PRETORIA // Bryan Habana scored a hat-trick as South Africa partly shrugged off their struggles in the Rugby Championship with a 31-8 victory over Australia yesterday.
The wing added to scores by full back Zane Kirchner and flanker Francois Louw at Loftus Versfeld, where Australia have not won now in six visits.
The Wallabies were left struggling for continuity after a raft of injuries - especially in their backline - but pulled a try back in the second half through replacement Mike Harris.
"It is much nicer to win than to lose and today it all came together," said Springboks centre and captain Jean de Villiers, referring to a lucky draw in Argentina and losses in Australia and New Zealand.
"The difference in this match was that we executed our game plan much better than in Mendoza, Perth and Dunedin. Gaps opened up and we took full advantage to score those tries."
Young fly half Johan Goosen had a steady first start for South Africa after replacing hometown player Morne Steyn in Pretoria, linking well with his outside backs to help create the Springboks' two first-half tries.
Habana took his test tries tally against Australia to nine, overtaking the previous record of seven by winger Breyton Paulse as the Springboks benefited from an open, attacking game plan in perfect conditions at one of their favourite grounds on the highveld. Having scrambled over from close range for his first, the Springboks' record tryscorer broke clear after a quick line-out he took himself to go 40 metres to score again in the second half.
Habana capped South Africa's five-try victory when he finished off a long-range counterattack with a minute to go.
Full back Kirchner touched down for South Africa's first in the 22nd and Louw barged over from a rolling maul in the 54th.
Harris scored in the right corner midway through the first half after clever work from Kurtley Beale, but Australia did not get any closer than 26-8.
The 20-year-old Goosen missed his first two kicks at goal to be pulled from kicking duties, but sparked the Springbok backline with the ball in hand for the two first-half tries.
He helped create the overlap for Kirchner to go in for the first points. Goosen almost scored himself in the same right corner three minutes later after slicing through a gap between centres Adam Ashley-Cooper and Pat McCabe. McCabe's desperate cover tackle stopped him just short.
Habana went over after Goosen again threatened twice either side of the breakdown 10 metres out. Scrum half Ruan Pienaar eventually made the telling half-break around the fringe of a ruck and slipped a short pass for Habana to score with a sprawling dive.
Pienaar converted for 14-0 as Australia's backline struggled. McCabe, winger Digby Ioane, fullback Berrick Barnes and Ashley-Cooper all went off for treatment in the first 40. Wallabies lock and captain, Nathan Sharpe, admitted that all the injuries took their toll.
"It is difficult to re-jig a side on the run and a good Springbok side fully exploited our problems. We must now bounce back against Argentina and finish the campaign strongly," he said.
* Agence France-Presse