The performance of centre de Villiers was one of the few bright spots for the Boks, who must now beat the All Blacks in Hamilton next Saturday to claim the two points they need to take the title. It was a stunning turnaround in fortunes for the Wallabies, who had lost their previous four Tri-Nations encounters while the Boks were seemingly cruising to the Tri-Nations crown.
Satisfied Australia coach Robbie Deans praised the patience and tenacity shown by his players. The hosts crossed the line three times only to be correctly denied on each occasion by the man upstairs, before Adam Ashley-Cooper finally crossed in the 63rd minute.
“They had to work hard for it, we had three (tries) disallowed I guess but the guys kept coming, that was the most pleasing thing,” Deans said.
“They didn’t drop their heads, the body language was good, they kept coming and so they got what they deserved.” After a frustrating run of near misses against the Springboks and New Zealand this season, a cautious Deans is hopeful the morale-boosting victory is a sign of things to come for his youthful line-up.
Springboks coach Peter De Villiers, who had last week been only too keen to talk up his side’s prowess across the park, blamed his side’s inability to take their opportunities for the loss.
“I think our decision making wasn’t that good but then again they didn’t allow us to make brilliant decisions by shutting down our spaces,” he explained.
The Springboks still sit well clear at the top of the table on 17 points, ahead of the Kiwis on eight, with the Wallabies a further point back with one match remaining against New Zealand in Wellington in a fortnight.
“I think we now put more pressure on us. New Zealand suddenly becomes a final for us,” De Villiers said.
“We just have to keep our feet on the ground, we know how it tastes to win games, we know how it tastes not to be successful. We take what we get and we rejoice that we don’t have any injuries that will put us on the back foot. I’ve always said there’s a little to choose between these three teams and on the day any team can win the game.”
Scorers for Australia: A Ashley-Cooper, J O’Connor try each; M Giteau 2 pens, con, drp gl.
Scorers for South Africa: M Steyn pen, drp gl.
AUSTRALIA: J O’Connor; L Turner, A Ashley-Cooper, B Barnes, D Mitchell; M Giteau, W Genia; B Robinson, T Polota-Nau, B Alexander, J Horwill, M Chisholm, R Elsom, G Smith (capt), D Pocock.
Replacements: P Hynes for Turner (31), S Moore for Polota-Nau (33),Q Cooper for Barnes (75), P Cowan for Alexander (76).
SOUTH AFRICA: R Pienaar; O Ndungane, J Fourie, J de Villiers, B Habana; M Steyn, F du Preez; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J Smit (capt), B Botha, V Matfield, H Brussow, P Spies, J Smith.
Replacements: A Jacobs for Habana (36), D Rossouw for Botha, S Burger for Brussow (both 59), F Steyn for Pienaar (67).
Referee: W Barnes (England).