By WYNNE GRAY
The Springboks had done their homework on the Wallabies and yesterday gave the Tri-Nations series a real shake.
In working their way to a 20-15 victory at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, the Springboks drastically reduced the error rate which plagued them against the All Blacks at Newlands, and opened Eddie Jones' tenure as Wallaby coach with an unsatisfactory defeat.
There were several other factors which worked in the Springboks' favour, not least the curious refereeing of Irishman David McHugh.
He was remarkably inconsistent in his rulings at the breakdown, he let players yap at him all day and then engaged them in long conversations, and seemed to imagine plenty of scrummaging infringements.
Generally, his crucial rulings and the bounce of the ball went the way of South Africa.
The absence of comment about the early tackle on Wallaby winger Andrew Walker as he chased a kick in-goal was unfathomable, though the television commentators were South African.
The Boks also chose a goalkicker for this test, not a part-time hopeful such as Percy Montgomery.
Braam van Straaten kicked some beautiful goals.
The Boks had the lead early and this time, it was the Australians who were forced to play catch-up rugby. The Wallabies hurt themselves as well. A couple of times they had overlaps, but Walker, Toutai Kefu and Nathan Grey either kicked or cut back inside when the ball had to go wide.
It was a game in which the Wallabies looked as flat as an MCG pitch on the fifth day of a test.
They may have suffered some letdown after winning their absorbing series against the Lions; they may have left their arrival too late for the high veldt. But for whatever reason, they were predictable.
Apart from the remarkable deeds of flanker George Smith, there was little zip to their game and when they tried a couple of moves, the Boks were waiting.
The Boks had done their research. They targeted strike runners such as Kefu and Owen Finegan, they hassled George Gregan, and they muscled up on the Wallaby pack.
They drove with all the passion they mustered at Cape Town, but with far better precision, forcing the Wallabies to cough up penalties as they retreated.
And once it was apparent that captain John Eales was rattled, the Wallabies were in trouble. The composure which pulled them through the Lions series was missing.
They were unable to launch any decent attack.
Both sides defended stoically, so much so that in the opening two Tri-Nations tests, the solitary touchdown has been Bobby Skinstad's yesterday.
For those scorning the All Blacks' work after their game in the wet at Cape Town, the performance of both teams yesterday in the dry of Pretoria might have put that in a different perspective.
It has also put the Wallabies in some bother because David Giffin has been suspended for three weeks after throwing a forearm at Robbie Fleck.
Reports suggest injured first five-eighths Stephen Larkham remains a borderline pick for the next match in the series, at Dunedin on August 11. Without him, the Wallabies' backline firepower is reduced significantly. Elton Flatley and Grey outside him are no more than steady.
Suddenly, yesterday's result will have brightened up rugby followers in the Republic and returned some of the quivers the Wallabies felt after their opening test defeat to the Lions.
Welcome to the world of international rugby, Mr Jones.