Tevita Kuridrani's 82nd-minute try gave the Wallabies a 24-20 win against the Springboks in Brisbane. JON CARDINELLI reports.
What a stunning comeback by the Wallabies. What a disjointed second-half performance by the Boks. What a thrilling and absorbing spectacle for the neutral fan. This Test at Suncorp Stadium certainly had it all.
The contest was decided in the final play of the match. After trailing 20-7 early in the second half, the Wallabies fought their way back to within three points of the Boks.
Matt Giteau missed a 78th-minute penalty goal attempt that would have secured a draw, but the Wallabies would have another opportunity a minute later. This time, captain Stephen Moore instructed Giteau to kick for the corner. The Wallabies were the better side in the second stanza. Moore decided that his team deserved more than a draw, and his bold decision was rewarded a moment later when Kuridrani reached for the tryline.
Francois Louw clung desperately to the Wallabies centre, and Schalk Burger got across to stop Kuridrani from getting his formidable bulk over the line. What the Bok pair could not do was stop Kuridrani from dotting the ball, albeit briefly, beyond the tryline. Referee Nigel Owens consulted with TMO Ben Skeen, and the latter ruled that the try had been scored. Giteau’s subsequent conversion was a formality, as the try was already enough to snatch a great come-from-behind win against the Boks.
In a World Cup year, the results of these Rugby Championship Tests are not important. That said, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer will be bitterly disappointed that his charges let this one slip.
The Boks led 20-7 at one stage of the second half. They had multiple chances to close out the game. That they failed to do so was an indictment on their mental and physical fitness.
There will be even more disappointment and frustration considering the injuries they sustained over the course of the game. Captain and premier No 5 lock Victor Matfield pulled up with a hamstring injury in the 18th minute, and played no further part in the contest. In the second half, Marcell Coetzee suffered what looked to be a serious leg injury, and had to be carried to the change room for treatment.
And yet, while those losses were significant, it seemed the Boks would push on to win the game. They started well, with the likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth and Schalk Burger all making a powerful statement at the breakdowns and collisions. Du Plessis effected several important turnovers in his own 22 that stalled the Wallabies' momentum. Etzebeth was at his abrasive best, and Burger showed why he must be considered as a like-for-like No 8 alternative to Duane Vermeulen at the coming World Cup.
The backline made the most of the forward platform in the first 50 minutes. The highlight of the Boks’ attacking performance was the play in which Handré Pollard chipped the ball when he was deep inside the Wallabies’ half. The ball was subsequently won in the air by Bryan Habana, and transferred to Willie le Roux. The mercurial fullback then produced a great offload to set up Etzebeth for the lock’s first Test try.
That score was achieved before half-time, and the Boks struck again in the crucial period right after the break. This time, it was the debutant, Jesse Kriel, who obliged with the moment of magic. The outside centre showed exceptional pace and power in the buildup to his first try for the Boks. At that point, it seemed as if the Boks would go on to win and bank a four-try bonus point.
But the Wallabies didn’t give up. They missed three goal-kicks on the night. A series of handling errors and poor decisions contributed to some missed opportunities on attack. But clearly they believed they would catch up with the Boks in those final 20 minutes.
Michael Hooper ran straight through Bok reserve loose forward Oupa Mohoje in the 74th minute to score an important try. Quade Cooper’s conversion brought the Wallabies back within three points of the visitors.
Then, when Giteau missed a subsequent penalty shot, the Boks attempted to keep the ball and run down the clock. A breakdown infringement by reserve prop Heinke van der Merwe shattered those ambitions. The Wallabies enjoyed one final chance to either draw the game, or win it.
Moore and his charges opted for the latter. The Wallabies kicked to the corner, controlled possession, and then struck through Kuridrani to claim victory. The Wallabies had bounced back from a 13-point deficit to win the game. The Boks had let a massive opportunity slip.
Wallabies – Tries: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Michael Hooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Conversions: Quade Cooper (2), Matt Giteau. Penalty: Cooper.
Springboks – Tries: Eben Etzebeth, Jesse Kriel. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (2).
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 James Horwill, 20 David Pocock, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Drew Mitchell.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images