Australia edge out South Africa
October 9, 2011
Australia's James Horwill crashes over for a try at the Wellington Regional Stadium
© Getty Images
Australia booked a place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals with a battling 11-9 victory over South Africa in Wellington.
A try from captain James Horwill and two penalties from winger James O'Connor proved enough to end South Africa's hopes of back-to-back World Cup titles and set up a final four showdown with either New Zealand or Argentina. South Africa dominated the game for long periods but were repeatedly undone by their own errors and were frustrated throughout by an outstanding defensive effort led by man of the match David Pocock.
South Africa dictated proceedings from opening whistle but only had a Morne Steyn penalty to show for their efforts at half-time with Horwill try totally against the run of play and O'Connor's boot giving Australia a narrow advantage. Steyn chipped away at the Wallabies' lead with another penalty after the break and gave his side the lead with a drop goal on the hour mark only for O'Connor to strike late in the game with what proved to be the match-winning score.
Australia played into the setting sun in the first half but it was South Africa's abrasive approach that gave them more trouble in the opening few minutes with some good work from winger JP Pietersen and impressive flanker Schalk Burger serving as a warning to the Wallabies. Australia's defence continued to creak with Cooper's boot coming to the rescue with the Wallabies playmaker taking the game back to the Springboks' 22. Lock Victor Matfield was his usual reliable self at the lineout but the ball was lost by Burger in contact and No.8 Radike Samo pounced before finding centre Pat McCabe who then fed an on-rushing Horwill who had the strength to force his way over.
O'Connor was wayward with the conversion under pressure from a questionable charge by the Springboks but they did not dwell on the setback. Fullback Kurtley Beale's quick feet carried him through the Springboks' defensive line and away from the cover defence with hooker Stephen Moore looming up in support only to be hauled down by Burger as he closed in on the line. South Africa cleared the immediate danger but some good lineout work from the Wallabies soon had them under pressure again with prop Jannie du Plessis gifting O'Connor his first three points of the game.
Back came South Africa with Cooper getting caught in possession inside his own 22 with the end result an attacking scrum and an injury to flanker Heinrich Brussow that forced him out of the game. No.8 Pierre Spies and Burger took the ball to within inches with powerful runs off the scrum but Australia conjured a turnover and cleared their lines.
The Wallabies handed South Africa the chance to reduce the arrears when Cooper and flanker Pocock got their wires crossed in midfield but Steyn's long-range effort fell wide of the posts. The Boks' work with ball in hand also lacked a little direction and while Australia showed a little more potency they lack the precision required to make it pay.
Another strong run from Spies had Australia stretched on the half hour but the Wallabies once again came up with the ball as their rivals appeared to be closing in on the line. Some slick passing then put Pietersen into space inside the 22 but Pocock pounced for another vital turnover.
Habana felt the force of the Wallabies' defence on a number of occasions in a couple of minutes before Horwill was penalised in the shadow of his own posts with Steyn finally putting his side on the board with the kick.
South Africa probed with intent at the start of the second half but Australia stood firm before winger Digby Ioane sparked the latest counter attack only for the Boks to slam the door on this occasion. The see-saw nature of the clash continued with a great kick chase from Habana enveloping Cooper and laying the platform for a line break from centre Jean de Villiers. He found fullback Patrick Lambie on his outside who raced in for the score only to be called back for a forward pass.
The Boks continued to hammer away and as tempers simmered they earned an offside penalty that Steyn landed to bring his side back to within two points. Replacement hooker Bismarck du Plessis then charged down a Cooper 22 drop out but slow ball plagued the Boks' best efforts to capitalise with Horwill forcing a penalty with some superb defensive work. But the pressure finally told with Steyn landing an excellent drop goal to give his side the lead for the first time in the game.
South Africa's dominance of the set-piece allowed them to turn the screw and they were soon pressing again only for Pocock to work some more magic. Scrum half Will Genia's clearance was then charged down by opposite number Fourie du Preez who was denied a score by Cooper. The ball was scrambled away but Lambie sent it straight back with a long range drop goal attempt that only just missed wide to the right.
The game swung back in the Wallabies favour with ten minutes remaining after South Africa's Danie Rossouw was penalised for upending Samo at the lineout. O'Connor stepped up to land the kick from 35m and give his side a narrow advantage.
The score appeared to energise Australia but they failed to retain possession and so gave the Boks one final chance to conjure a late turnaround but a knock on from Matfield brought an end to the game and their reign as world champions.
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