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Peter Bills is a rugby writer and commentator

Peter Bills: Wallaby win will boost Springboks

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Richie McCaw jostles Quade Cooper. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw jostles Quade Cooper. Photo / Getty Images

What a match. What a triumph for Australia, with their first Tri-Nations title in 10 years. What a scene-setter for the World Cup.

And - crucially - what an encouragement for the Springboks and their army of followers with the World Cup starting in less than two weeks.

The climax to the last ever Tri-Nations match raised intriguing questions before 51,000 captivated fans at Brisbane's Suncorp stadium.

Chief among them was surely whether South Africa can now do to the New Zealanders what Australia did in the first half of this match. Namely, take on, out-muscle and physically smash the All Blacks up front.

Australia's astonishing 20-3 halftime lead owed everything to their fierce physicality, the momentum it established and the way the All Blacks, so unfamiliar with operating off the back foot, simply couldn't find an answer in the first 40 minutes.

Dan Carter was shut out of the game as wave after wave of Australians smashed into the New Zealanders, subjecting them to relentless pressure.

Australia faced down a ferocious haka and then opened the howitzers on their opponents. The Wallabies were so superior that they completely dominated the first half and should have scored more tries. They were far superior at the breakdown where they hammered into their rivals, and their defence was tremendous.

That aggressive defence was the key to the first half. New Zealand found themselves cut down at every turn and when they made mistakes under the fearsome pressure, the Australians pounced.

Those South Africans watching from places like Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg must have had just one thought. If the Wallabies can beat up the All Blacks in such a convincing way, why can't the massively physical Springboks do the same if, as expected, the two countries meet in the World Cup semifinal?

Certainly, the way the All Blacks missed tackles (15 in the first half alone) and looked so shell-shocked, offered huge encouragement to Peter de Villiers and his men.

The Australian defence had been so watertight in the first half that the creative All Blacks were able to make only a single linebreak in 40 minutes.

The All Blacks' rivals will have been interested to see how the favourites wobbled after Kieran Read left the field injured.

But this match also offered the watching South Africans other lessons. The New Zealanders came out after halftime and gave the Australians a dose of their own medicine, with some immense forward power. They drove the ball on continually and at last began to turn pressure into points.

But Australia, even though they survived the shock of the All Blacks getting back to 20-20, scored again. They then had to endure more heavy pressure from the raging All Blacks, who fought like lions to hold on to their Tri-Nations trophy. But the spirit of the Wallabies prevailed and they held on for a famous victory.

It was an outstanding advertisement for rugby and a wonderful curtain-raiser to the World Cup. No one would have complained if this had been the final itself, such was the passion, raw intensity and bone-shaking commitment of both teams.

But there were huge lessons for the South Africans. The way the All Blacks were so shocked and forced on to the back foot by the immense physicality of the Australians offered an obvious tactic for the Springboks. They, of all sides, are best suited to playing that particular game.

The All Blacks' Tri-Nations title is gone, but don't write them off yet. Their stirring second-half comeback reminded us of their enduring class.

- NZ Herald

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