The Wallabies produced a convincing second-half performance to claim a hard-fought 26-19 victory over the Springboks in Perth on Saturday.
Two truths have been told. The one is that the Springboks will not win the inaugural Rugby Championship for four nations. The other is that New Zealand will win it. For those not to come true would take a Lazarus miracle of rising from the dead or a Krakatoa catastrophe that blows everything apart.
The Springboks lost in Perth and they deserved to lose; the Wallabies won in Perth and they deserved to win. The Wallabies deserved to win, not because they are wonder team, but because they played with greater zest. This was shown in a few facets of the game.
The Wallabies were quick up on defence; the Springboks stood back and waited for the Wallaby runners to arrive. This enabled the Wallabies to get over the advantage line time and again. Tackling tells much of a team's spirit and intent. The Wallabies did it much better, as both Wallaby tries were facilitated by poor tackling.
The Wallabies played quick ball from tackles. For the life of me I cannot understand the Springbok turning itself into a Meerkat, standing upright trying to make slow ball slower. It was only in the last 12 minutes that they played quickly and what a difference it made! On one occasion Ruan Pienaar twice pushed the ball back in rucks and it ended with a penalty against the Springboks. How in the name of all that is beautiful in rugby football can that be a way to play the game - a winning way, an enjoyable way, an exciting way? Nor is there any profit in crabbing sideways from tackle/rucks before passing.
The Springboks had three big ball-carrying loose forwards - or that is what they were meant to be. There is no evidence of that. The Wallabies had a smaller fetcher in Michael Hooper who not only won four turnovers at tackles but also carried the ball more effectively than the three mastodons put together.
The Springboks kicked further than the Wallabies and their try, eventually, came from an up-'n-under but in the second half that kicking was meaningless.
Not that the Wallabies were wonderful. They seemed to believe that the grubber was the great weapon, describe at half time by Robbie Deans as 'silly, dribbly kicks'. That was their most wasteful tactic but they changed in the second half and scored two tries while the Springboks scored two penalties.
A minute's silence for five Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan started proceedings. Then there were stirring renditions of the national anthems and then Morné Steyn kicked off.
The Springboks did the early attacking, going through 10 phases till Morné Steyn attempted a drop at goal. The first score came when Sitaleki Timani was penalised at a tackle and Morné Steyn goaled. 3-0 after 3 minutes.
Then it was the Wallabies' turn to attack. It was promising till Barnes threw a wayward pass towards unmarked Adam Ashley-Cooper. When Tendai Mtawarira was penalised at a tackle, Barnes made it 3-all after 17 minutes. Barnes, despite being injured, kicked impeccably on the balmy Perth evening.
Kirchner chased an up-'n-under, leapt and knocked the ball back. François Steyn was at the line, Eben Etzebeth was closer and Pienaar closer still when Bryan Habana took the ball off Pienaar and rocketed over at the posts. 10-3 after 19 minutes.
Nathan Sharpe, playing his 108th Test, was penalised at a maul five metres in from touch and 45 metres from the Wallaby line. From there François Steyn banged over a perfect kick. 13-3 to South Africa.
South Africa put the ball into six scrums in the match. There were six collapses, three resets and three penalties. The first of the penalties was against Jannie du Plessis and Barnes goaled. 13-6 which was the half-time score.
Late in the half, Mtawarira blocked Kurtley Beale after the Wallaby had kicked and was sent to the sin bin. The Wallabies did not score in his absence.
His absence was longer as there was a blackout at the stadium which prolonged the half-time break.
The Springboks started the second half attacking but Morné Steyn ended the attack when he missed a drop at goal from in front. Then it was the Wallabies turn to go through 12 phases which ended when Pienaar was offside. 13-9 after 47 minutes.
There were two significant changes about this time. First Habana, after a telling run, left the field to be replaced by Lwazi Mvovo and Scott Higginbotham came on as a substitute for Radike Samo. Those two changes would have a telling effect on the game.
Form a line-out on their right, the Wallabies went left, making good ground. They came back right where Higginbotham simply burst past Willem Alberts, close enough to have brushed the burly flank who seemed to make no effort at all to stop the Wallaby. 16-13 after 55 minutes. The Wallabies were ahead for the first time.
But Tatafu Polota Nau was penalised at a tackle and again François Steyn banged over a long kick. 16-all after 59 minutes.
The Wallabies kicked off. The ball came to earth. Mvovo stuck out a dreamy foot to the ball which went into the Springbok ingoal. If Mvovo had not touched the ball it would have been a scrum to South Africa on the half-way line. Instead it was a five-metre scrum to Australia. Eventually Patric Cilliers was penalised and Barnes restored the Wallaby lead. 19-16 after 62 minutes.
The Wallabies did not deal easily with the Springbok maul and when Dave Dennis was penalised at one, Morné Steyn goaled. 19-all after 67 minutes.
From the kick-off Pienaar played meerkat and then kicked downfield. Will Genia leapt forward to claim the kick and the Wallabies went in for pick-'n-drive and made quick headway. Higginbotham burst ahead, Polota Nau carried it on and then Quade Cooper gave a sharp pass to Ben Alexander about 20 metres from the line. He ran past Mvovo who made no real attempt to tackle. him. Juandré Kruger put an arm over Alexander's shoulder about six metres from the line but the Wallaby prop had no difficulty carrying the Springbok lock over for a try in the left corner. Barnes, though injured, goaled.
There were 12 minutes to play and Pat Lambie and Johan Goosen brought a bit of life to the Springboks but not enough to trouble the Wallabies with any seriousness.
Man of the Match: outstanding for the Wallabies were Michael Hooper, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Will Genia and our Man of the Match Berrick Barnes, wounded but so effective.
Moment of the Match: Ben Alexander's winning try.
Villain of the Match: Nobody, though Nathan Sharpe of the 108 Tests would have looked more of a sportsman if he had not tried to provoke neophyte Eben Etzebeth and then seek his expulsion.
Tries: Higginbotham, Alexander
Cons: Barnes 2
Pens: Barnes 4
For South Africa:
Con: M Steyn
Pens: M Steyn 2, F Steyn 2
Yellow card: Tendai Matawarira (33 mins, professional foul)
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Dominic Shipperley, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (captain), 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Scott Higginbotham, 19 Liam Gill, 20 Nick Phipps, 21 Mike Harris, 22 Anthony Fainga'a.
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Francois Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Patric Cilliers, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Francois Louw, 20 Johan Goosen, 21 Patrick Lambie, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)