Rugby: Boks lose Barnes-stormer

By Paul Lewis

Australia 21 South Africa 6

Tri-Nations standings

Adam Ashley-Cooper celebrates his decisive try for the Wallabies last night. Photo / Getty Images
Adam Ashley-Cooper celebrates his decisive try for the Wallabies last night. Photo / Getty Images

Wayne Barnes, eh? Mr Forward Pass (as in "missed a forward pass") is still around and still missing things - but this time the All Blacks are alive.

The Boks didn't get the bonus point they needed but it was little thanks to referee Barnes.

Somehow he missed the ugly, flying crunch that Springbok flanker Heinrich Brussouw put on Wallaby hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau which was, at worst, worthy of a yellow card and, at best, a penalty. It led to Polota-Nau leaving the field with injured ribs. Jeez, Wayne.

He also remarkably missed Matt Giteau's drop goal before halftime. Barnes was standing in front of the posts but had to ask the video ref if it had gone over. It had. Clearly. Hmmm.

Somehow Barnes missed at least two forward passes as the Springboks pressed the Wallabies hard towards the end of the first 20 minutes. Many New Zealanders will not be able to help comparing them to THAT forward pass in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final.

Barnes was the referee then and he still looks a bit like a frightened schoolboy - but this match was more about the rejuvenated Wallabies than any referee with the wobblies.

What a difference a week makes. Last week, the Wallabies couldn't catch a ball. They couldn't pass. They couldn't tackle. They couldn't do anything much except watch the Boks be clinical and turn over the ball to help them be so.

This week - transformation. They caught the ball in the air. There was real sting in the tackles. The Boks' slick set piece moves ran into well-organised Wallaby defence instead of waltzing past signs which said: "Run here for easy points". At last, they looked a side Robbie Deans might have coached.

It took four try-saving tackles - two by Bryan Habana (one on wing Lachie Turner and the other on a blazing Matt Giteau), one by a desperate Fourie du Preez on his opposite, Will Genia, and centre Jacques Fourie on Giteau again - to keep the Boks in the game. That is the sort of thing that can spell the difference in tight test matches and the Wallabies could have had the Boks in all sorts of strife early had Habana not made those two tackles.

They had the rub of the green too as, when Barnes finally did spot a forward pass (he didn't even have to ask anybody), the Boks were pressing hard just before the break and Brussouw would have scored.

Still and all, 9-6 up was a poor halftime reward for the Wallabies whose accuracy and effort deserved more and whose only hiccup of the first half - a botched throw - was punished by Morne Steyn and his trusty drop goal delivery.

The Wallabies were giving John Smit a torrid time in the scrums again through Benn Robinson, big lock James Horwill made light of the absence of Nathan Sharpe, and man-of-the-match Rocky Elsom brought more purpose and accuracy to his thundering about than last week.

Halfback Genia looked lively and dangerous and, if a bit naive at times, showed enough to prove that he will be a handful at this level with a bit more experience. Giteau was back to world class and, before he had to leave the field, Polota-Nau was influential with some big hits on the Boks that set them back.

But these Boks are a settled and oiled combination. Remarkably, they keep rotation to a minimum and adopt the stunning strategy of playing their best players all the time. Brilliant, huh?

They put the squeeze on the Wallabies in the second half. They ruled the lineouts, they drove and mauled and attacked the breakdown with more gusto, sending up more bombs. Pierre Spies put the close-in Wallaby defence under pressure with his spurts from the scrums and their defence muscled up in championship fashion.

Even so, the Wallabies could have gone ahead 16-6 if Barnes, like a typical Northern Hemisphere ref, had played advantage better (or at all) and if Genia hadn't taken matters in his own hands with a tap and go - when du Preez worked his miracle.

The Australians, after great work by Elsom, had the Boks on the rack and still had the ball when Barnes whistled for a ruck offence. If he'd just held off an instant, the Wallabies might have scored from their numbers out wide.

Finally, justice was done when Adam Ashley-Cooper was put through a yawning gap by Berrick Barnes and the Wallabies finally had a score-more-than-once lead.

They kept turning the screw. Schalk Burger and du Preez spilled kick ball as the Wallabies pressed on - and fullback James O'Connor had an easy pick-up and stroll to the line for the game-breaker.

And, for once, there wasn't a try-saving tackle. Or a forward pass. Not even in Wayne's world.

Australia 21 (A. Ashley-Cooper, J. O'Connor tries; M. Giteau con, 2 pen, drop goal), South Africa 6 (M. Steyn pen, drop goal). Halftime: 9-6

- Herald on Sunday

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