South Africa clawed back some much-needed pride by notching up an emphatic 53-8 victory over Australia at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
South Africa clawed back some much-needed pride by notching up an emphatic 53-8 victory over Australia at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday, with Jongikhaya Nokwe running four tries past the out-of-sort Australians.
Just when you thought the Tri-Nations could not possibly throw up another humdinger, we get this: title contenders decimated by wooden spoonists!
Where did the Springboks pull this performance from? Easy. From the very depths of their wounded souls.
A week ago they were booed from the field after a performance that made Laurel and Hardy look employable. Today they ran straight, supported in numbers, held their passes, bossed the set-piece and ran in eight tries.
If this was about saving face, Bok coach Peter de Villiers might be forgiven for thinking that his troops ensured the future of his features.
Indeed, a broad smile nestled under that luxuriant moustache as the final whistle blew.
That the novice Nokwe became the first man to score four tries against the Wallabies in a Test would have given the beleaguered coach particular satisfaction.
But after the embers of the last of tonight's braais have been extinguished, the world champions and their fans will have to face up to some uncomfortable truths.
Firstly, the manner of this win actually makes the last couple of weeks harder to swallow. Now we know that the Boks can still play brilliant rugby, why can they not produce the goods on a consistent basis?
Moreover, this was an empty victory devoid of any meaning. Australia clinched their place in the Tri-Nations 'final' with last week's win and needed for nothing in Johannesburg. At times during today's hammering it was patently obvious that they had more than one eye on the big date in Brisbane.
The non-game allowed Wallaby boss Robbie Deans the chance to experiment and he duly made five changes to the side that triumphed in Durban.
Not all the experiments worked (Tatafu Polota-Nau's line-out work was a mess) but the reshuffle – and even the loss – could yet work in their favour: the All Blacks will have garnered precious little from this game.
South Africa were dominant for all but five minutes of the game: the first five minutes of the game.
But for a wayward pass from Matt Giteau, the Australians would have been at least five points up in the second minute.
The visitors had to settle for a penalty after Butch James was pinged for being off-side, and with that Australia took an early lead.
From that point on it was all South Africa.
The first try came after Australia got themselves into a real muddle as they attempt to clear their lines.
Giteau eventually manage to put boot to ball, but only as far the outstanding Conrad Jantjes. The industrious full-back hoisted the perfect bomb and was on hand to collect a long pass from James to set Andries Bekker on his way to the line after drawing his man with aplomb.
South African tails went up and Fourie Du Preez combined with Jean De Villiers to set Nokwe free down the left to dot down with nonchalance in the corner.
James missed the tricky conversion, but suddenly the drummers in the crowd sounded less like the hungry cannibals that had called for blood in Durban. Had the beating heart of South African rugby been massaged back to life? It seems so.
Two missed opportunities followed, one for each side – Lote Tuqiri knocked on a dolly pass down the left and Pierre Spies was dispossessed in the act of scoring in the left corner.
But the ball was then moved left with speed and decisiveness (a new tactic for the Boks) and Nokwe was on hand to collect another easy try.
James was again off-target with his conversion but made amends moments later when Phil Waugh went off-side within easy range of the sticks.
Nokwe then dotted down his third of the game, becoming only the second Bok to score a hat-trick against Australia.
Such feats should not be accomplished with ease, but the Cheetahs flyer managed to put three tries past the Wallabies without a finger being laid on him.
His final effort was the easiest of the trio – a simple trot across the line after another lengthy pass from James found him in his own private acre of space.
James converted and the Boks, somewhat incredulously, disappeared for their half-time oranges with a 27-3 lead to their names.
The Boks started the second half as they ended the first. De Villiers straightened up, got his arms through the tackle and delivered a pin-point reverse pass to the supporting Adi Jacobs. The burly centre then showed great pace and a fine step as he ate up the forty yards of grass between himself and the tryline. James converted and the locals were out of sight.
Simple rugby, well executed. It ain't so hard when you put your mind to it.
Nokwe then popped up to make history, becoming the first man to score four tries against the Wallabies in a Test.
But this time he had to work for the laurels. He came looking for work on the opposite wing, chasing up a clever grubber from Jantjes, and was on hand to collect the final pass from his fellow wing, the hard-working Odwa Ndungane.
The try proved to be the record-breaker's last contribution of the day – he limped from the field after injuring his leg in the act of scoring. He might opt to stay out on the luck-kissed left in the future, and fans will forgive him for such an indulgence after his efforts here today.
Giteau looked like he had pulled back seven points after he intercepted and made off for the sticks, only to be hauled back for being off-side. But the playmaker made immediately amends by working a pass out of the tackle to allow Drew Mitchell an easy route to the line. A full 56 minutes on the clock and Australia had their first try, albeit unconverted.
Not that if worried the Boks. With the result all but secured, the bench was emptied onto the pitch and the new boys were soon in on the action.
A lovely jinxing run from Ruan Pienaar – on for James – saw him through the first line of flagging Australians and he stepped past Mitchell to claim South Africa's seventh try of the game. Percy Montgomery – on for Nokwe – nudged over the easy conversion.
Australian heads began to hang. It became obvious that they could not live with the pace of the Boks – or the altitude.
But it still wasn't over. A bullocking run from Danie Rossouw smashed the gold lines asunder once more and Ndungane was on hand to punctuate the massacre.
And so South Africa's abortive attempt to add the Tri-Nations trophy to the Webb Ellis Cup ended on an artificial high – an emotional cocktail that will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Boks fans, and a nagging question on their lips: why did we wait so long before producing a performance like this?
Man of the match: Jongi Nokwe's four-try effort deserves special praise, even if they weren't the hardest-won scores of his career. Elsewhere, Butch