ANZ Stadium, Sydney, was the venue. A smarting Wallabies team were the opponents. The result? A dismal 39-20 drubbing for the Boks. STYLI CHARALAMBOUS reviews the first match of the 2011 Tri-Nations tournament - and wishes for those two hours of his life back.
The build-up to this Test match was marred by some of the heaviest rainfall in more than 50 years in Sydney. Both captain’s runs on Friday were cancelled due to heavy underfoot conditions. Many Bok fans hoped the rain would help nullify the attacking potential of the Wallaby team, hurting badly from their 32-23 thumping at the hands of Samoa. But no such luck, as the Sydney skies cleared up overhead and therewith cleared the way for the Australian team to display their full array of try-scoring prowess.
John Smit, taking to the field for a world record 77th time as captain of a Test team, won’t be asking for any of these match reports for his career scrapbook. From early in the game, the groans of Bok fans would have filled TV rooms and bars around the country as Ruan Pienaar embarked on an ineffective kicking game, reminiscent of last year’s failed Tri-Nations campaign.
Making matters worse for the Boks was the fact this was a revamped Wallaby side from the one that embarrassed themselves against Samoa last weekend. Revamped in energy and revamped in personnel, the game-changing duo of scrumhalf Will Genia and flyhalf Quade Cooper returned to the starting line-up and it took only seven minutes to show why teams at this year’s RWC will not be looking forward to facing off against Australia.
A standard backline move, deep inside the Australian 22m area, had the South African defence expecting a clearance kick from Cooper, who instead showed some slick stepping moves to break the advancing Bok defensive line. The oval ball then made its way through seven more pairs of Wallaby hands and 80m of the pitch before Big Ben Alexander crashed over for the opening try. James O’Connor, who has matured as a place-kicker under the astute guidance of Braam van Straaten, added the first of four conversions for the evening.
Genia, not to be outdone by his Red’s teammate, collected the resulting kick-off from the Boks and broke the blind-side defence to set up Digby Ioane for another try, barely two minutes after the opening score. Ten minutes into the game, the Boks were two tries and 12-0 down with the prospect of long evening of toil awaiting the men in green and gold.
At this stage Bok fans would have been expecting the rugby floodgates to open, with the Australian backs blinding the Amabokoboko with their fancy footwork and multicoloured boots. But John Smit’s men showed resolve, albeit in patches, to stem the bleeding. The Boks managed to hang onto the ball for periods in the first half, and the most attacking movement of the first half included Smit showing some quick hands to move the ball along the line. Unfortunately, this was one of those evenings, and the deft pass ended in the waiting hands of Wallaby lock James Horwill.
The slippery ball did cause a few unforced errors on both sides, but the Bok game plan, most notably on attack, was as easy to read as an Enid Blyton children’s novel. Each (attempted) attack was quickly shut down by more than one Australian defender, and ensured that their try-line was never threatened in the opening 40 minutes of rugby.
Kurtley Beale, added a dash of premier league dramatisation before rejoining the game to set up James Horwill for what would have been Australia’s third try, were it not for a case of butterfingers. James O’Connor then exchanged one penalty for Morné Steyn’s two field goals, to bring the half time score to 15-6. A score line that would have flattered the men who needed to brave two Qantas Airways flights just to reach Sydney. Most fans would have not have felt optimistic about the next 40 minutes of rugby.
Photo: Morne Steyn (L) and Pierre Spies of South Africa's Springboks react as Digby Ioane (2-R) and Adam Ashley-Cooper (R) of Australia's Wallabies celebrate scoring during their Tri-Nations rugby union match in Sydney July 23, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne
The second half of the game started in the same fashion as the previous half ended, with Australia all over the Boks like a Hare Krishna devotee on an airport traveller. Within five minutes of the restart, the dazzling magic of Quade Cooper sent the Justin Bieber lookalike, O’Connor over in the corner - who then calmly added the touchline conversion to move the score to 22-6.
Just three minutes later, Stephen Moore, the Aussie hooker, further embarrassed the Bok defence by dancing through more excuses for what the Boks were calling tackles. Even the camera in the South African coaches’ room captured their frustration and expletives, as the pain being dished out on the pitch made its way to the dressing room.
At times the Boks tried to emulate their opponents with smart handling and no-look inside passes, but this only resulted in turning over possession or in Ruan Pienaar’s case, passing straight to Wallaby centre Pat McCabe who set up Adam Ashley-Cooper’s 17th Test try. The scoreboard was looking upsetting at 39-6 and the tally of missed tackles was past 30 by that time. If this was a boxing match, the referee would be using the thrown-in white towel to wipe the blood from the face of the Bok boxer.
By now, all that coach Peter de Villiers could hope for was that his substitution bench would be able to restore some respectability to this lost cause. Pat Lambie had an immediate positive effect on a backline that seemed directionless all evening, and one must question whether Morné Steyn’s precision kicking is reason enough for him to start at RWC. Chilliboy Ralepelle made up for a couple of poor lineout throws with a well-worked try from an attacking lineout in the 58th minute. Of the starters, only Gio Aplon and Lwazi Mvovo would have felt proud of their performances tonight.
Why Ruan Pienaar wasn’t subbed for the exciting Charl Mcleod after possibly his worst performance in a Bok jersey, continues to baffle long after the final whistle.
When John Smit dived over the try-line in the 75th minute, the score looked somewhat more respectable at 39-20. But in reality, this game was never there for South Africa to win, and in our Tri-Nations preview we acknowledged as much. This was meant to be an opportunity for some fringe players to raise their hands for RWC selection, but the only thing Bok management would take from the night’s performance is the huge gap between Super Rugby and international rugby. Some players in the starting line-up were the form Super Rugby players in their position, but the step up to test match rugby was a bridge too far.
When the final whistle blew, the Boks once again knocked on possession, which epitomised proceedings for the evening. And to add insult to a poor performance, another such beating awaits this Bok B-team, this time in New Zealand. DM
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)
Pen: O’Connor (2)
Cons: O’Connor (4)
Tries: Alexander, Ioane, O’Connor, Moore, Ashley-Cooper
Scorers: South Africa
Pen: Steyn (2),
Cons: Lambie (2)
Tries: Ralepelle, Smit
15 Kurtley Beale; 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane; 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia; 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (capt); 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons; 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu
Substitutes: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Pekahou Cowan, 18 Nathan Sharpe, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Anthony Faingaa
15 Gio Aplon; 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Juan De Jongh, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Lwazi Mvovo; 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar; 8 Ashley Johnson ,7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Deon Stegmann; 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Flip van der Merwe; 3 Werner Kruger, 2 John Smit (capt), 1 Dean Greyling
Substitutes: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Ryan Kankowski, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 Patrick Lambie
Main photo: Captain John Smit of South Africa's Springboks is tackled by David Pocock of Australia's Wallabies during their Tri-Nations rugby union match in Sydney July 23, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne