The Springboks kept up their impressive run in this year’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship, dispatching Australia 28-8 in their match at Newlands in Cape Town.
Australia were much more competitive than they had been in Brisbane three weeks ago, and the Boks were not able to score the four tries they needed for a crucial bonus point.
The bonus point would have kept them in range of the All Blacks, who will now come to Ellis Park next week for a deciding match between the two top sides in world rugby.
But a day that should have seen celebrations for Springbok fans turned out to be one of utter disappointment as the Boks scored two early tries, then a late one but just couldn’t get the fourth try that was needed to give them a better chance next week.
The win did catapult the Boks to the top of the Rugby Championship log but with New Zealand expected to win in Argentina overnight, it means they may be five points behind the All Blacks before the game starts next week.
The disappointment came from a Bok performance that promised so much after an amazing start, but then was soured a bit by two yellow cards – both of which, it can be argued, contributed to the missed bonus point.
Still, it is a pity that not achieving the bonus point took the shine off what was an excellent win, and one which the Boks thoroughly deserved after dominating the setpieces and showing a lot of enterprise to play some scintillating rugby at times.
This is a Bok side that is still learning, but they are on an upward curve and will make mistakes.
There is no doubt that French referee Jerome Garces allowed the Wallabies to neutralise the scrum by pushing early before the ball was in, resulting in a shambles at the setpiece and taking away a massive attacking weapon from the Boks.
At the same time, the Wallabies were allowed to swim up the side when the Boks tried to maul, and inevitably either got away with playing the Boks in the air or stopping the momentum – the so-called speed bumps that referees often refer to.
But this is no surprise for a side under immense pressure – and it is common knowledge that they will try and get away with whatever they can. However, while it was lamentable, the Boks tried to adapt but were frustrated at times.
However, there also has to be a fair amount of introspection from the Bok camp, especially after two yellow cards again, and their inability to react better to an Australian side that used the advantage they got very well on the night.
After conceding the opening two tries, they frustrated the home side, and the Boks allowed themselves to get caught up in off-ball scuffles, rather than concentrating on the task at hand.
It will be a performance that disappoints the Boks – and captain Jean de Villiers said as much afterwards – because it was a performance that promised so much.
With Fourie du Preez providing crisp, excellent service, the Bok runners were quick out of the blocks, and while the Wallabies drew first blood with a penalty, it wasn’t long before the Boks were in front again.
Du Preez’ little touches were exceptional, and his vision in getting his runners into space is something the Boks will need next week.
It certainly led to the opening try when a lovely backline attack morphed into the forwards punching up the middle before Du Preez sent a bullet to Adriaan Strauss to go over virtually untouched.
The second try was a testament to how far this team has come on attack – a beautiful counter-attack where Morne Steyn fired a pass to Jean de Villiers, who sent a beauty out wide to JJ Engelbrecht.
Engelbrecht drew the defender and sent the ball inside to Zane Kirchner, who showed a beautiful step to flat-foot Israel Folau and head over the whitewash.
Two more Steyn penalties took the score to 23-3 and it certainly looked as if the Boks were going to run away with a 50-pointer, especially with their dominance in the set-phases.
But perhaps they were over-eager, or perhaps it was Wallaby resilience, but they struggled to break down the defences and made unforced errors at crucial times to go into the break with the 20-point cushion.
It was underlined more by the fact that Michael Hooper was given his marching orders in the 28th minute with a card for a dangerous tackle on Eben Etzebeth, which to be honest, looked as if the Bok lock had dived into it.
It seemed a harsh decision and one that the Boks couldn’t capitalise on.
Will Genia’s appearance on the field seemed to make the Wallabies even tougher to get the ball away from.
Growing in confidence, they managed to keep the ball away from the Boks in large periods but were unable to get any reward.
This was helped by the first Bok yellow – to Flip van der Merwe as his elbow ended up in Joe Tomane’s face recklessly, with slow motion replays making it look even worse.
Given Bismarck du Plessis’ troubles in Auckland it was a silly card, and one which could easily be cited later, even though Van der Merwe can claim it was accidental.
The second yellow came in the 66th minute, as Duanne Vermeulen was adjudged to have knocked the ball deliberately out of Genia’s hand on defence. While Bok supporters may feel aggrieved, it was an extremely silly thing to do in the red zone.
Strangely though, with 14 men, the Boks went onto the attack, and they scored their third try – this time thanks to a stunning bullet pass from Du Preez to Willie le Roux, with the latter doing amazingly well to dot down the ball before he was bundled out into touch.
Sitaleki Tomani received a yellow for his efforts as he went into a ruck leading with a shoulder – and not even the fact that he delivered it to his own teammate by accident saved him as the visitors ended the game with 14 men on the park.
The Wallabies did get a try to 19-year old Chris Feauai-Sautia from a cross-kick – although there will be some debate whether it was legitimate as the Boks claimed the ball touched the assistant referee before a quick throw-in was taken.
In the end the Boks ran out of time – and ways – to cross the Wallaby line.
The victory was comprehensive and delivered a number of key talking points ahead of next week’s crucial match.
It was a sign that this team is still not the finished article, but they can score exceptional tries and dominate when they need to.
But it was also a sign that ill-discipline will continue to haunt them and could be costly if they allow it to be a talking point going forward.
So much good has already been done with this side, and the victory was a comprehensive one-sided win that doesn’t come often at this level of test rugby.
But despite this, the lagging disappointment still abounds – perhaps because this side promises more, and perhaps because they still need to grow.
Two yellow cards and a bonus point will be the talking point once again on a victory that should be lauded.
And with the All Blacks arriving this week to measure this Bok team once again, Meyer and co will know they have done well.
But they still have a lot of work to do to become the best.
South Africa - Tries: Adriaan Strauss, Zane Kirchner, Willie le Roux. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2). Penalties: Steyn (2).
Australia - Try: Chris Feauai-Sautia. Penalty: Christian Lealiifano.