Flyhalf Morné Steyn scored all of the Springboks’ points in an unconvincing yet crucial 18-10 win against the Wallabies on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld.
The importance of this result cannot be overstated. After sustaining three consecutive defeats, the Boks are back to winning ways. And after seven matches at Loftus, the Boks are yet to lose a Test to the Wallabies.
The result at Loftus should be celebrated. The wrecking-ball performance by captain Adriaan Strauss as well as the accurate goal-kicking display by Steyn deserves some applause.
The collective showing, however, lacked conviction and precision. While Strauss and Francois Louw made some timely turnovers in their own half, the Boks failed to win the collisions and control the breakdowns. While Steyn was in great form in front of goal, the Boks’ tactical kicking game was once again horribly off point.
Indeed, it was a wayward clearance by Bryan Habana that provided the Wallabies with a chance to counter-attack and score a try through Scott Sio. Israel Folau received the ball deep in his own half, and set off on a searing run.
The Boks failed to chase Habana’s kick with any great urgency. Their defence in the subsequent phases was passive and ineffective.
The crowd at Loftus groaned in unison as the Wallabies marched 50m upfield, and then eventually scored under the posts. That buildup served as a damning indictment on the state of the Boks’ tactical kicking game as well as their defence.
Fortunately for the hosts, the Wallabies were just as erratic. Like the Boks, they were guilty of elementary handling errors, and conceded penalties at crucial moments.
Folau was sent to the sin bin in the 34th minute following a shoulder charge on Habana. Referee Wayne Barnes agreed with the thousands of Bok fans in the stands who were chanting, ‘Off, off, off!’ and didn’t hesitate to show the Wallabies fullback a yellow card.
Steyn kicked two penalties to ensure that the Boks went to the break with a 12-10 lead. It was the best the Boks could do in Folau’s absence, and they were fortunate that their attacking ineptitude didn’t cost them later in the match.
The Wallabies missed three shots on goal, with Reece Hodge pushing two attempts wide early in the second half. Somehow, the Boks managed to survive the Australian siege and clear their lines.
Steyn then missed a penalty attempt from within his own half. The Wallabies continued to enjoy a wealth of possession, and continued to play the contest deep in Bok territory. The hosts scrapped to defend their tryline and protect their lead.
The Wallabies had their chances to put the Boks away. A couple of handling mistakes by the visitors, however, eased the pressure on the Boks, and allowed them to work their way upfield.
The Boks won a penalty on the halfway line in the 72nd minute. Strauss instructed Steyn to kick for touch, and the hosts moved to set the lineout. The decision was exposed as poor when the Boks lost the ball forward in a subsequent phase.
Strauss did not make the same mistake when presented with another opportunity two minutes later. The Bok captain pointed to the posts, and the crowd found its voice after Steyn added the three points. That penalty gave the Boks a five-point lead with only four minutes remaining in the contest.
Fittingly, the Boks finished the game with an ineffective attacking movement that failed to make a dent in the Wallabies defence. The ball was eventually flung backward to Steyn, who slotted his second drop goal of the evening to secure the result.
Springboks – Penalties: Morné Steyn (4). Drop goals: Steyn (2).
Wallabies – Try: Scott Sio. Conversion: Bernard Foley. Penalty: Foley.
Springboks – 15 Pat Lambie, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Jaco Kriel, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Willie le Roux.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Bernard Foley, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 James Slipper, 18 Tom Robertson, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Scott Fardy, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Tevita Kuridrani, 23 Sefa Naivalu.