By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor in Wellington
ANOTHER WORLD CUP quarter-final, another edge-of-your-seat affair. This contest was in the balance right until the end as South Africa pushed for a late drop-goal but it was Australia who eventually came out on top. It wasn’t pretty but it was enthralling.
It was James O’Connor who slotted the decisive penalty in the 71st minute after Victor Matfield had pulled down Radike Samo at a lineout, but the Springboks had clawed their way back into the game with the boot of Morne Steyn having gone 8-0 down to a James Horwill try and another O’Connor penalty.
Despite the lack of flowing rugby it was a captivating match in which the two No 7s, David Pocock and Schalk Burger, were star performers. So what proved the difference?
THE KEY REASONS WHY AUSTRALIA WON
1. TAKING CHANCES
South Africa dominated territory (74%) throughout but couldn’t get over the line. They went close on several occasions but they would either drop a pass or Australia would win a turnover. The Wallabies, meanwhile, took an 8-0 lead in the first half despite having just 16% of field position in that period. When they fortuitously secured the ball in the Bok 22, James Horwill charged over to score.
2. SCRAMBLE DEFENCE
Australia tend to defend in a very narrow channel and the Springboks tried to exploit this by spreading the ball wide as often as they could. However, the Wallabies scrambled incredibly well and whenever it looked like the Boks would surely score a try there was a gold jersey to bring that player down. Their 147 tackles to the Boks’ 53 shows their commitment in defence.
3. TURNOVER MADNESS
One of the reasons that neither team to get any flow to their attack was that both teams managed to win turnovers at the breakdown. David Pocock was supreme in this facet of play, whether legally or illegally, as the Wallabies notched nine turnovers to South Africa’s four.
Peter de Villiers announced that he’d be stepping down as South Africa coach after the match. He’s had a somewhat controversial four years in charge, but won the praise of his captain John Smit.
“Over the past four years he’s always said even the bad days are good,” said Smit, who was also playing in his last Test for the Boks. “That’s what he’s done, made us enjoy every moment. He’s a great man and he’s helped us to enjoy these four years.”