All Blacks coach Ian Foster has called on his team to deliver a ‘Grand Slam’ with the first unbeaten run of The Rugby Championship since they achieved the feat in 2017.
The Wallabies vs Springboks might not be the biggest rivalry in international rugby but the clash has still produced some of the most memorable matches in the history of the sport.
In the 60 matches between the teams there have been some blow outs, some heart breakers and some of the tensest battles imaginable. The Wallabies have scored 1321 points in this period versus the 1304 for the Boks with an average scoreline of 22-22. That gives you a taste of how close these two keep it.
Since 1992, the Springboks have won 27 Tests, the Wallabies 30 and there have been three draws. With two more matches due before the end of the month these stats could get even tighter.
South Africa 27 – 18 Australia, Cape Town, 1995 World Cup Group Stage
This game makes the list more for the importance of the match and what it signified rather than the scoreline or any specific feats that took place in the 80 minutes.
The Springboks had only been allowed back into international rugby world three years earlier after their Aparteid era ban and this World Cup in South Africa was a very special event.
The opening game saw the hosts take on the reigning World Champions in a very tight affair. Things were all square at half time and then Joel Stransky took the game away from the Australians in the second half with a penalty, drop goal, try and conversion.
Little did Francois Pienaar know what laid ahead – an emotional World Cup Final victory, immortality in rugby history and being impersonated by Matt Damon.
South Africa 61 – 22 Australia, Tri Nations, Pretoria, August 1997
This was the final match in the 1997 Tri-Nations and while the All Blacks had already wrapped up the title, second place was up for grabs. At half time it was a tight game with the Boks only three points ahead 18-15.
In the second half the home side blew their opponents apart. The Boks won the half scoring 43 points and keeping the shell-shocked Australians to just one unconverted try.
It ended up being the largest number of points scored in one Test between these two nations and was the first win of a streak that would see the Boks lose only once to Wallabies in the next five games.
Australia 27 – 21 South Africa, Twickenham, Semi-final 1999 World Cup
The two nations have been involved in a number of tense World Cup contests but this one really went down to the wire.
It looked like the Wallabies were going to make another Final as Matt Burke kicked them into a lead that the Boks were struggling to chase down. However, Jannie de Beer continued his sniper-like accuracy (he has a record five drop goals against England in the quarters) and with the final whistle almost being blown, the Boks drew level.
In extra time it was the Boks who took the lead and as Australian fans started to see the Final slip away, first Matt Burke and then Stephen Larkham saved the day. It was Larkham’s first ever drop goal and as the 48m kick sailed over the crossbar, fans must have wondered why he didn’t try them more often.
Speaking to The Roar’s Brett McKay back in 2015, Larkham shared some insight into “that” drop goal:
“We had actually been practising them all week, because Jannie [de Beer] had broken the record the week before. We were literally practicing them every day at training, and screaming out ‘JANNIE DE BEER!’ It was quite funny.
“I couldn’t kick it for the corners in case it went dead, so [the drop goal] was just an option to get it back from the 22 and reset. And I just remember in my head, ‘yeah, I’ll just kick this dead, and we’ll go again’
“It was an ugly drop out of the hand and that’s why I was a little bit amazed, I was like, ‘oh my God, it’s over’.”
Australia would go onto win the Final and claim another Webb Ellis Trophy with a much more comfortable 35-12 win over France.
South Africa 18-19 Australia, Tri Nations, Durban, August 2000
The very next year the Boks and Wallabies were involved in another dramatic finish and again the Wallabies were on the right side of the razor thin gap on the scoreboard.
The final points came from the boot of a 24-year-old Stirling Mortlock who had actually been off form from the kicking tee during the season. But as the game clock ticked past eight minutes of injury time, Mortlock struck the ball from the sideline straight between the posts and the celebrations could begin.
Not only did the kick win the game but also the Wallabies’ first Tri-Nations championship. With the World Cup already in the trophy cabinet from the year before hand, this was the perfect follow up for this team to stake their claim as the best Australian side ever.
Australia 49-0 South Africa, Tri Nations, Brisbane, July 2006
This was a night that Springbok fans wanted to forget as quickly as possible. Losing is one thing but not scoring a point is humiliating.
It was a brutal night for the South Africans in Brisbane as the Wallabies ran in six tries. Matt Giteau got two and picked up the man of the match award and the Springboks just had no answer to the smooth and creative attacking flair of the Wallabies back line.
