Springboks clinch Tri-Nations in thriller
August 21, 2004
Springbok skipper John Smit lifts the Tri Nations trophy
© Getty Images
South Africa completed their rugby fairytale on Saturday, clinching the Tri-Nations title with a heart-stopping 23-19 victory over Australia at King's Park.
It was the Springboks' first Tri-Nations title since 1998 and a result that will confirm their status as once again being among the world's rugby superpowers.
Emotional players embraced one another afterwards as the Springboks, who at one stage led 23-7, had to see off a spirited comeback by the Wallabies.
Australia held a 7-3 lead at halftime that was totally against the run of play. The Springboks dominated territory and possession from the outset, but their execution was poor and they were hurried into errors by the Wallabies' excellent defence.
By contrast, the visitors had few opportunities, but they used the ball more constructively early on. Former South Africa under-21 captain Clyde Rathbone, who had been made to feel like a traitor all week, made two glaring errors by first knocking the ball over the dead-ball line and then blatantly forward as the pressure of the crowd appeared to get to him.
But he had the last laugh by crafting the 32nd minute try that left wing Lote Tuqiri scored with a well-placed kick behind the Boks' defence. Centre Matt Giteau, who had earlier missed with a penalty, kicked over the conversion.
South Africa, however, kept plugging away and when Wallaby loosehead prop Bill Young incurred the wrath of referee Paddy O'Brien on, fullback Percy Montgomery conquered the deceptively strong wind with his second attempt of the half.
Montgomery's kick was the final act of the first half before the Springboks embarked on a scoring spree that secured the game after the break. They took the lead five minutes after the break when right wing Breyton Paulse tapped back his own high ball and lock Victor Matfield darted past George Gregan on the angle.
It was Gregan's 102nd test for the Wallabies - an all-time record for his country - but further evidence that it was going to be an unhappy one came six minutes later as Bok No 8 Joe van Niekerk forced his way over on the left after the Springboks had taken the ball through a succession of phases.
Montgomery, who had converted both tries, kicked two penalties after that as the Springboks, spurred by an emotional 52000 crowd, gained the physical edge. But they were in for a nervous last 10 minutes as Montgomery was sin-binned for taking out opposite number Chris Latham in the air.
The Wallabies made the one-man advantage count and centre Stirling Mortlock scored nine minutes from time after taking Stephen Larkham's long pass. Australia's attacks continued relentlessly and flank George Smith eventually scored as they mauled their way over from a lineout two minutes from time.
But it was too late for the Wallabies and their final flurry from the restart ended in touch after a kick by Smith. There were many heroes for the Boks, but nobody deserved more kudos than lock Victor Matfield, who brought a sure touch to their lineout and weighed in with his share of tackles.
South Africa also did well in the scrums and exerted enough pressure throughout to ensure that Gregan and Larkham were unable to dominate the match.
South Africa: Tries: Lock Victor Matfield, No 8 Joe van Niekerk. Conversions: Fullback Percy Montgomery (2). Penalties: Montgomery (3).
Australia: Tries: Left wing Lote Tuqiri, centre Stirling Mortlock, flank George Smith. Conversions: Centre Matt Giteau (2).
Venue: Absa Stadium, Durban Attendance: 54,000