Australia dig deep to edge out South Africa
September 8, 2012
Australia's Scott Higginbotham is engulfed after scoring
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Story of the Game
Australia opened their account in this year's Rugby Championship with a battling 26-19 victory over South Africa in Perth.
The under-fire Wallabies, reeling from back-to-back defeats to New Zealand in their opening two games and amid widespread speculation regarding the future of coach Robbie Deans, returned to winning ways thanks to a gutsy second half comeback with replacement Scott Higginbotham and prop Ben Alexander crossing for crucial tries.
The Springboks had looked on course for victory with a try from winger Bryan Habana powering them into a 13-6 half-time lead but the kicking exploits of fly-half Morne Steyn and centre Frans Steyn were not enough to cement their advantage with the home side, inspired by a sensational double-tackle from centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, claiming a much-needed and deserved victory.
South Africa, looking to bounce back to top form themselves having escaped with a surprising draw against Argentina in their last outing, dominated the opening period with a Wallabies side understandably low on confidence lacking precision and guilty of kicking an alarming amount of ball away.
The Boks were quick to punish their rivals' shortcomings with Morne Steyn opening the scoring from the kicking tee after just three minutes. Australia rallied with centre Berrick Barnes notching the first of four penalties midway through the half but they were not on level terms for long.
A mistake at the re-start gifted the Springboks great field position and having driven deep inside the Wallabies' 22, they grabbed the opening try of the game with Habana burrowing over from close range for his 42nd Test try and an amazing fifth in four matches in Perth.
Morne Steyn added the extras before tempers flared between Wallabies lock Nathan Sharpe and his Springboks counterpart Eben Etzebeth. Television replays appeared to show the South African second row attempt to headbutt his Australian rival but the incident was not spotted by referee Nigel Owens. However, it was noted by the citing officer and is currently being reviewed.
Frans Steyn extended South Africa' advantage a few minutes later with a trademark long penalty but Barnes swiftly cancelled that score out with his second successful shot at the posts.
The game then appeared to swing in Australia's favour with South Africa prop Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira sin-binned for taking out Australia's Kurtley Beale as he attempted to chase a kick but the home side were unable to capitalise on their numerical advantage.
The half-time break appeared to do Australia good with a more assured side taking the attack to South Africa in the second period. Barnes' third penalty reduced the arrears before Higginbotham, fresh off the bench, powered through a couple of poor tackles to touch down under the posts and give his side the lead for the first time.
Barnes' conversion made it 10 unanswered points for the Wallabies but they were soon on the back foot again. A sweeping move from the Boks had their rivals stretched but a moment of magic from Ashley-Cooper snuffed out the danger with the tackle-hungry centre shackling replacement winger Lwazi Mvovo and then forcing Boks skipper Jean de Villiers into touch in one desperate defensive effort.
However, the Boks kept the scoreboard ticking over with Frans Steyn landing his second penalty to level things up before a tit-for-tat exchange between Barnes and Morne Steyn. But the scores were not tied for long with a superb burst of speed from Alexander carrying him away to the corner for his side's second try and Barnes would once again add the extras.
The Wallabies' hopes to a blow with a serious-looking knee injury to scrum-half Will Genia as the game entered the final 10 minutes but his side dug deep to thwart a final onslaught from the Springboks and claim a victory that also sees them retain second spot in the IRB World Rankings.
"We went into the second half and felt that we hadn't played as much as we would have liked to," said Genia, the third Wallabies skipper to succumb to injury this year following James Horwill and David Pocock. "So we came out with a lot more enthusiasm and energy. We have a lot of pride in what we do. We know we're a good side and just happy to get a good win against a quality opposition."
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers was disappointed to see a great chance for victory slip away for his young team. "It was probably one we should have won but credit must go to Australia for coming back when they were down at halftime," he said. We have to learn from this and if we're in that situation again, we can capitalise and get a win.
"We probably made one or two errors and that cost us big time. A much better effort than against Argentina but unfortunately not good enough on the day again."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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