Australia: Jekyll or Hyde?

The Wallabies gained revenge over South Africa with a stunning 41-39 triumph in Bloemfontein on Saturday. [more]

Australia: Jekyll or Hyde?

The Wallabies gained revenge over South Africa with a stunning 41-39 triumph in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Robbie Deans’ men made amends for the previous week’s defeat in Pretoria – a game Australia could and should have won after opening up a 21-6 lead.

Saturday’s match up rivalled the Lions’ nail-biting second Test loss to the Boks last summer for intensity, excitement and sheer tension – an incredible achievement considering that encounter went down in history as one of the greatest games of them all.

While the Lions versus the Boks at Loftus Versfeld was undoubtedly the match of 2009, the Boks versus the Wallabies at Vodacom Park has to be the most entertaining clash so far in 2010.

Just as they had done seven days earlier, Australia got off to the perfect start, racing into an incredible 31-6 lead with four tries inside 25 minutes as they produced some truly mesmerizing rugby.

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But the Boks hit back with a Victor Matfield try on the stroke of half time and had somehow edged in front on the hour mark thanks to further tries from Guthro Steenkamp and Jean de Villiers and the boot of Morne Steyn.

A converted try from Drew Mitchell swung the game back in the favour of the Wallabies with eight minutes remaining after Steyn had extended the hosts’ lead to five points when Saia Faingaa was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle.

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Drew Mitchell scored Australia's fifth and final try in Bloemfontein

But there was more drama to come as Steyn slotted his ninth kick from nine attempts with four minutes left to play following a mistake from the otherwise impressive Kurtly Beale.

Villain turned hero, however, with the final play of a pulsating game, as the Wallaby full back sent over a 55-metre penalty that gave his side an incredible two-point victory.

The win was Australia’s first in Bloemfontein since 1933 and their first at altitude on the High Veld in close to half a century.

It means they are now assured of second place in this year’s Tri Nations regardless of the result of the final game at home to champions New Zealand.

It also leaves the Boks to nurse a last-place finish following just one win in six attempts, meaning they have gone from a near perfect campaign in 2009 to a disastrous follow up in the space of 12 months.

What to make of the Wallabies with one game left

Where do we start? The current crop of Wallabies are definitely an enigma.

The rugby they conjured up in the first half hour at the weekend was arguably as good as anything any side has produced in the modern era.

The manner in which they ran from deep, changed the point of attack and kept the ball alive at almost all costs was simply sensational.

For a side hardly high on confidence, the way in which they backed themselves was equally impressive.

With Will Genia at nine, Cooper at 10 and Matt Giteau at 12, the Wallabies have a trio of superb playmakers pulling the strings and allowing forwards and outside backs alike to showcase their running skills from all areas of the pitch.

The Boks seemed to have no idea as to where the next wave of Wallaby attack was coming from and, even if they did work it out, they were powerless to stop it in the early part of the match.

The rugby world has been purring at the attacking genius of the All Blacks over recent weeks but those first 25 minutes from the Wallabies in Bloemfontein have to go down as the most comprehensive of the entire tournament.

Australia were simply superb. To be honest, words don’t really do that opening salvo justice it was that impressive.

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But while they may have matched the All Blacks for attacking prowess in that period, they still fall far behind in almost every other aspect of the game.

Whereas the All Blacks would have simply closed the door on the World Champs and probably gone on to claim a record-breaking victory, the Wallabies did almost exactly the opposite.

For the second week in a row, Australia somehow let the Boks back into a game they should never have had a sniff of winning.

To turn a 31-6 lead into a 36-31 deficit in the space of 21 minutes almost defies belief. It simply shouldn’t be possible. But the problem with the Wallabies is that, even when they raced so far in front, you always had that nagging feeling that they could still throw it all away.

The fact that they somehow clawed it back just as it looked like they had blown another golden opportunity has to say something about their character. From the way they celebrated after the match, it was clear that victory meant a hell of a lot.

Could this be the turning point, the game that reminds them exactly what it takes to win rather than just play entertaining rugby before falling short?

Well, we won’t have to wait too long to find out. The All Blacks arrive in Sydney on Saturday for match that should give us a better indication of exactly where the Wallabies are at.

Will it be Jekyll or Hyde at ANZ Stadium? The safe odds will be on a bit of both.

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