Green machine proves unstoppable
August 8, 2009
South Africa's Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield prepare for a lineout during the clash in Cape Town © Getty Images
Peter De Villiers Bakkies Botha Luke Burgess Bismarck du Plessis Matt Giteau James Horwill Victor Matfield Stephen Moore Ruan Pienaar Nathan Sharpe John Smit Morne Steyn
Three matches. Three wins. Results do not lie. In this kind of uncompromising form the Springboks will no doubt soon be celebrating their third Tri-Nations title.
While the boot of fly-half Morne Steyn will rightfully secure him his fair share of the headlines after another points-glut, it was the twin towers of strength, otherwise known as Springboks duo Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, that were at the heart of the green machine's latest step towards southern hemisphere supremacy.
The ever-impressive locks chose the occasion of their 50th match alongside each other to issue the latest reminder that they are peerless in the world game. On the cut-throat international stage where the pressure to win encourages infidelity in terms of selection, this most impressive of marriages continues to set the mark when it comes to second row pairings.
Botha, known as the 'Enforcer' due to his no-holds-barred physical approach, and Matfied, regarded as the best lineout jumper in the game, have commanded many column inches since their 'nuptials' in 2002 and will have the scribes scribbling once more following another dominant display against the Wallabies in Cape Town.
The stats underline the Boks' dominance on their own ball - 15 lineouts, 15 won - although this most valuable of double-acts would be quick to point to the telling contribution from team-mates Juan Smith and Pierre Spies. But it is their ability to disrupt their opponents' lineouts that sets them apart. At Newlands they combined to pilfer an astonishing nine throws from the clutches of Nathan Sharpe, James Horwill et al.
As veterans, both will be hoping to extend their fruitful partnership - that has already included a Rugby World Cup win and a series victory over the British & Irish Lions - through to the sport's next global showpiece in 2011. At least two of their country's rising stars also look destined to be stars of that tournament in New Zealand.
Flanker Heinrich Brussow continues to impress. Since making the step up to the Springboks' ranks, a move that was long overdue, he has looked at home. Some players struggle to carry their provincial prowess into the international environment - but not Brussow. His ability to burrow into the breakdown and pick-pocket the opposition and come up with the ball would make Fagin proud.
The battle of the breakdown is an all-important aspect of the elite game and to have such a weapon at your disposal is priceless. At just 23 years of age, he is destined for greatness.
Another who has followed a similar path is Steyn. Over the last two years or so the Bulls' fly-half has lit up the Super 14 stage but failed to get the nod from Boks coach Peter de Villiers - until this summer that is. He helped break the British & Irish Lions' hearts but has since kicked on - quite literally.
The trials of the Tri-Nations were not enough to knock him off his increasingly assured stride, with back-to-back record-breaking performances against the best sides in the world.
The worrying thing for the rest of the world is that this Springboks side is not the finished article. They appear to lack the killer instinct of the great sides and today's victory was the latest example of that shortcoming. Despite dominating territory and possession, the Wallabies remained in touch until late in the game, at at time when the hosts should have been coasting home.
The Wallabies did their best to unsettle their hosts with a fast and frenetic pace but were unable to maintain their intensity. In the end, the penalty count cost Robbie Deans' side dear with Steyn punishing them to the tune of 21 points. Although 14 infringements can be weathered by the better teams this does not take into account the ability of your opponents to kick anything from up to 60m as Steyn and his namesake Frans are likely to do.
But to point the finger at Australia's shortcomings alone would be to do a disservice to South Africa. Steyn would happily accept he was the beneficiary of a dominant forward effort that forced the hapless Wallabies into those penalties.
However, don't waste your sympathy on Australia as they are on the right track. Deans has his side moving in the right direction, with RWC'11 their obvious goal, and with the likes of James O'Connor in their ranks they have little to worry about. The 19-year-old excites whenever he touches the ball and displayed an assurance many a seasoned veteran will envy. The Wallabies' scrum also held their own and more against their more formidable opponents.
In the end, a Springboks victory appeared inevitable - such is the confidence that they have gleaned from their bruising encounters with the best the world can offer. They dominate first and second phase and have the kicking arsenal to escape trouble and also punish you if you're foolish enough to cross them.
Highly impressive. Extremely dangerous. Champions in-waiting.