Australia battle to opening Tri Nations win
July 19, 2008
Lote Tuqiri is congratulated after crossing for the Wallabies opening score
© Getty Images
South Africa were unable to nick a second Tri-Nations away win at Subiaco Oval in Perth on Saturday night, as Australia scrapped hard to run out 16-9 winners.
It was a hard fought encounter, in which Australia mis-fired, sparkled and battled in equal measure to record an opening win in their 2008 Tri-Nations campaign.
And it looked like the heroics of last week came at a cost to the Springboks, as Peter De Villiers used all of his playing resources in the latter stages, with many big players looking to be running on empty.
Cleverly, Australia looked to tire the visitors from the outset, starting in spritely fashion, smashing Springbok Victor Matfield back in the very first tackle. From there the Wallabies got their hands on the ball and went on attack showing a clear commitment to play fast, attacking rugby with ball in hand, and run the Boks around.
Australia were able to maintain this high tempo in both attack and defence in the opening stages. However this harrying defensive ploy cost them, conceding the first penalty of the match at a ruck in seventh the minute, which Francois Steyn banged over from long distance.
As most teams that have faced the Springboks recently, Australia soon found out exactly how hard the South Africans hit the contact area. This ferocity at the breakdown meant that Australia were unable to get any momentum going, despite the efforts of Rocky Elsom and skipper Stirling Mortlock.
With Berrick Barnes prompting well in midfield Australia continued to enjoy possession before conceding another kickable penalty, in a similar position to the first, which Steyn pushed wide.
South Africa looked happy to let the home side have slow ball, before Jean De Villiers made a clean break from half-way on 24 minutes. The centre burst clear, before Steyn and Steenkamp carried to the Aussie goal line. They couldn't find the killer punch though, and things looked ominous for Australia.
South Africa continued to ask questions on the half hour, with No.8 Pierre Spies in particular causing problems with his searing pace, explosive hand-off and upright style.
Another unfamiliar name in the Springbok line-up Schalk Brits was also having a strong game. After nicking an Australian lineout on half-way, the third choice hooker fired a pass out to his backs before popping up later in the move to nearly put Bryan Habana in in the left hand corner as South Africa swept forward again.
Crucially, Australia were able to turn the tide with a long Matt Giteau clearance five minutes before half-time. On this occasion the Wallabies bypassed the lineout, throwing over the top to the ubiquitous George Smith. Hynes made the break in midfield, taking play deep into the South African 22, before forwards and backs combined to put winger Lote Tuqiri in for the try in the corner. Giteau missed the difficult conversion.
Robbie Deans' men were clearly emboldened by their narrow half-time lead and attacked straight from the second half kick-off, taking men on and committing defenders. Smith kept things going on a couple of occasions in one move, before Australia gathered themselves at a scrum on the Springboks' 22m.
Giteau broke left and fed Mortlock who powered over in characteristic fashion - superb leg drive, taking three defenders with him. Giteau was again unable to convert from a tricky angle.
Two key players, Schalk Burger and Stirling Mortlock left the game injured on 50 minutes, both casualties as the game stepped up in pace and intensity. Australia got the break though, in the form of a penalty on 51 mins, which Giteau slotted to open up some breathing space. This breathing space was but a brief gasp however, as Australia infringed off the restart. James made no mistake with his penalty kick.
Further injuries and adjustments to both sets of teams broke up the flow of the game up somewhat, with Springbok skipper Victor Matfield packing down on the blindside at one point. Plenty of positional kicking by both sides ended with an obstruction on Pietersen, which led to a flowing move in which Habana nearly squeezed over in the corner.
That was the Blue Bulls flyer's last involvement in the game however, as further reinforcements arrived, with scrum-half Pienaar slotting into the left wing berth. South Africa are not the World Champions for nothing and a penalty shot from Francois Steyn took it to 13-9 with ten minutes to play. With South Africa pinned back and refusing to kick, replacement prop Tendai Mtawarira went round the corner and galloped free from his 22.
This break got South Africa the required go-forward and they drove play into Aussie territory. A huge hit from Tuqiri on De Villiers stopped them in their tracks and drew a huge cheer from the crowd. With Springbok fueltanks running on fumes after three tough matches on tour, Australia were ultimately able to close the game out, with Berrick Barnes grabbing a drop goal with a couple of minutes remaining.