Bernard Foley kicked a 79th-minute conversion to hand the Wallabies a 24-23 win over the Springboks in Perth. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result marks an end to the Boks’ eight-game winning streak, as well as an end to their three-game winning streak against the Wallabies. They will lament a shocking decision made by referee George Clancy in the 66th minute, but then they will also regret a failed clearance kick that gifted the Wallabies a chance to win the game at the death.
Spare a thought for Bryan Habana, who had played well for 65 minutes of his 100th Test. It was at that moment where the winger went into a tackle slightly high, and caught the ball-carrier around the shoulder. Clancy deemed the offence to be both dangerous and cynical, and brandished a yellow card.
Despite being one man short, the Boks defended heroically. Michael Hooper turned down the chance to shoot for goal when his side won a penalty, believing that the Boks would eventually relent and concede seven points. This was when replacement hooker Bismarck du Plessis pounced, and made the breakdown turnover that killed the Wallabies' momentum.
It should have been the turnover that won the game. Had Morné Steyn put the ball into touch, Habana would have returned to the field and the Boks would have been restored to their full compliment. As it was, the Bok flyhalf’s kick landed infield, and the Wallabies then launched a counter-attack on a Bok defence that was both exhausted and short-handed.
Rob Horne rounded off the heartbreaking try, and Bernard Foley, the hero of the Super Rugby final between the Waratahs and Crusaders, was never going to miss. Against the run of play, the Wallabies had won the game.
Clancy got it horribly wrong, and there will be questions asked in the aftermath about what was a game-changing decision. That said, the Boks should have done better to close the game out, especially a player of Steyn’s class and experience.
The Bok flyhalf had done brilliantly up to that point, converting six of his seven attempts on goal in what were difficult conditions. It was thanks to Steyn that the Boks went to the break with a 14-11 lead, and it was thanks to Steyn that they extended the lead to 23-14 in the 63rd minute.
While the Boks were poor in the first half, they adapted to the wet conditions in the second. Their scrum fought back well, and their lineout started to dominate later in the game.
The Boks bossed the breakdowns, with Francois Louw and Marcell Coetzee getting through a lot of work. Duane Vermeulen had another massive game, while Eben Etzebeth was just as influential.
But ultimately it came down to one bad refereeing decision, and then one bad kick. After Habana left the field, the Wallabies fought back to within six points. And then when Steyn failed to find touch, they scored through Horne, and converted through Foley.
With New Zealand winning against Argentina, the Boks have now dropped down to second place on the Rugby Championship log. They will be hard-pressed to win the title from here.
Wallabies – Tries: Israel Folau, Rob Horne. Conversion: Bernard Foley. Penalties: Foley (4).
Springboks – Try: Cornal Hendricks. Penalties: Morné Steyn (6).
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 James Horwill, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Matt Hodgson, 22 Nic White, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Damian de Allende.
Photo: Will Russell/Getty Images