The Wallabies rebounded from an 11-point deficit to beat the Springboks 23-17 in Brisbane on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
In the buildup, this match was billed by the Australian media as the 'Dance of the Desperates'. The Boks were desperate to atone for their shock loss to Argentina in Salta. The Wallabies were desperate for any sort of win following a run of six straight losses.
Sadly, the match lived up to its billing. While the wet conditions at the Suncorp Stadium made handling difficult, the quality of the skills and decision-making was at times shocking.
The Wallabies should be commended for fighting their way back into the contest after such a poor start. By contrast, the Boks should be lambasted for blowing a rare opportunity to win in Australia for the first time in three years.
The first quarter belonged to the visitors. The Bok defence stood up to the Wallabies attack during that period. They managed to force a series of turnovers during the initial stages, and by the 18th minute, they had scored tries through Warren Whiteley and Johan Goosen.
The Boks enjoyed a commanding 14-3 lead at that point. They should have rammed the advantage home. They should have sought to play the majority of the contest deep in opposition territory.
Instead, they lost their composure. They allowed the Wallabies back into the match. By the end of the half, the scoreline read 14-13 in favour of the Boks.
The Wallabies dominated the gainline battle in the latter stages of the first half. Bernard Foley made the most of his goal-kicking opportunities, and slowly the hosts began to take control of the game.
Elton Jantjies, who produced another inconsistent showing across the board, had a chance to extend the Boks' lead right before half-time. The penalty attempt was from a handy angle, but the Bok flyhalf pushed his kick wide.
Foley made no such mistake when presented with an opportunity right after half-time. Eben Etzebeth was shown a yellow card for a cynical infringement at the breakdown, and Foley booted the hosts into the lead.
Thereafter, it was the Wallabies who failed to make the most of their advantage. They blew a golden opportunity to score a try when Samu Kerevi received the ball out on the left wing.
Goosen got across to make the tackle on Kerevi, who had made the mistake of carrying the ball in the wrong hand. The Bok fullback did enough to force Kerevi towards touch and goal, and so the visitors survived the period of sanction without conceding further points.
But Etzebeth's return did not provide them with the boost they needed. In fact, the Wallabies continued to pressure the Boks. After 18 phases, Foley broke the line to score a try that put the Wallabies firmly in control of the contest. His subsequent conversion took the hosts nine points clear.
Replacement flyhalf Morné Steyn provided the Boks with some hope when he goaled a penalty in the 65th minute. A big spot tackle by Bryan Habana initiated a change in momentum, as the Boks won another penalty and booted it downfield.
Just as it appeared as if the Boks would score a try and possibly reclaim the lead, they lost possession. Replacement lock Pieter-Steph du Toit powered towards the Wallabies tryline, and had the ball jolted from his grasp.
The Wallabies continued to dominate the collisions, and continued to boot the ball deep into opposition territory. The Boks attempted to run the ball from their own half, but were thwarted again and again by a more determined Wallabies defence.
While it wasn't a convincing performance by the Wallabies, it was an important result. They have brought an end to their six-match losing streak, and may fancy their chances of finishing the Rugby Championship in second place from here.
The Boks would do well to avoid a last-place finish. A loss to the All Blacks in Christchurch next week will see the Boks recording three away defeats for the first time since the tournament expanded to include four teams in 2012.
Wallabies – Tries: Adam Coleman, Bernard Foley. Conversions: Foley (2). Penalties: Foley (3).
Springboks – Tries: Warren Whiteley, Johan Goosen. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2), Morné Steyn.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Bernard Foley, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Sean McMahon, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Tevita Kuridrani/Drew Mitchell.
Springboks – 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Jaco Kriel, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Lionel Mapoe.
Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images