of course this was possible because the Wallabies were more intense and arrived at the tackle in greater numbers.

Ironically, the Wallabies also tapped into the Springboks’ kick-and-chase game, a tactical ploy which has been castigated in the Australian media, and it paid rich dividends as it pressured the South Africans into mistakes.

The Springboks may look back at a period of play just on half-time as the turning-point in this game. They had just lost their more dangerous attacker (and tackler) Bryan Habana to “a cut mouth and a tight hamstring” when scrumhalf Fourie du Preez appeared to fashion a try for flank Heinrick Brussow. But Barnes ruled the final pass forward and the Boks trailed at the break (9-6) instead of changing over with a 13-9 lead.

The Wallabies never looked back and the Boks, beaten for possession and territory and playing on their heels, never threatened again in the second half.

While several marginal calls went the way of the Wallabies, the Boks would be fooling themselves if they blamed the referee. Barnes was far more consistent than Bryce Lawrence the week before. The Springboks, for an hour anyway, scrummed effectively until those same old wheels fell off in the closing quarter and they conceded penalties and quality possession.

The Wallabies were much the better team and it needed four superb covering tackles — by Habana (twice), Jaque Fourie and Fourie du Preez — on or over their line, to save them from an even heavier defeat.

Deans said that not giving the Boks a start, as they had in Perth, had helped lay the platform and the Australians led from the first whistle, forcing the Boks to chase the game — without the ball.

”The boys kept playing for 80 minutes. We had three tries over the line disallowed (by the TMO) and the guys kept coming and kept their heads up,” said Deans

Zimbabwean open side flank David Pocock and new scrumhalf Will Genia were impressive in a high-quality Wallaby performance which Bok captain John Smit, if not the Australian media, had expected.

“All credit to the Wallabies, they deserved their win,” Smit said. “No one loses four on the trot and just rocks up. They were formidable.”

Smit added that “the Springbok intensity was not quite where it should have been”.

“It’s hard to pinpoint where it went wrong. We had our moments and just couldn’t put it together.

“It is healthy in the Tri-Nations to try and get into your opponents’ half. A lot of calls were not going our way, but we didn’t spend enough time in their half and create pressure.”

The Wallabies scored two second-half tries, with centre Adam Ashley-Cooper cutting through the Bok midfield in a clear run to the line, and then teenage fullback James O’Connor who picked up a loose ball after the Boks tried to run from deep in their own half in search of a bonus point four minutes from the final whistle.

It summed up another black day at Suncorp Stadium for the Springboks.

SCORERS

Australia: Tries - Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor. Conversion - Matt Giteau. Penalty goals -Giteau (2). Drop goal - Giteau.

South Africa: Penalty goal - Morne Steyn. Drop goal - Steyn.

REMAINING FIXTURES (SA TIME)

Saturday, September 12

At Hamilton: New Zealand v South Africa, 9.35 am

Saturday, September 19

At Wellington: New Zealand v Australia, 9.35 am

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