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Springboks finish on a high

Two tries to one seals win

The Springboks ended their 2006 Tri-Nations on a winning note, beating the Wallabies 24-16 on a sunny spring afternoon at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday. The South Africans outscored Australia by two tries to one.

Nathan Sharpe tackles Andre Pretorius
Nathan Sharpe tackles Andre Pretorius

Despite the win, the Boks still finish with the tournament's wooden spoon; Australia finish second. These placing were a done deal even before the game, as was the competition for the Mandela Challenge Plate that the Wallabies had won with their two victories in Australia earlier in the tournament.

The match had its moments - moments rather than passages of constructive play, melodious snatches in a pretty ponderous piece of music.

It was not quite the boring kickathon that the two teams produced when they last met in Sydney, although the first half promised to be a repeat as they kicked and kicked and produced a half-time score of 3-all - a penalty apiece. Not even the goal-kicking was much cop as the Wallabies missed two - one by Stirling Mortlock and one by Cameron Shepherd and André Pretorius missed two.

In fact it was a match of many errors. There were handling errors by both sides, the Wallabies guilty of forward passes when they looked scoring. The Springboks managed four gross kicks out of hand. Pretorius failed to kick a penalty into touch but kicked a good ball over the dead-ball line, and Jean de Villiers and Wynand Olivier both cleared poorly to touch.

There was a time in the second half when the Springboks were playing like men either drunk or recklessly playing Russian roulette with their historic invincibility at Ellis Park. They were sloppy in the tackle and sloppy in their handling.

The Wallabies must have been glad there were not more scrums, because the truth is that they are still not good enough as they buckled. And yet from two wonky scrums they managed good attacks as the Springbok forwards, intent on scrumming, locked themselves in.

Ellis Park was not full - 51,174 spectators for the third Highveld Test in successive weeks as 'grassroots' found the exercise financially withering. But John Smit, the Springbok captain, whose Tri-Nations had threatened to be the most miserable of all time, was pleased - pleased with the victory and with the support at Ellis Park, saying that the momentum a second victory gave his side was paramount, especially with the World Cup final just a year away.

The Wallabies did not leave Johannesburg empty-handed as they were given the Mandela Plate, courtesy of their two home victories over the Springboks.

The Wallabies had the first chance to score when they got a really good maul going and BJ Botha was penalsied for collapsing it, but Mortlock hooked his kick to the left.

There was a bizarre near miss. Stephen Larkham, 40 or so metres out, chipped and Rocky Elsom chased. Fourie du Preez was at the ball and went strolling back with it. At the line it stopped, by which time big Elsom was bearing down on him and Fourie managed to push the ball down on the line for a five-metre scrum. It was an incident which may well have deserved a conversation with the television match official.

In this early part of the match the Wallabies were much more threatening. When the Springboks overthrew a line-out George Gregan was on hand to attack. Pedrie Wannenburg conceded a penalty and Mortlock opened the score after 17 minutes.

After that, more and more, the Springboks got on top,. They counter-attacked and Pierre Spies had a great break past Rodney Blake. He gave a perfect past to Jaque Fourie who, Mortlock looming, played inside on a switch to Wynand Olivier who looked certain to score till Clyde Rathbone mowed him down from behind. Gregan was on hand to get the tackle ball and Olivier was penalised for holding on.

The Wallabies tapped a penalty for obstruction and debutant JP Pietersen was hard pressed on defence.

After missing two penalties, Pretorius, who was not as much in control as he had been against the All Blacks in Rustenburg, goaled the third when Daniel Vickerman was penalsied at a tackle on the half-way line and five metres in from touch.

At half-time Breyton Paulse came on as a substitute for Akona Ndungane - it turned out to be a significant substitution on vital defence and decisive attack.

From the kick-off for the second half, Rathbone caught the ball. He evaded AJ Venter but not Os du Randt and conceded a penalty for holding on. Pretorius made it 6-3 with an easy kick.

