1 October 2012

South Africa: Plenty to Like in Boks' Win Over Australia

After South Africa's 31-8 Castle Rugby Championship victory over Australia in Pretoria on Saturday, captain Jean de Villiers insisted the Springboks' game plan had not changed - but they certainly seemed to run the ball a lot better and more often than they did earlier this season.

After five losses on the trot to Australia, something had to give at Loftus Versfeld as the Australians had never before won at the ground in five previous attempts. With a charged-up Springbok team in their face and injuries hampering their performance, it was the Wallabies that gave.

The victory brought to an end a three-game winless run for the Springboks. In those games they had drawn 16-16 with Argentina, gone down 19-26 to the Aussies and lost 11-21 to New Zealand, all away from home. Being back on South African soil certainly helped the Springbok cause.


The biggest news on the selection front ahead of the game had been the decision to start Johan Goosen at flyhalf ahead of Morne Steyn. Did it pay off? On the kicking front, it was a wash; Goosen missed his only two kicks of the match, which was pretty much on a par with Steyn's performances so far this year. In terms of the running game, it was a smashing success.

Goosen attacked the advantage line well and distributed the ball effectively, resulting in the Bok backline looking the best it has all year. He also came within centimetres of scoring try after he sliced through the Wallabies' defence in the first half.

A lot of credit should go to scrumhalf, Ruan Pienaar, too. He took a lot of pressure off Goosen with his kicking from the base of the scrum and mixed up his game well, which allowed the young flyhalf, like Pienaar a product of Grey College, some space to mix up his own game.

Goosen's off-day with the boot was not typical of the young man and he will no doubt improve and take over the number one kicking duties with distinction. He possesses an impressive all-round game.


What was encouraging was that it was decided after only two misses to take the pressure off Goosen by handing the goal kicking duties to Pienaar. In the Boks' previous match against the All Blacks at the Otago Stadium, they had persisted too long with Morne Steyn, despite his poor kicking form, and that had cost the team dearly.

Fellow debutant, Jaco Taute, was a little nervy early on at centre, but he grew in stature as the match progressed and was especially effective on defence. He looked like he belonged in the green and gold.

The fans certainly enjoyed seeing the running game. Nothing said that more than when Pat Lambie came on early in the second half for Zane Kirchner at fullback. Kirchner had scored a try and just missed out on a second, but Lambie is a more attacking player and even though the game was taking place on Kirchner's home ground, the crowd loudly cheered the inclusion of the Sharks' star.


No victory is built on attack alone, however, and it was South Africa's sturdy defence that made a big difference. The loose trio of Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw was hugely effective, with Louw playing a brilliant game, his best for South Africa, and pushing hard for the man of the match award. He was effective on the ground and also in the support game, delivering a try to Bryan Habana on a plate.

The locks, Andries Bekker and Eben Etzebeth, put the Australians under big pressure at lineout time and got through a mountain of work in the loose too.

Out on the flank, Bryan Habana enjoyed the opportunities that came his way. Throughout the contest, he looked to ignite South Africa's attacking opportunities and was rewarded with three tries.

The first of those came after he started an attack and then ended it with an excellent angled run to take a short offload from Pienaar and crash over for the Springbok's second try. It took him to seven five-pointers against the Wallabies and equal with Breyton Paulse's South African record against Australia.

Yellow card

It was Habana's urgency to get a penalty taken quickly in the second half that put Australia under heavy pressure in their quarter and eventually led to James Slipper being yellow-carded for slowing the ball down at a ruck. While he was off, the Springboks scored two tries.

The first of those came from a lineout five metres from the Wallabies' line. Captain De Villiers, for the second time in the game, opted for a touch-finder rather than a kick at goal when close to the Australian tryline and was rewarded both times. On this occasion it was Francois Louw who benefited, as he spun out of a tackle after the Boks had driven the ball up and fell to ground for a try.

The second try went to Habana. Once again, he started and finished it.

After a loose Australian pass, Habana chased the ball into touch and fielded it. He immediately found Adriaan Strauss, who had an impressive game, with a quick throw-in. The hooker took the pass, and sprinted along the five-metre line before passing inside to Habana, who had too much speed for the scrambling defenders and ran in for a try under the uprights from almost 40 metres out.


He completed his hat-trick two minutes from time thanks to Louw, who first threw an outrageous dummy to open up space and then found Habana out wide with a long pass. The winger received the ball on the 22-metre line and had a clear run in to the line for a deserved third try.

Kirchner had scored South Africa's opening try after the forwards had opened up space on the right with a ferocious assault on the Aussie tryline and he nearly scored a second just before half-time. A dummy run to the inside by Habana was what created the space on the outside and only a desperate cover tackle by Adam Ashley-Cooper just forced Kirchner out of play.

Unfortunately for Ashley-Cooper, his head was in the wrong position when he made the tackle and he was knocked out cold. His was the worst of a string of injuries that undermined the Australian effort, but they were not what cost the visitors the game. Rather, it was a far more rounded Springbok effort that made the difference.

With a better goal kicking game, which is usually a South African strength, the Springboks will be a very tough team to beat. And with the young talent emerging in the green and gold ranks, there is plenty of reason for optimism. Saturday's comprehensive win appeared to be a first step towards bigger and better things.

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