Kurt-Lee Arendse emerges as hat-trick hero after Boks crush woeful Wallabies at Loftus
There won’t be many times that a team will contemplate a winning scoreline of 43-12, and think that it could have been better. But that was the overriding feeling after South Africa mauled Australia at Loftus. What a position to start from in the 2023 Test season.
South Africa 43 (17) Australia 12 (5)
The Rugby Championship title is on track for the Boks, and the decision to select an experimental team was justified. Despite many untried combinations, Jacques Nienaber’s men were excellent for the most part.
Every player on the fringe of World Cup selection made a case for his inclusion for the showpiece in France. But even so, it was a performance sprinkled with errors.
“That was not our best performance, but we’re happy with the result,” said captain on the day, Duane Vermeulen, after the match. His comments were realistic enough to perceive that the Boks squandered many opportunities and that there is room for improvement. But what a position to start the 2023 Test season from.
Wing Kurt-Lee Arendse recorded a hat-trick to take his tally to 10 Test tries in only eight Tests to underline what an incredible finisher and competitor he is. It was also the Boks’ eighth win over the Wallabies at Loftus in eight meetings.
Read more in Daily Maverick: The Eddie Jones factor amplifies the Aussie threat at Loftus
While Arendse’s Test credentials have never been in doubt, the likes of lock Marvin Orie, flank Marco van Staden and flyhalf Manie Libbok did their World Cup prospects no harm.
And centre Andre Esterhuizen, who was one of the unlucky few to miss out in Japan four years ago, gave his best performance in green and gold.
Besides his powerful running, which could be expected, Esterhuizen demonstrated pace and guile to beat defenders on the outside, to produce inch-perfect passes that created momentum for others. It was a spectacular display in a match where no one in a Bok jersey let themselves down.
But, and there has to be a “but”, Australia were woeful. Rugby Australia fired Dave Rennie and brought back Eddie Jones to take the ailing Wallabies to a new level. They certainly reached a new level at Loftus, just not the one they imagined.
The Boks manhandled the Wallabies in contact, decimated the scrums and won every meaningful battle in contact. Australia were lucky to only lose by 31 points, largely thanks to the Boks’ own errors.
The difference though, was that the Boks’ mistakes were a missed lineout here, a knock-on there. Australia were thrashed in the fundamentals of the game – mostly in contact.
You can’t just rectify a lack of physicality with positive thinking and unrealistic goals such as “we’re in Pretoria to make history”. It has t0 be underpinned by something more tangible, such as a strong domestic structure, which Australian rugby is desperately lacking.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Boks and Wallabies to let solid performances do the talking after frivolous week of verbal scrumming
Quade Cooper’s name was on the teamsheet as flyhalf, but he was anonymous. Giant lock Will Skelton was supposed to be the catalyst for the Wallaby pack to take the fight to the Boks. He may have played, but who could tell?
The Wallaby pack was slaughtered, and behind the front line massacre their backline spent the day tackling and trying to manufacture something out of scraps. It was an impossible and futile task. And at times, frankly, it was embarrassing.
Of course, Springbok wins and quality performances should be celebrated and enjoyed. But seeing such a facsimile of the Wallaby team bordered on sadness. South Africa’s exit from Super Rugby has definitely hurt Australia more than the other way around.
At home, as Australia showed in 2021 and 2022, they can compete. But a trip to the highveld for the bulk of a squad that has never been to South Africa, was just a step too far.
The Boks won 99 rucks to 37 by Australia – a ratio of three to one – which is where the home team gained momentum. The Boks conceded just three penalties to the 13 of Australia, and they carried the ball for 684 metres against the 385 of the Wallabies.
Australia completed 146 tackles to the Boks’ 67 and missed 28. The Boks made 12 clean breaks and beat 28 defenders in the carry. The stats make for difficult reading, but the review of this match will be like watching a horror movie for Jones and his team.
Nothing the Wallabies produced on the field backed up their bullish talk in the build-up. It was the ultimate case of false bravado.
Even though Australia opened the scoring through wing Marika Koroibete in the eighth minute, it felt like a bump in the Boks’ road to victory, and not some sort of turning point.
The genesis of Koroibete’s try was actually thanks to Jean Kleyn’s brilliant lineout steal. This Bok lock, on debut, pinched a Wallaby lineout ball, but scrumhalf Cobus Reinach was unable to control the tap down.
Australia regained possession through James Slipper and worked the ball left with Koroibete on the overlap. He is almost unstoppable from that position.
But the Boks were unfazed, as they should’ve been in the face of very meek resistance. Libbok slotted a 13th-minute penalty to get the scoreboard started, and from there it ticked over like a Swiss watch.
Arendse’s first try was an easy run-in, after some excellent phase play and clever work by opposite wing Canan Moodie and Orie in the build-up.
Before halftime Arendse scored his second, this time from a clever short-side movement from a lineout won by Orie. Van Staden broke down the blindside just outside the Wallaby, fed hooker Bongi Mbonambi in the trams, who heard Arendse’s call on the outside. The diminutive wing started his run from deep and hit Mbonambi’s pass at full pace to skin Suliasi Vunivalu on the outside.
After halftime Australia were trapped deep in their half and just couldn’t escape. Eventually referee Ben O’Keeffe awarded a penalty try when Wallaby hooker David Porecki collapsed a rolling maul inches from the line, as the Boks were on their way to scoring. Porecki was yellow-carded.
Arendse completed his hat-trick in the 51st minute, after some excellent play by Lukhanyo Am and Pieter-Steph du Toit down the left, to put the result beyond doubt.
But it got worse for Australia when Vunivalu’s comical deliberate knockdown of a pass to Arendse led to another penalty try and yellow card.
The Wallabies were shambolic at that point. And when Du Toit scored a late try by simply picking up from the base of a ruck and stepping over the line, the humiliation was complete. Even Du Toit looked slightly embarrassed by the ease of which he scored. DM
South Africa – Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse (3), Penalty tries (2), Pieter-Steph du Toit. Conversions: Manie Libbok (3). Penalty: Libbok
Australia – Tries: Marika Koroibete, Carter Gordon. Conversion: Gordon.