On Saturday 16 June 2007, the Springboks kicked off their Tri Nations campaign against a full Wallaby team at Newlands, Cape Town. As the first real test of the Springboks’ strength, against a highly rated world-class team with a long history of team and management cohesion, this was a highly anticipated clash. Speculation abounded as to which team was the best and who would be called upon to do team duty that day. I was pleasantly surprised by the selections, as the team came closest to what I would consider the best, with 1 or 2 minor exceptions. I personally was happy to see Shark’s combination of scrum-half and fly-half.
Personally, I don’t think Ashwin Willemse is a first-choice winger and I’m glad they left out Bob Skinstad. I’m sorry but I feel like once you’ve had the chance to play for the Springboks and then you leave the country for whatever reason and once you’ve played somewhere else for a couple of seasons you lose all future opportunities to play for your country. again. Especially when you were captain of the national team, you had a lousy campaign, you were not in shape for the season, but you continually selected and then you came back, after several years away, no way. I do not agree with that. I don’t care how talented the player is. I feel that he has had the opportunities of him and there is another just as servant, just as good and more patriotic. Of course, he was very pleased to see a team made up primarily of Sharks players. I would have liked to see young Frans Steyn start, but I had to settle for at least being on the bench.
Anyway, the match against the Aussies was a tough battle. Many of the younger Sprinboks, lacking high-level match experience, should have felt a bit out of place, but again due to their confidence levels after a very successful Super 14, they coped admirably.
Unfortunately, a major area of concern for world rugby is the recently highlighted weakness of referees in the Super 14. There seem to be very few top-tier referees capable of ruining a top-level game with any semblance of skill. Many horrible refereeing decisions have been exposed recently and I am sorry to say that there are very few referees who are good. They either make questionable decisions, lack control of the game, or are too quick to blow the whistle, instead of letting the game flow. This game was one of those.
The referee was a young, inexperienced boy from England and it showed in the way he handled the game. He failed to stamp any kind of authority on the game and simply lacked control. He too made dumb decisions and was totally influenced by the wily Aussies. When a bit of a fight broke out in the third quarter, he didn’t even blow the whistle. He stood up and looked!
The Aussies are masters at creating pre-match controversy and using distraction tactics and psychology to their advantage. They complained in the press that both BJ Botha and Bakkie Botha used illegal scrum tactics and appealed to match officials to look into this. Well the poor little referee made sure to watch these 2 players like a hawk and while they weren’t at fault as the Aussies claimed, what he didn’t notice was that the Aussies deliberately collapsed every scrum. This referee was so eager to show that he was paying attention to his concerns that he automatically sanctioned South Africa every time. The Aussies loved this and then proceeded to crash everything from the scrum to rucks and mauls.
They took advantage of his inexperience and played a skillful professional foul game. At one point, after several unsuccessful attempts to cross the SA scoring line, George Gregan cleverly spun the ball left to an unsuspecting Pierre Spies and then immediately called for obstruction from the referee. He may have expected a penalty try to be awarded but he must have been happy with the result as a penalty was conceded and scored and poor Spies was given a yellow card and sent off for 10 minutes.
This was a tough and physical match from the start, but after just 10 minutes the South African captain. John Smit injured his knee and had to leave the field. Although Victor Matfield, the Bulls captain, took over the captaincy, the loss was obvious and the ‘Boks seemed to lose some direction.
Each side scored only 1 try each, but it was due to the excellent defense of both teams that the try count was not higher. The Springboks had most of the possession and territory, but the Australian defense was rock solid. They defended like demons.
At halftime, Aussie were in the lead, although the Springboks were the first to put points on the board. Certain players really stood out and among those who put in outstanding play was the hard-working flanker, Schalk Burger, who was later awarded man of the match.
Throughout the first 30 minutes of the second half, both teams attacked and defended strongly, but it seemed that the score of 19-16 for the Wallabies would remain the final score. But then a young, talented and unassuming 20-year-old hero entered the field as a substitute for Ashwin Willemse and the game changed. During a desperate effort by the Springboks to cross the line, with their constant attacking efforts continually thwarted by the Wallabies, Ruan Pienaar returned the ball to Frans Steyn, who cool as a cucumber kicked in a drop goal. The scores were now level at 19-19 and there were only about 4 minutes left.
The Springboks, inspired by their good fortune and smelling of victory, launched another desperate and frantic attack and again and again were stopped by the Australian defence. With just a minute or two to go, the ball found itself back in the hands of young Steyn, who unbelievably attempted a 50-meter long kick and pulled it off with energy to spare. This youngster has a boot on him and can kick further than many of the top world class players. This put South Africa ahead 22-19 and all the ‘Boks had to do was hold possession for a few seconds. At the sound of the horn, the wily Butch James nonchalantly kicked the ball out of play and the victory was sealed.
The young Steyn missed the Sharks’ last shot to win the Super 14 final and allowed the Bulls to take the win, but he more than made up for that mistake in this match. Thus, South Africa now leads the classification in the first week of the Tri Nations and faces New Zealand in the next match in Durban.