With the World Cup less than a month away, star Wallaby outside back James O'Connor highlighted his team's impressive defensive effort as the focal point of their Tri-Nations victory over the Springboks in Durban.
With a backline full of dangerous strike runners the Wallabies' fearsome attacking ability is well-documented, but coach Robbie Deans' team know that their defence will have to be watertight if they are to secure a third World Cup title.
They took great heart from their committed performance at Kings Park on Saturday where they managed to prevent a first-choice Springbok team from crossing the whitewash.
The Boks started the game in dominant fashion and the fact that the Wallabies managed to shut them out with some impressive defensive work will give the Australians a big boost ahead of the World Cup.
O'Connor was particularly pleased with the team’s defensive work in the 14-9 victory in Durban and said that the next step is to turn their defensive organisation into an attacking weapon.
He commented: "We like to attack, that is our mindset – we are an attacking team but moving forward we have got to be able to use our defensive assets as an attacking threat as well."
O'Connor has shown at Super Rugby level that he has the versatility to play in a number of different positions in the backline, with his former team the Western Force preferring to use him as an inside back, but he explained that he is comfortable out on the wing for the Wallabies as it is where he feels that he fits best at the moment.
He said: "I think I am suited pretty well to this team on the wing, we have got guys in the centres like Pat [McCabe], Adam Ashley-Cooper and Ant Faingaa who work pretty hard and want to front up on defence and be those front and centre players.
"I am happy enough to hold wide, I think that is my strength on defence as well on the end there getting in and chopping blokes," added O’Connor.
The explosive young starlet said that both teams had battled with their handling at Kings Park in both the dry first half and the rainy conditions in the second forty minutes, as they were over-eager to exploit the different opportunities that presented themselves.
"I think there were a lot of opportunities out there and when there a gaps I guess you want to push those passes," he said.
O'Connor explained that the fact that the Wallabies backline players switch positions so often on attack is what makes them so dangerous, as it makes it difficult to plan against.
He said: "On attack I have got range to float around, Robbie [Deans] has given me the license to get in there and work off those blokes.
"I think that makes it hard for defences to read because you don't know where they are going to turn up. Myself, Kurtley [Beale] and Digby [Ioane] are working in the middle, I guess we know how to read Quade [Cooper]," he added.
If the Australian team can combine their unpredictable attacking game with the stingy defensive system that thwarted the Springboks they will certainly be tough customers in New Zealand next month.
They showed in Durban that they have the ability to adapt their game and can deal with intense pressure without losing their composure – an invaluable quality in knock-out rugby.
By Michael de Vries
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