But the Wallabies were soon back in front when the Springboks went on a drunken wobble. De Villiers gave a poor clearance but the Springboks won the line-out. They then won a turn-over but Victor Matfield eschewed the option of a simple pass and went on a crazy run. He then lost the ball. Matt Giteau scooped the ball up and went left where the Wallabies had numbers. Big Wycliff Palu cut inside with power and at the line gave Larkham an easy try, which Mortlock converted. 10-6 after 45 minutes.

When Vickerman was penalised for an air tackle at a line-out, Pretorius made it 10-9 but the Wallabies attacked. They were knocked out near the Springbok corner-post. A quick throw-in saw Paulse hoof the ball miles down the field where Latham had no angle and kicked out just outside the Wallaby 22. From the line-out Pretorius dropped a perfect goal. 12-10 after 53 minutes.

Spies caught the kick off and raced down the touch-line on his right. He had just Latham to beat but opted to grubbered and grubbered into touch.

At this stage the Wallabies made changes, bringing on Mark Chisholm and Mark Gerrard. When the Springboks got a maul going, Chisholm was penalised for collapsing it. Du Preez tapped and charged at the backpedalling Wallabies. Through and past Palu, Jeremy Paul, Gerrard, Blake and Nathan Sharpe he went to force his way for a try. Pretorius converted. 19-10. Now the Wallabies had to produce something extra to win. They could not.

Palu had a great break past Du Preez, Venter and Wannenburg from a scrum but Fourie got him in the nick of time, but the Springboks were off-side in the subsequent disarray and Mortlock made it 19-13. after 59 minutes.

Larkham kicked a high ball on 20-year-old Pietersen who knocked it on many metres where Venter showed disregard for the laws of the game and played it, way off-side, Mortlock made it 19-16.

After Matfield had flung an impossible line-out take at Du Preez's feet Sharpe had a great run till Paulse tackled him. The move developed but Paulse was back up to intercept and clear. But it looked as if the Wallaby was in the ascendant. The ascendant fizzled out.

Paulse was also involved in a great Springbok attack down the right with Pietersen showing wonderful handling skills but inside five metres from the Wallaby line, Spies lost the ball forward and Giteau cleared.

Back the Springboks came down the right with Pietersen and Matfield prominent - Pietersen twice. The ball went back to the right where slightly-built Paulse crashed between Gerrard and Larkham, stretched and scored a splendid try. 24-16 with seven minutes to play.

Both sides made changes in that short time but neither looked likely to score though George Smith did find time for a bit of gratuitous stamping.

Man of the Match:  Chris Latham's positional play and boom-boom boot were outstanding, Nathan Sharpe was excellent and Phil Waugh still stole ball, but the stars were probably Springboks - again Pierre Spies, strong Os du Randt, Breyton Paulse for his cameo appearance and our Man of the Match staunch Fourie du Preez who is such a good footballer and such a good team man.

Moment of the Match: There was not great sparkle in the match but our Moment of the match is Breyton Paulse's try, build-up and finish.

Villain of the Match: A few fisty-cuffs and a little bit of tap-dancing, but nothing overly naught. No award.

The scorers:

For South Africa:
Tries:
Du Preez, Paulse
Con: Pretorius
Pens: Pretorius 3
DG: Pretorius

For Australia:
Try:
Larkham
Con: Mortlock
Pens: Mortlock 3

Teams:

South Africa: 15 JP Pietersen, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Wynand Olivier, 10 André Pretorius, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 AJ Venter, 6 Pierre Spies, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Johann Muller, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit, 1 Os du Randt.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Lawrence Sephaka, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Jacques Cronjé, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Butch James, 22 Breyton Paulse.

Australia: 15 Chris Latham, 14 Clyde Rathbone, 13 Stirling Mortlock, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Cameron Shepherd, 10 Stephen Larkham, 9 George Gregan (captain), 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Dan Vickerman, 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Jeremy Paul, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tai McIsaac, 17 Al Baxter, 18 Mark Chisholm, 19 George Smith, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Mark Gerrard, 22 Scott Staniforth.

Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Alan Lewis (Ireland), Hugh Watkins (Wales)
Television match official: Eric Darrière (France)
Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)




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