Australia V South Africa: 6 Things We Learned
Over 40 years since the Springboks had last managed to come away from Brisbane with a win, Heyneke Meyer’s side crushed Australia.
The South Africans came out as 38-12 victors and maintained their hopes of ending New Zealand’s Rugby Championship reign.
The encounter will have left both home and away parties with something to take from the fixture, be it positive or negative.
1. South Africa Learning from Past Mistakes
Last year, South Africa took an early lead in the away fixture against Australia, just as they did this weekend.
The difference between the two results being that Meyer’s side managed to hold out for the victory, showing great composition and an unwillingness to lie down, unlike last summer’s performance.
Back then, the Springboks let go of a 13-6 halftime lead, conceding 20 points in the second period and answering with just three of their own.
Just as Meyer has in other aspects of his side’s squad, the Springboks’ mental strength and ability to sustain a lead appears to have taken a major turn for the better, particularly in terms of not just settling for a result, but chasing the bigger score.
2. Steyn Continues to Leave His Mark
Cementing his place as one of the finest fly-halves in the world, Morne Steyn’s display was in some contrast to that of New Zealand’s Dan Carter, who played earlier on in the weekend.
As reliable from the tee as ever, the No. 10 scored just under half of the total points tally of his side and provided the Springboks with something to be positive about before the tries began to flood in.
Steyn also did a strong job defensively, pushing narrow inside Jean De Villiers and his back-row forwards to regularly sew up any gaps that Christian Lealiifano and co. may have sought to exploit.
3. Quade Cooper’s Influence an Instant Improvement
One very particular subplot to Ewen McKenzie’s reign as Australia’s head coach thus far has been the controversy regarding who should start as the side’s No. 10.
Up until now, Matt Toomua has been handed his chances in the two fixtures against Argentina with Quade Cooper’s introductions giving slight glimpses of what could be.
For the first period of the Springboks’ win, the Wallabies stayed within good reach of their opponents and Cooper had done what Toomua was failing to do at times and inject a real sense of urgency going forward.
Even when things began to fall apart, it was largely as a result of the forwards beginning to crumble under the pressure of the South African pack, leaving Cooper in a fairly reasonable position at full time.
4. Springboks a Genuine Threat to New Zealand Record
It’s always been supposed that South Africa would be the most likely threat to New Zealand’s Rugby Championship grip.
Saturday’s rampant win confirmed that the Springboks are the sole party left who can dethrone the current title holders and have improved vastly since last year.
While one might say that New Zealand’s wins over the Wallabies were in more confident fashion than South Africa managed, the Springboks also appear to be developing their best side and are growing all the while.
5. Michael Hooper Continues His Wallabies Growth
One of numerous Australian youngsters currently making moves through the Wallabies’ hierarchy, Michael Hooper is now an established presence in the national team.
However, not only is the flanker showcasing his ability to pitch in with the odd moment of brilliance but is now putting himself forth as one of the leaders of the pack.
Forever present at the breakdown as usual, Hooper did overstep his boundaries with a sin-bin tackling offence early in the second half.
It was in Hooper’s absence that things began to unravel defensively for the hosts, showing just how vital his dynamic figure can be without the ball.
6. Jean De Villiers a Must for 2015
At 32 years of age, there is the creeping doubt around Jean De Villiers and just whether or not the Stormers centre can maintain his health and standards for the 2015 World Cup.
Those concerns are well-placed considering De Villiers is arguably South Africa’s most important performer on his day.
Saturday’s win over the Wallabies was another testament to the key presence that the veteran holds in Meyer’s setup, with the hosts’ second-half unlocking thanks to the graft of De Villiers.
Zane Kirchner, Bryan Habana and Willie le Roux all benefited as a result of the inside centre’s indomitable ability to break the line before offloading, helping those around him into heaps of space as a result.
If South Africa are to maintain their current trajectory and challenge for World Cup honours in two summers’ time, it’s vital that De Villiers features as a part of Meyer’s 2015 squad in the exact shape he’s in now.