The Springboks would end the Tri Nations at the bottom of the table despite finding a way past the All Blacks at home by just one point later in the tournament.
This game was Australia’s largest winning margin over the Springboks and the South African coach – Jake White – had to withstand a lot of pressure from the press and fans.
South Africa 53-8 Australia, Tri Nations, Johannesburg, August 2008
The tables would be turned a couple of years later when the Boks achieved their largest winning margin against the Wallabies in Johannesburg as they ran in eight tries.
The Boks were World Champions but many felt that they were struggling to act like it as they struggled to get going in this Tri Nations. But in this game it all clicked.
Wing Jongi Nokwe set a new record with four tries and while the Boks deserve a lot of credit, the Wallabies were, well, terrible. The line out fell to pieces and the tackling seemed optional. Australia’s coach Robbie Deans went through some tough interrogation after the game as Australian fans were so disappointed with the quality of the display from their Wallabies.
Jongi Nokwe would go onto play just one more Test match and was humble about his record breaking performance. “I think what came together is one, just performing for my teammates because that game wasn’t about me, it was about the team,” he said in an interview with rugby.com.au in 2019.
Despite this brutal loss, the Wallabies would take second place in the Tri Nations this year but the pain of this weight of loss weighed heavy on their shoulders and they would lose the next two Tests against the Boks over the next year.
South Africa 39-41 Australia, Tri Nations, Bloemfontein, September 2010
While there have definitely been some blow outs in the history books of these two playing each other, there have also been some absolute squeakers.
In Bloemfontein in 2010 the Wallabies were able to go into half time with a healthy advantage. They were 31-13 up and playing well but in the second half the home side fought back hard.
With just three minutes left on the clock, the Boks had managed to take the lead 39-38 and it looked like Australian hearts would be broken. But then Kurtley Beale stepped up and with the final kick of the game struck a 55 metre penalty to win the game.
Just like Larkham’s accidental effort in 1999, Beale was equally surprised with his successful kick at goal.
“At first I didn’t know I was going to take the kick. I was looking for Gits. But I just had to block out the crowd, and two seconds after I kicked it I knew it was going over,” Beale explained after the game.
It was Australia’s first win in the challenging highveld since 1963, made all the sweeter with the Boks getting the wooden spoon.
Australia 11-9 South Africa, Wellington, Quarter-final 2011 World Cup
There have been some wonderful World Cup clashes between the Wallabies and Springboks and 12 years after the Australians had knocked South Africa out in the semi-finals, they did the same in the quarters.
It was a young Wallabies side that went up against an experienced Springbok group and while the latter dominated both territory and possession, they couldn’t turn that into points. David Pocock was a menace in the loose the whole night and he drove the South Africans up the wall with the disruption he caused. The Wallabies won 28 turnovers in the game – more than any other team in a World Cup match.
The Wallabies soaked up an incredible amount of pressure and while many were frustrated with Quade Cooper’s tendency to kick the ball away on the rare occasions that he did have it, the plan seemed to work.
James O’Connor – playing on the wing at the time – held his nerve with a shot at goal in the 72nd minute and the Boks couldn’t recover.
The way the match was refereed was a hot topic with criticisms of Bryce Lawrence coming from all angles. South African referees manager and former Test referee Andre Watson made it clear how displeased he was in an interview with a Cape Town radio station saying: “He allowed a free-for-all, giving (David) Pocock a field day”.
Springboks skipper John Smit also commented that he was delighted that he would no longer have to be refereed by the New Zealander now that he was retiring.
23-23, and 27-27, The Rugby Championship, 2017
As has been clear from this list, there have been some incredibly tense affairs when it comes to Australia playing South Africa and this was exemplified in 2017.
Over 160 minutes of intense rugby the sides could not be separated. A 23-23 draw in Perth was followed up three weeks later with a 27-27 draw in Bloemfontein.
In Perth the Wallabies were looking like they could run away with things. Unfortunately they let a ten-point lead slip and Elton Jantjies actually had a chance to win the game in injury time only to see his drop goal attempt charged down.
Later the same month the Australian side again had the lead and went to the sheds at half time up 13 – 10. In the second half things got even more exciting with each side scoring two tries. Jantjies again had the chance to win the match for South Africa only to see his kick at goal sail wide.