South Africa 29 Australia 17
CAPE TOWN - The South African juggernaut rolled on in the Tri-Nations championship this morning (NZT) with a late Morne Steyn penalty sealing a 29-17 triumph over Australia at Newlands.
First five-eighth Steyn kicked 24 points from seven penalties and a drop goal while lock Victor Matfield crossed for a try as the Springboks went eight points clear of New Zealand in the table with Australia a further three behind.
Fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper and first-five Matt Giteau crossed the tryline with the latter converting both and centre Berrick Barnes dropped a goal for the visitors who turned over 23-10 behind.
The result completed a run of three home victories in as many weeks for South Africa after convincingly defeating fiercest rivals the All Blacks in Bloemfontein and Durban.
After scoring an early try, Australia were rocked by setbacks, including the 30th-minute departure of injured skipper and centre Stirling Mortlock and yellow cards for Giteau and flanker Richard Brown within 60 seconds.
Long-serving flanker George Smith was also dismissed to the 'sin bin', a minute from full time, as Australia failed again on the road, having lost by six points to New Zealand in the championship opener three weeks ago.
The southern hemisphere tournament takes a one-week break before Australia host defending champions New Zealand in Sydney on August 22 followed by two home fixtures against the Springboks.
Bok skipper and tighthead prop John Smit singled out Matfield.
"He puts in so much hard work on the training ground and watching videos. Victor is a special talent and we must listen and learn from him," he said.
Official man-of-the-match Matfield shared the praise.
"In Bakkies (Botha), Juan (Smith) and Pierre (Spies) we have three other really competitive lineout jumpers. The teamwork and spirit in this team is awesome."
Coach Peter de Villiers had mixed feelings.
"It is halftime for us in the Tri-Nations and we have three wins out of three, but we must become more clinical. Scoring more tries would be nice, but wins come first."
George Smith had only praise for the Boks.
"They have a simple game plan and it is very efficient. When you are on the retreat (in the loose), they flood through."
Australia gave the capacity 49,000 crowd an early jolt by taking a second-minute lead when Ashley-Cooper dotted down in the corner for a try Giteau converted.
But as pressure gradually mounted on the Wallabies they committed frequent infringements and were severely punished by Steyn, who kicked three penalties to edge the green and gold into a 9-7 lead.
Barnes put the visitors ahead again 60 seconds later as he picked up a pass from loose play and struck a sweet drop goal.
Irish referee Alain Rolland warned both captains as the penalty count rose and another Aussie transgression presented Steyn with the chance he gladly took to slot a fourth penalty and nudge the world champions in front.
Steyn dropped a goal soon after and the increasingly dominant Springboks were 15-10 ahead as they applied the same pressure game plan that worked so well against the All Blacks.
That lead was stretched to 10 points on 28 minutes as Matfield, partnering Bakkies Botha for the 50th time, raced on to a Smit grubber kick and touched down.
Australia were reduced to 13 men within 60 seconds late in the opening half as Giteau got a yellow card amid a chorus of booing for a late tackle on Fourie du Preez and Brown followed after being caught in a blatant offside position.
However, South Africa added only three points from another Steyn penalty before halftime to turn over 13 points ahead as they sought to maintain a 100 per cent Tri-Nations record against Australia in Cape Town.
Frustration at being repeatedly blown up was telling on the Australians with Smith holding a "mini-summit" with Rolland before Steyn landed another penalty 15 minutes into the second half.
Although 16 points adrift, Australia were in no mood to surrender.
A counterattack from young replacement back James O'Connor led to the visitors' lock Nathan Sharpe going close before Giteau skipped over beside the posts for a try he converted before Steyn completed the scoring.
South Africa 29 (Victor Matfield try; Morne Steyn 7 penalties, Steyn drop goal) def. Australia 17 (Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau tries; Giteau 2 conversions, Berrick Barnes drop goal). HT: 23-10.
- AFPBy David Legge