Boks in Oz: The highs, the lows …

Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)

Cape Town - The Springboks, gearing up for Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash with Australia in Brisbane, still rule the roost fairly comfortably in bilateral bragging rights.

They lead the Wallabies overall 47-36 (three draws).

But it is also a sobering fact that the Australians hold a clear 24-12 edge in home meetings, which points to the magnitude of the task facing Rassie Erasmus’s charges at the weekend as two desperate teams lock horns.

Here is my pick of four landmark Bok encounters on Aussie soil in the post-isolation era, featuring two victories for each team:

Australia 19 South Africa 12: Sydney, 1993

This was the keenly-anticipated, first full-length series between the countries since 1971, although there had been that isolation-breaking once-off clash at Newlands in 1992 when the Boks were painfully reminded of the damaging effects of their pariah status from the global family.

It was a gripping few weeks Down Under, too, with everything coming down to this decider at Sydney Football Stadium after the Boks had won at the very same venue in the first Test (ironically also by a 19-12 score-line), and the Wallabies struck back at Brisbane (28-20).

The second Test had been punctuated by the first-time sending-off of a Springbok: James Small earned the dubious landmark for dissent against English referee Ed Morrison.

But the wing, often enough a stormy figure as his career developed, did his level best to atone in the make-or-break third Test, scoring one of the two Bok tries (the other from captain Francois Pienaar) which meant he’d notched three at the same stadium in the series.

The Phil Kearns-led Wallabies only crossed the whitewash once, through midfield maestro Tim Horan, but fullback Marty Roebuck’s regular penalty strikes off the kicking tee ultimately made the difference to the match … and thus series. 

Australia 13 South Africa 14: Perth, 1998

The Test itself was anything but a classic in entertainment terms at slippery Subiaco Oval, yet a near constant nail-biter for its closeness (the teams were locked up 8-8 at halftime) ... and a massive stepping stone toward a greater Bok goal for Gary Teichmann and company.

In this game it was the Wallabies who registered two tries, via Ben Tune and George Gregan, to the visitors’ one (Joost van der Westhuizen), with the key difference being the three penalties goaled by fullback Percy Montgomery.

But the four precious log points nevertheless meant a winning start to the Tri-Nations for the Nick Mallett-coached Boks: they would go on to prevail in all three remaining matches to land their first title in the then only three-nation competition.

It was a massively close shave, but it also meant South Africa continued on their merry way toward a record run of 17 consecutive wins under Mallett.

Australia 49 South Africa 0: Brisbane, 2006

In short, this was a true nadir in Springbok rugby history.

Missed tackles were the order of the day as an inexplicably switched-off Bok side leaked six tries - including a brace to rampant game-breaker Matt Giteau – and tumbled to their then second-worst loss of all time behind the 53-3 fiasco at Twickenham four years earlier.

“There’s nothing much you can say … this really was a poor performance,” admitted coach Jake White, although he also saw fit to lambaste New Zealand referee Paul Honiss for his breakdown interpretations and was summoned home from the Tri-Nations tour to explain the pallid result to his SA Rugby employers.

By all accounts, White staved off the guillotine by a whisker and it is history now that it proved a hugely smart decision.

Little more than a year later, he had guided the Boks to a second World Cup title ... and the squad which won it included the lion’s share of the men who had floundered on the ugly night at Suncorp Stadium.

Australia 12 South Africa 38: Brisbane, 2013

This was one of the highest points of the undervalued, in retrospect, time in charge of the national side by Heyneke Meyer.

His Bok side that day combined the necessary physicality, commitment and levels of silky skills - Willie le Roux wickedly to the fore - to earn a fabulous, full-house triumph in the Rugby Championship with four tries to nil. 

In doing so, they snapped an eight-game streak of successive Test losses in Brisbane, for their first triumph there since winning at the old Exhibition Ground back in 1971.

Not even the setback of losing Willem “Bone Collector” Alberts to a yellow card as early as the eighth minute could distract the Jean de Villiers-led Boks from their vibrant task (later the mounting Wallaby frustration got to their ace ball-poacher Michael Hooper, also binned in the second half).

The match also underlined the great all-round value to the Bok cause of powerhouse No 8 Duane Vermeulen – a costly absentee from the 2018 Championship thus far.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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