PRETORIA // Peter de Villiers, the South Africa coach, was a worried man after the opening exchanges of the Springboks' Tri Nations victory over Australia yesterday. The world champions, who headed into the game on a four-match losing streak, eventually ran out 44-31 winners, but not before they were given a mighty scare from the visitors. They fell 14-0 behind inside five minutes after converted tries by Will Genia and James O'Connor, before mounting a recovery that helped them to their first victory of the competition.
"I was worried when we gave them those tries, especially in the state we were in, the confidence being low," De Villiers said. "So to give them a start like that it took really a lot of heart and character to come back and win a game a like this." After the below-par opening, Juan Smith and Gurthro Steenkamp cut the deficit either side of a second O'Connor effort, before Dean Mumm and Pierre Spies exchanged tries to hand the visitors a 28-24 half-time lead.
But the Wallabies could manage only three points after the break, and Francois Steyn and JP Pietersen crossed to seal a hard-fought victory for South Africa. The game also marked the 100th cap for veteran lock and vice-captain Victor Matfield on his home ground Loftus Versfeld. "I think the guys wanted to do it for themselves, do it for Victor and do it for their country," De Villiers said. "So that on its own was obviously enough motivation for them to go out there and play."
De Villiers, whose side were edged out 29-22 by New Zealand seven days ago, also praised his players for their determination. "They felt bad at half time, but they weren't down," he said. "They knew that they messed up in the first half, but they also believed they could still do it and you saw the turnaround after that. That [guts] is what the team is made up of. I think now we can build on this game, use it as a foundation, working towards the World Cup."
The Australia coach, Robbie Deans, said he was satisfied with the way his side played in their bid for a first ever win in Pretoria. "It was obviously a game we could have won, even though we haven't won here previously," he said. "So the opportunity was certainly there." He also lamented the loss of key players Nathan Sharpe and Scott Higginbotham through injury. "We went missing when it really mattered, particularly set pieces. Obviously losing Sharpie didn't help and Higginbotham in the warm-up didn't help either," he added.
* Press Association