Wallabies halt Springbok juggernaut
September 5, 2009
Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper celebrates scoring the Wallabies' first try
© Getty Images
Peter De Villiers Al Baxter Robbie Deans Jean de Villiers Fourie du Preez Jaque Fourie Will Genia Bryan Habana
South Africa's march to the Tri-Nations title was halted by a committed Australia side in Brisbane, the Wallabies running out 21-6 victors on a day that could have seen the Springboks claim the southern hemisphere crown with a win.
South Africa's Suncorp Stadium hoodoo continued as their tournament took a turn for the worse on the same ground at which they were humbled 49-0 by Australia in 2006. Adam Ashley-Cooper and James O'Connor scored second-half tries for the home side, who were reinvigorated by ascendancy at the scrum and the spiky presence of Reds scrum-half Will Genia.
Matt Giteau had earlier given the Wallabies the lead with two penalties and a cheeky drop-goal as the Springboks struggled to exert any dominance. Victory for the hosts also released the pressure valve on coach Robbie Deans, who has suffered at the hands of the press after a disappointing run of defeats.
Peter de Villiers' Springboks will now require a result against the All Blacks in Hamilton next weekend, the tournament in the balance with two games remaining and New Zealand nine points behind the leaders.
Genia settled his nerves early with a well-judged box kick but it was the Springboks who enjoyed the first meaningful possession, sending Jean de Villiers crashing up the middle before spreading the ball wide quickly.
De Villiers' second involvement was to send his centre partner Jaque Fourie scything through the Wallabies' line, eerily reminiscent for the home side after the first-phase tries conceded in Perth last weekend. The Wallabies regained the ball, Giteau showing confidence and attacking ambition in sparking a counter attack from his own try-line. Ashley-Cooper collected the pass out wide and broke to halfway, where an offside Bakkies Botha conceded a penalty to gift Giteau the first points of the game.
The Springboks worked good possession with a rolling maul and began to exert their dominance at the lineout, but it was the Wallabies who controlled the tempo and worked a dynamic turnover thanks to prop Benn Robinson after Fourie du Preez attempted to spark a counter attack.
A searing break from Fourie, Habana and fullback Ruan Pienaar was halted by another Wallabies turnover, the Springboks looking to play expansively when possession was available but not seeing the rewards produced by their pressure-based game plan in earlier games.
The Wallabies went close to scoring the opening try when Lachie Turner broke away on his wing following excellent work from Genia. The Waratahs wing looked sured to score but was hammered in touch by a breathtaking last-ditch tackle from Habana. Rather than dwell on their missed chance, the hosts were immediately back on the front foot when Giteau punched in to a gap, ignoring a lurking Berrick Barnes, before being dropped by another Habana tackle.
Stung in to action, the Springboks worked the phases on the Australian 22. Juan Smith powered through his work but the pressure was released by a superb low hit from Tatafu Polota-Nau on Heinrich Brussow. They found more joy from the set piece when De Villiers again waltzed through the midfield defence following clean lineout ball, his pass finding Fourie on a path to the line only for Drew Mitchell and O'Connor to produce a pair of try-saving hits on the man winning his 50th Test cap.
Despite their added venom in attack the Springboks fell further behind to Giteau's second penalty, secured after a ruck infringement by Brussow. Morne Steyn clipped a drop-goal over following another dismal Australian lineout loss but the home side began to dominate at the scrum - where Robinson tore in to Springbok skipper John Smit and rightly won a penalty.
Giteau extended the lead when he salvaged a crumbling attack with a well-judged drop-goal, three points that were handed back almost immediately when Steyn curled in his first penalty of the evening before the break.
The second-half was heralded by a crunching tackle from Smit on replacement Australian hooker Stephen Moore, sparking an attack from Pienaar and Ndungane. Again the Boks lost the ball in contact and could have paid with five points had Giteau not dropped the ball with a six on three overlap outside him.
Handling errors began to creep in to the Australian attack, yielding possession to the Springboks who retreated quickly back to a pressurised kicking game.
Rocky Elsom arched past several Springbok defenders following a free-kick at the lineout, their frantic cover hauling him down and conceding a penalty. Genia caught the visitors napping and darted for the line, but his opposite number du Preez was equal to the task and ripped the ball clear.
From the ensuing scrum the Springboks soaked up waves of pressure, driving the Wallabies backwards with every tackle. Ndungane forced a knock-on from Elsom out wide and the danger was cleared with a scrum penalty against Robinson.
Two majestic kicks from Steyn and du Preez worked the Springboks in to good territory, but first their scrum and then, more surprisingly, their lineout coughed up possession. Giteau seized upon some stagnant ball with a clever grubber for Peter Hynes to chase, Adi Jacobs covering out wide for the Springboks. The centre eluded Hynes' tackle and threw a suicidal pass to de Villiers which was picked off by Giteau. The fly-half dived in at the corner but was just forced out by a textbook tackle from Fourie.
With their home fans reaching boiling point, the Wallabies finally had the try that their attacking endeavour deserved. Barnes, who had struggled previously, took charge and crabbed across field before unleashing Ashley-Cooper, who cut back against the grain and raced through the gap to score.
The Brumbies centre raced to celebrate with the jubilant fans and once calm had been restored Giteau missed a regulation penalty secured following another shaky Springbok scrum.
O'Connor sealed the victory with a late opportunist score, following up his own kick and pouncing as pressure was on the Springbok defence. Schalk Burger and Bismarck du Plessis conspired to cough up the ball and the teenager was on hand to spark the celebrations.