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Wallabies could still have the last laugh after ‘farce’

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The sting from their worst ever rugby test defeat should be faded by the time the Wallabies land back in Australia.

Unlike South Africa, executor of the biggest thrashing in Australia’s history on Saturday at Ellis Park Stadium, the Wallabies can still cover themselves in glory in the Tri-Nations.

They have one more match, a fitting finale against New Zealand in two weeks at Brisbane, where a win would consign the 53-8 drubbing from South Africa to the darkest recesses of the Wallabies’ minds.

Besides having plenty of time for bruises to heal and psyches to properly focus, Australia’s recent history suggests it won’t be weighed down by such a heavy loss when they play the defending champion All Blacks for their first Tri-Nations title since 2001.

The Wallabies were similarly thumped 39-10 by the All Blacks in Auckland at the start of August, only to recover and beat the Springboks last weekend at Durban, eliminating the World Cup champion Boks from the title race and setting up the last match in Brisbane as the decider.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans admitted losing hurts anytime but they won’t be taking much from Saturday’s match into the finale.

“We will rather focus on what is a great opportunity for us,” Deans said. “It has become a winner-takes-all match.”

Australia was determined to end a 45-year winless drought against the Boks in their Johannesburg fortress but after a good start little went right.

Lineouts became a lottery and a launching pad for South African attacks, passes were wild or dropped, and the breakdowns were conceded to a more aggressive home team.

The Wallabies’ ninth loss in 10 matches at Ellis Park Stadium ended up producing their biggest losing margin, surpassing the 66-21 defeat to the Boks at Pretoria in 1997, when they were also last lashed by eight tries.

“One never comes to a field expecting that kind of score to be put past you,” captain Stirling Mortlock said.
 
“All credit to the Boks. Every time they created they used the opportunities, and every time we were turned over they punished us.”

For the Springboks and first-year coach Peter de Villiers the result was partial vindication.

After a fortnight of ineptitude and criticism from successive home defeats to New Zealand in Cape Town and Australia in Durban, the Springboks’ passing and catching clicked, there was support behind every shoulder, and they won the turnovers in their last home game of the year.

De Villiers’ faith in a team he kept largely intact was repaid, and the controversial expansive game he has been trying hard to establish looked worthy, but the architect still wasn’t entirely satisfied.

“This is what I expect from the team, but we’re only about 60-70 percent of where we want to be,” he said.
 
“There has been plenty of criticism, but it shows that the process is now beginning to work.”

After Australia flyhalf Matt Giteau passed behind an open backline to end a try chance, he kicked a fifth-minute penalty for the opening points. Australia didn’t score again for 50 minutes. By then, South Africa led 39-3.

Fullback Conrad Jantjes drew two defenders to send in lock Andries Bekker for the first try, then Fourie du Preez’s quick tap of a free kick gave third-cap winger Jongi Nokwe the overlap for the first of his four tries.

Odwa Ndungane came off his wing to put in Nokwe again, and just before halftime, a missout pass from flyhalf Butch James set up Nokwe for his hat trick and sealed a 27-3 game-over halftime lead.

A nice back flip by Jean de Villiers hurtled midfield partner Adi Jacobs to the tryline, then came the Springboks’ sixth and best try.

James doubled around Jantjes, grubbered down the right touch, Ndungane scooped up and found Nokwe inside for his fourth try, the seventh time a Springbok has scored four tries or more in a test.

The previous time was by Bryan Habana against Samoa at last year’s World Cup.

Nokwe injured his ankle in scoring, and was replaced by Percy Montgomery, who announced after his Springboks record 102nd test that he was retiring from international duty.

Replacement winger Drew Mitchell scored Australia’s solo try, but there was time left for South Africa to finish with tries for replacement flyhalf Ruan Pienaar and the hard-working Ndungane.

“Today we used our opportunities,” captain Victor Matfield said

“Of course we were disappointed after the two defeats, but one becomes better if you can get through the tough times together.”
 

Meanwhile the Springboks win over the Wallabies in the Tri-Nations has been labelled a farce by a respected rugby journalist.

The Independent newspaper’s Peter Bills says the Wallabies played a ludicrous running game and simply did not tackle.

Bills says it was a surreal joke.

He says he saw the Australian players in the hotel afterwards and they were laughing, joking and did not seem to care.

If the Wallabies go on to Brisbane in a fortnight and win the Tri-Nations, all will be forgotten.
 

Sapa AP Rugbyweek.com

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