There may still be victory in Sunday’s defeat for the Springboks – but it won’t feel like it for the next 24 hours. For now, the applause belongs to Australia’s Wallabies, writes Mark Keohane. As does the Test match victory.
The victory that may come for the Boks is in the form of the Rugby Championship title and for that to happen the Boks have to win the next three Tests in the next three Saturdays. They have to beat the Wallabies next Saturday and then do the double over the All Blacks.
Don’t dismiss me too easily because if there is one thing man can learn from history it is that man invariably never learns from history.
I dismissed the history of the Boks in Australia and a losing run that is now eight years. The Boks, no matter how good they have been in respective cycles, are four from 27 against the Wallabies in Australia. I didn’t give Michael Hooper’s team a chance, not after their three successive capitulations to the All Blacks.
Equally, I didn’t think the world champion Springboks, no matter how badly they played, would lose.
Right in this moment, I am the chump.
But as Australia proved so heroically, it takes just 80 minutes to go from chump to champ. Next Saturday can’t come soon enough for me.
I wrote a piece a few days earlier on how Siya Kolisi’s Boks of 2021 have mirrored John Smit’s Boks of 2009. But I also wrote that I didn’t believe they would mirror Smit’s Boks when it came to playing the Wallabies in the state of Queensland.
To recap: Smit’s Boks won the World Cup in 2007, beat the Lions 2-1 in a series in 2009 and in the same year beat the All Blacks in two successive Tests in South Africa, beat the Wallabies at home and then lost to the Wallabies in Brisbane 21-6 and a week later beat the All Blacks 32-29 in Hamilton, New Zealand to win the Tri Nations.
The Wallabies had lost all three Tests to the All Blacks before beating the Boks.
Well in 2021 it looks very similar. The Wallabies lost three in succession to the All Blacks and edged the Boks 28-26 in Queensland after the Boks had won the World Cup in 2019 and beat the Lions in a series 2-1.
There is history in how Kolisi’s Boks can fight back, but now the Boks must create history in that fightback. They have not beaten Australia in Australia for eight years and they have never beaten the All Blacks in successive Tests on neutral ground because the two teams have never played back to back Tests outside of New Zealand and South Africa.
Australia were tenacious on Sunday and physically they fronted as they haven’t done for some time.
They had won just three from 12 matches since being hammered 40-16 by England in the World Cup quarter-final and they took three beatings against the All Blacks this year and edged France 2-1 in a series, with France without 20 of their first-choice players.
It was a match the Boks were expected to win – and win well. It is the expectation one has of a team ranked one that plays a team ranked seven.
But the Boks didn’t win because the Aussies got one chance to score a try and they did and recalled veteran flyhalf Quade Cooper didn’t miss with seven penalties and a conversion for a return of 23 points. This is the most points Cooper has ever scored in a Test match in his 71 appearances.
In contrast the usually reliable Handre Pollard missed three kicks and replacement flyhalf Damian Willemse missed with a late conversion that would have extended the Boks one point lead to three.
Pollard, among the senior players, was indifferent, which means he was poor by his standards. Pollard has for the past few years been one in the world or in the elite international bracket of flyhalves but this was his second off performance in the past month.
Pollard, in the third and final Test against the Lions, was substituted in the final quarter. He had missed a few kicks and his replacement Morne Steyn nailed two big kicks to win South Africa the match and the series.
On Sunday, Pollard again missed when everything suggested he wouldn’t.
Pollard and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk are integral to the Boks winning and both were poor.
Lukhanyo Am was also poor in relation to his performances in 2021 and with three of the most influential Bok decision-makers not at the races, it took a mighty effort from the Bok forwards to get South Africa so close and into a 26-25 lead with just a minute to go.
The cruelty of the match, for the South African forwards, is that it was a forward in replacement No 8 Jasper Wiese who conceded the last penalty when the match had looked won. South Africa, with a dominant scrum, had the feed and there was less than 30 seconds on the clock. The mistake came from a messy scrum and Cooper would deny South Africa and delight Australia.
There can be no complaints about the match officiating because it is not the reason the Boks lost.
The Boks lost because they missed 10 points on offer and they couldn’t control their own set piece with the last action of the match.
Australia won because they were courageous and tough and didn’t wimp out of the contest and they won because Cooper didn’t miss a kick in eight attempts.
There are so many lessons in this Bok defeat for South Africa, but the primary one is that if the Boks mentally are five percent off their game, it is enough to lose to a team ranked seventh in the world but one that played with more mongrel than the easy beats of a 7th place ranking.
The toast on Sunday is for the Wallabies. Good on you mate.
💔 It was a proper heart-breaker in Australia, where the Wallabies snatched victory over the Boks in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship
🔗 Match report: https://t.co/B4AUahnb0E#StrongerTogether #StrongerForever #RSAvAUS pic.twitter.com/G0BkFsymvW
— Springboks (@Springboks) September 12, 2021
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