South Africa vs Wallabies: Five things we learned

The Rugby Championship
by Iain Payten

The Boks used muscle to continue their Ellis Park dominance and Taniela Tupou's card was a World Cup warning.

What are we talking about after the first Test?

1.Let's get physical

The talk out of Africa was the Wallabies had a new style to unveil, and by picking Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani in the midfield, the best guess was it was big and direct.

Route one rugby.

That didn’t unfold at Ellis Park.

The Wallabies continued to look to make their inroads a few passes away from the ruck and the muscular Springboks rush defence got on top for most of the game. Bernard Foley was targeted hard early and the loop plays designed to get Kerevi a chance to free his legs and arms out wide also had a low success rate.

Kuridrani? He was barely sighted in an hour of footy. The big Brumby had three carries for five metres, which is criminal under-use.

No doubt there were plans to get at Elton Jantjes as a weak defender but he wasn’t exposed nearly enough. He was only made to make ten tackles.

The Wallabies’ defensive line was far less aggressive, and they sat back and waited for the Springbok runners, which in turn allowed the home team to enjoy a reliable diet of front-foot ball.

Using width and skill is a way to beat gigantic South African teams but there really is no hiding from the fact you have to do the tough stuff in the middle too, to show you can do it both ways.

And the Wallabies forwards and big centres did far too little line-bending in tight.

The best the Wallabies looked was when they attacked with direct runners and quick recycle near the edges of the Bok ruck, and with Nic White and Will Genia they have excellent ballplayers.

How to use route one better is one of many lessons for the Wallabies to learn in a week, because Argentina will come with the same stuff in Brisbane.

2.Yellow red light

Taniela Tupou's sin-binning was both an odd call and entirely unsurprising. And while that may sound confusing, this much is clear: the yellow card is a red flashing light for coaches and players about what’s coming at the World Cup.

While the specifics of his card can be argued, Tupou only has himself to blame for being binned, and in the end it was painfully telling. The score went from 14-10 to 27-10 in his absence. 

The Wallabies had actually done all the hard work in shutting down that rolling maul already. Rory Arnold had snuffed it and the referee was on his way to blowing it up when Tupou tried to clean out a rival forward who was trying to lift Arnold.

It's debatable if a defender can clean out at that point anyway, but either way it was just not needed.

The referee and TMO got the specifics of the crime wrong, despite all that. There were arms used and it connected in the chest, and Paul Willliams leaned on it being after the whistle for the danger element. 

It was a penalty only, probably, but referees are going to be very hot in this space at the World Cup, and we’ve seen time and again those moments - no matter how debatable - can cost you a game.

Mostly the cards will come, though, from thoroughly avoidable incidents where you jump out of the fray and invite the referee and the touchie to have a second look.

Due to the investigation Into Tupou's crime you saw a Springbok forward went off his feet and cleaned out with a shoulder only immediately before. Both the officials shrugged and said it was ok. 

To be fair to the Boks, they took full advantage of Tupou’s absence. 

Australia did not when they were a man up in the first half with Andre Esterhuizen’s card. Both sides scored in the next ten minutes. 

Tupou's card was only one of several foot-shooting moments, too.

In a worrying repeat of last year, they flippantly tossed away possession - and the chance to build pressure and points - with loose offloads on a handful of occasions.

3. Halfback hustle

There are always good little halfbacks rising through the ranks in South Africa, and the fact many are tiny humans show the benefit of a huge forward pack who provide the safe refuge of front-foot momentum.

Herschel Jantjes had a superb debut, scoring two tries and winning man-of-the-match with some eyes-up play. The amazing part is he is no.2 behind the number one no.9 Far de Klerk.

For Australia, the assured display of Nic White showed the effort spent in getting him back from Exeter was worth it. White is a classy distributor and an intelligent footballer, with a good kicking game.

He can be used better to attack near the ruck, too.

Will Genia’s bench impact was handy also.

That’ll be a good battle for the halfback roles going forward.

4. Scrum shake

The Wallabies scrum was problematic at Ellis Park, and again a quick fix is required with the Pumas next up.

There were a few props missing, including the in-form Allan Alaalatoa, Scott Sio and Tom Robertson.

But starting props Sekope Kepu and James Slipper are experienced campaigners and the Springboks still had the upper hand.

But as forwards always say, scrummaging isn’t just a front row thing, and it feels like Australia hasn’t had a banker tighthead lock since Robbie Deans used to roll out Sitaleki Timani for concrete foundations. The work of the flankers, too, wasn’t as helpful as it could have been.

All eight men will be required to stay docked to the mother ship in Brisbane.

5. Change station

Injuries allowing, expect plenty of changes for next week from Michael Cheika.

In 2015, he made six-plus changes to his starting XV in every Test before the World Cup started, looking to see who fitted best with who.

That’s where we first saw the Pooper combination rolled out. (Don’t hold your breath about Pocock playing in TRC, though. He’ll be a World Cup only campaigner if he’s right).

The big question will be whether Kurtley Beale takes a starting role, and he probably will, but there is a fair argument that his best World Cup role is still from the bench.

Yes, that will annoy Beale, as it did in 2015.

But as he did in 2015, the electricity provided when the NSW utility comes on the field is magnified ten-fold against tired forwards. It’s not unreasonable to look at Beale sparking three tries in the last 25-30 minutes.

Against fresh legs in the first half, Beale’s brilliance doesn’t always look as razor sharp.