All guts but no glory in defeat

Greg Growden
Monday, June 18, 2007

South Africa 22 Australia 19

The Wallabies were devastated on Sunday to leave South Africa with only a measly Tri Nations bonus point, but are encouraged by a phenomenal defensive effort that almost saw them win their first Test in these parts for seven years.

The Wallabies have suffered endless traumatic moments in South Africa since 1992, winning only two of their past 15 Tests against the Springboks in the republic, but few were as exasperating as Saturday's tight loss at Newlands.

After tackling themselves to a standstill and relying on little more than 30 per cent of possession, Australia were somehow able to control the game, and early in the second half enjoyed an unexpected but deserved nine-point lead.

There were still glaring signs that the Wallabies' lead would eventually be reduced. For long stanzas of this high-quality Test match, such as the first 20 minutes, the Springboks were able to control possession. From the 60th minute, they refused to give the Wallabies a chance to get their hands on the ball.

Then out came 20-year-old replacement Springboks winger Frans Steyn to win the game - with two exceptional field goals, in the 73rd and 77th minutes. The first levelled the scores and the second gave South Africa their winning margin.

The Wallabies were gutted. They thought they had ended the South African drought that has seen them last win a Test here in 2000. They have not won in Cape Town since 1992.

But once more the Springboks, buoyed by a capacity partisan crowd, knew when to lift.

However, the Wallabies deserve as much praise as the victors. After the match, the talking point was Australia's exceptional defence, which restricted the Springboks to just one first-half try and affected the rhythm of their fast, efficient backline for long periods of the match.

In four Tests played this season, only three tries have been scored against the Wallabies, giving the team some hope of being more than nuisance value in both the Tri Nations and World Cup.

Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock, who like so many others in his team was a fearless tackler, was overwhelmed by the bravery of his team.

"I don't think I have ever been involved in a more spirited, more courageous defensive effort," Mortlock said.

"I'm just extremely proud of the whole effort put in by the team. Unfortunately, rugby is about winning, and we didn't do that today. So we are very disappointed with the loss, but there are some hallmarks of our game which are very pleasing and positive, looking on to the rest of the Tri Nations and the World Cup."

Even man-of-the-match Schalk Burger was surprised by how effective the Wallabies shut down his team. "In defence, the Australians were fantastic," Burger said. "We had so many attacking platforms, and so much ball, especially in the first 20 minutes and they held us out. For them to then lead at half-time, they gave it 120 per cent."

Wallabies coach John Connolly, though devastated by another tight loss, joined the chorus of praise.

"It's always hard against South Africa, because they are so physical and so direct," Connolly said. "They just try to smash the crap out of you."

"I was delighted with the effort, and I told the players that after the game. It gives this team something very strong to build on in terms of the culture of the side. What the team stands for is so important for a group of players. Nonetheless, everyone is very down in the dressing rooms because the end was so gut-wrenching."

Mortlock admitted that it could take some time for the Wallabies to get over being so close to triumph, only to lose it in the final minutes - not because of any team frailties but due to a freakish field-goal performance.

"Obviously the change room is very quiet," Mortlock said. "The guys will probably take a couple of days to get over what happened. To put in so much effort, and not get there, well obviously everyone is really down."

The Wallabies - who have no serious injury problems - will have several days off before preparing for the Test against the All Blacks at the MCG on June 30.

White acclaims Wallabies backline

By Peter Jenkins
June 18, 2007

SOUTH Africa coach Jake White has lauded Australia's Old Firm backline and claims the experience it brings will prove invaluable to Australia's World Cup campaign.

White said the sniping at veteran halfback George Gregan and his long-term five-eighth partner Stephen Larkham had been ill-founded during the four-year countdown to the global titles in France.

Asked to comment on the composure the Wallabies displayed at Newlands as they repelled a high-powered wave of Springbok attacks, White replied: "It's simple - it's Gregan, Larkham, Giteau, Mortlock and Tuqiri.

"Between them they have about 450 Test caps.

"The reality was Larkham took all the pressure we gave him in the first 25 minutes.

"You can't underplay the value of experience with Gregan and Larkham there.

"Most other sides, the way we came at them in the first 20 minutes, would have conceded a lot more points.

"It just proves once again what value there is in having those sort of players."

But the Springboks boss dropped the flattery when intimating the Australia front row milked free kicks from the opening two scrums and remained the Achilles heel of the side.

He also accused the Wallabies of a pre-game dirty tricks campaign in questioning the legality of South Africa tighthead prop BJ Botha's scrummaging technique.

"Australia are very clever at scrum time," White said.

"It's not uncommon (knowledge) that they don't have prop forwards and it's a different kind of contest than when you play against nations who back their scrum a lot more than Australia do.

"There was a lot of talk about BJ Botha which I found quite odd because when we play Argentina, New Zealand or England no one ever complains about us.

"When we get to Australia there always seems to be a question about techniques."

White delivered further barbs.

"I thought we deserved to win by a lot more than we did," he added.

"We had our chances and I don't say that arrogantly.

"We played all the rugby in the first half and went in 16-10 down."

Then Hyde departed and Jekyll returned.

"Australia will always be a force in any sporting code," White said.

"Sport is a dominant part of their culture and they're the only nation in the world that has won two World Cups. So they won't be going to France under-prepared."