South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer praised a top-class defensive effort for his team’s five-try, 31-8 victory over Australia in their Rugby Championship Test at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The Springboks became the first team in this year’s competition to register a try-scoring bonus point as wing Bryan Habana collected a hat-trick, but Meyer said the new-found attacking spark had its roots in their defence.
“You’re only as good as your defence, that’s how you put pressure on and then you score from turnovers. Our defence was awesome tonight. Australia want a high-tempo game, but these players always put their bodies on the line,” Meyer told a news conference after the Test.
Captain Jean de Villiers also credited other factors for the try-scoring spree that took their tally from six to 11 in five matches.
“The space is not always there but when your territorial game is as fantastic as it was tonight and we were really good at the breakdown, then you can afford to run the ball more. It worked nicely for us tonight,” De Villiers said.
While the Springboks enjoyed a steady diet of front-foot ball, Wallaby coach Robbie Deans was bemoaning a total lack of momentum for his side.
“South Africa played well tonight, they should be given credit. They were very good around the collisions and didn’t allow us much front-foot ball. Their defence was very effective and we used up players trying to run at them or to stop their ball-carriers,” Deans said.
Australia also had tremendous misfortune with injuries, with fullback Berrick Barnes and outside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper having to leave the field in the first half. With eighthman Radike Samo and lock Kane Douglas also limping off, the Wallabies then had to finish the match with 14 men because referee Alain Rolland would not allow injured hooker Tatafu Poloto-Nau to be replaced, ruling the visitors had already used seven substitutions, with prop Benn Robinson returning to the field in the second half after going off before the break.
“It was bizarre and the carnage of all those injuries was unprecedented in my experience. We were still in the game at half-time, but had to finish with a halfback on the wing and, with all those injuries, it was just asking too much for us to get home,” Deans said.
The Wallabies coach believed the decision to not allow replacement hooker Saia Fainga’a on the field was unfair.
“The fourth referee said at the time we could replace Tatafu, then that decision was changed. Benn Robinson was a strategic substitution in the first half and his situation was irrelevant.”
Despite the impressive, convincing win, Meyer said the Springboks’ finishing still needed to improve, with flyhalf Johan Goosen, fullback Zane Kirchner and replacement centre Juan de Jongh all having close looks at the tryline but failing to score.
“I’m very proud of this young team tonight, but three tries were just a centimetre away and you have to convert those. So I’m not happy with that, if you create those opportunities, you must put them away,” Meyer said.
The Springbok coach also liked his team’s efforts in the lineouts and scrums, and their discipline at the breakdowns, while he said Goosen made a top-class first start at flyhalf, despite missing two early penalties.
“Johan struggled during the week with a heel injury and he wasn’t 100% in the warm-up. He said that after 10 minutes it was hurting, but he showed his character and said he would keep playing, he just couldn’t kick. He’s a thrilling prospect, he showed a lot of pace, he was superb, but it will take time before he is a finished package,” Meyer explained.
Australia already have a full XV of players out injured, but their previous fitness woes are starting to look like a mini-crisis with Deans admitting SOSs would need to be sent for players to join the squad in Argentina.
“We will need to bring players across, which is going to be very challenging because we’ve already delved deep into our resources. Getting visas is also not straightforward for Argentina and there’s a possibility some players won’t arrive in time for training,” Deans said.