Australia v South Africa, Tri-Nations, August 29
Superb du Preez can only inspire envy
August 29, 2009
Matt Giteau struggled admirably with poor service and support in Perth © Getty Images
The Springbok juggernaut marches on. With added enterprise and some attacking intent to throw in the faces of their critics, Peter De Villiers' men have taken a stranglehold on this season's Tri-Nations after victory over the Wallabies in Perth.
Increasingly resembling a well-oiled machine, the Boks notched the first try bonus point of this season's tournament and cast aside any fears that their charge for the title would be derailed by their notoriously poor form on tour.
Winning his 50th cap and securing the first try of the evening by way of celebration, Springbok scrum-half Fourie du Preez demonstrated poise and control that Wallabies coach Robbie Deans must envy hugely after his side produced another fitful and inconsistent showing.
Fly-half Matt Giteau, criticised in recent weeks for his poor kicking displays, finished with 18 points including two tries but was cut adrift by poor service from scrum-half Luke Burgess.
One particularly grating lapse came in the first-half when the Wallabies secured a perfect attacking scrum in midfield, the backs left embarrassingly in position for a set move as the ball from Burgess trickled to Giteau's feet.
Filling in at inside-centre due to an injury to Australia's much-used second kicking option Berrick Barnes, Adam Ashley-Cooper was rounded for three of the Springboks' four tries and struggled to support Giteau in attack also.
Playing out of position is difficult at international level, and Ashley-Cooper failed to provide a midfield spark alongside rugby-league convert Ryan Cross. The Wallabies were unable to make the most of their ample possession and dominance of the scrum, poor accuracy and decision-making costing them dear.
Their at times ponderous attack was blunted by a well-drilled Springbok pack who committed minimal numbers to the breakdown, such was their physical dominance of that facet of the game. The Wallabies threw men at the contact area and committed no defenders, leaving Giteau to work off scratchy ball, with no depth to his outside runners, against a fully formed Springbok defensive line.
The Springboks were, by contrast, precise and committed to their simple gameplan. Morne Steyn, a fly-half with a fraction of Giteau's natural talent, worked off clean ball and with two centres, Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie, attacking the ball from good angles at pace.
The Springbok backline made yard after yard as the pack won quick possession, and with the added attacking option of Bryan Habana appearing off his wing they scored twice off first-phase ball.
Deans has limited options in terms of change ahead of next weekend's return fixture in Brisbane. Will Genia, the Queensland Reds scrum-half, and his Super 14 team-mate Quade Cooper provided flashes of quick thinking in their cameos and all eyes will be on Barnes' fitness.
Richard Brown had another evening to forget at No.8, fumbling two balls in to touch and failing to provide a ball-carrying platform after two yellow cards in as many Tests in recent weeks.
Hooker Stephen Moore struggled against the Springbok lineout but alongside new prop partnership Benn Robinson and Ben Alexander out-scrummaged the Springboks. Springbok skipper John Smit has been noted as a possible 'weak link' at tight-head by every side to play the Boks this season, but his struggles here were greater than against the British & Irish Lions and the All Blacks.
The Wallabies have two Tests in which to avoid an ignominious tournament whitewash - their focus must be on accuracy and converting their opportunities. Under pressure, Deans may have two Tests to save his job. With two years still to go to the Rugby World Cup he has to deliver positive results as his tenure is far from guaranteed.
Possession and scrum ball are not an issue; the lineout, breakdown and backs require some attention. The Springboks, on the other hand, have shown that they can play with pace and score tries. After retreating in to their shell for the closing stages they conceded points that will irritate them, but victory was all but assured by the time Habana crossed for his second try.
On to Brisbane - where it could be D-Day for Deans.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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