Francois Steyn became the darling of Newlands as he kicked a pair of dropped goals to snatch a dramatic 22-19 victory for the Springboks over the Wallabies in their Vodacom Tri-Nations test in Cape Town on Saturday.
The Springboks, in spite of having enjoyed a surfeit of possession, were trailing 16-19 as the match edged into the last ten minutes.
It seemed the Boks were in the process of receiving a massive wake-up call about the demands of winning against one of the big nations when the precocious talent of one of the most exciting youngsters to emerge in years saved them from embarrassment.
A hasty clearance kick by the Wallabies went straight to Steyn, on the field as a replacement for Ashwin Willemse, where he was standing 45 metres out in the right-hand tramlines.
The young Bok made a clean catch, steadied himself, and then whipped his strong right foot into the ball -- sending it soaring between the uprights to level the scores in the 71st minute.
Steyn’s goal was a massive relief to a Springbok side who had trailed since the 30th minute and, buoyed by a season of last-gasp victories, they knuckled down to the task of getting a win.
A break-out by Jean de Villiers took play deep into Wallaby territory and with the Boks continuing to control possession as they had done for most of the match Steyn dropped back into the pocket and bisected the uprights with his second drop as the ball re-emerged for the ninth time.
There was a time, not too long ago, that the Boks tended to lose patchy matches such as this one so getting up for victory was an immense plus but it should not be allowed to cancel out the warning signals of some pretty sterile back play -- plus the worry that the victory might have come at the expense of serious injuries to captain John Smit and flank Juan Smith.
It has been many years since a Springbok pack has won so much ball off the Wallabies and it was almost inconceivable that Boks found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreline with time running out.
The Bok backline tended to be too flat and their running lines too diagonal to trouble a Wallaby defensive line who concentrated on coming up fast and closing down space -- in the manner of the Boks’ own rush defence.
The patrolling of the offsides barriers by the match officials was somewhat slack, but it was a concern that there was so little variation in the Boks’ attempts to crack open the Australians.
Although the Boks again did not scrum with the kind of authority one would expect from such a big set of eight, they won their ball easily, shaded the lineouts and overwhelmingly dominated the ball retention count.
There were encouraging signs when Jaque Fourie scored the opening try in the 13th minute; the end result of a clever grubbered kick-off by Butch James, followed by four phases, before the Bok flyhalf was back in the action to make a deft pick-up off his toes and send the big centre hurtling for the corner.
The try was just deserts for a strong, hard-driving start by the Springboks but that was to be only time they would get over the line.
Widespread anticipation of a big victory soon evaporated and the crowd, but unfortunately not the canned applause!, fell silent as Matt Giteau, courtesy of referee Barnes allowing what looked like blatant obstruction by Guy Shepherdson, darted in next to the posts.
Having missed this deliberate piece of off-the-ball play it was all the more puzzling when the match officials later decided that Pierre Spies should be yellow-carded when he was hit by a George Gregan pass as he was trying to get back onside. In fact, had Steyn not pulled the result out of the embers for the Boks these two decisions might well have been the big talking point in the post mortems.
Mortlock’s kicking had been accurate and the Wallabies reached half time 16-10 in front, soon to be 19-10 when he hammered over his fourth penalty in the 43rd minute.
Against a side as defensively sound as the Wallabies the Boks were facing a mountain as big as Devil’s Peak, which on Saturday towered illuminated by bright sunshine over the ground, to climb and it says much for the new resolve that has germinated in SA rugby that they scaled the peak.
Controlling the ball was key as the Boks won the field position for Percy Montgomery to kick two penalties, cutting the deficit to 16-19, and then it was down to Steyn to claim the adulation of the crowd and the glory of victory.
South Africa (10) 22:
Try by Jaque Fourie (13 min). Percy Montgomery kicked three penalties and a conversion and Francois Steyn two dropped goals. Australia (16) 19:
Try by Matt Giteau (30 min). Stirling Mortlock kicked four penalties and a conversion.
Vodacom Tri-Nations - Match 1JP Pietersen runs into the Aussie wall.
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