Wallabies bounce back in style
July 23, 2011
Australia's Digby Ioane celebrates his try
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Australia threw down a marker for the Tri-Nations with a resounding 39-20 victory over South Africa in the tournament opener at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
Six days on from their shock defeat to Samoa - trumpeted by many as the worst in their history - Robbie Deans' Wallabies turned in a performance brimming with invention and boasting plenty of snap in defence.
With their star performers back in the saddle and black armbands on display for Halley Appleby - the Queensland University player who tragically died following a club game last weekend - the Wallabies attacked their task with vigour and dominated almost every facet of the game.
Will Genia and Quade Cooper expertly pulled the strings from halfback, allowing Ben Alexander, Digby Ioane, James O'Connor, Stephen Moore and Adam Ashley-Cooper to register tries, with O'Connor excelling with the boot also - landing 14 points.
South Africa - missing almost a full matchday squad due to injury - looked several yards off the pace in defence and at the set-piece, with their kicking game also largely ineffective against the Wallabies' aggressive defence. Chiliboy Ralepelle and under-pressure skipper John Smit notched late tries for the visitors, who were never in danger of ending a barren run in Sydney dating back to 1993.
The Wallabies set out their stall early on with several telling tackles - notably from the brawny centre Pat McCabe - but it was their invention that opened the door for the opening try. Cooper stepped through a gap on his 22 and unleashed Kurtley Beale through the middle, the fullback linking with O'Connor.
The ball was quickly recycled to Genia, who swept his pass wide for skipper Rocky Elsom to expertly slip an offload through the tackle to Alexander. The tight-head crashed over out wide, from where O'Connor was on target with the extras for a lead of 7-0 after as many minutes.
South Africa's slack cover was again exposed from the kick-off, with Genia able to pick his way past two stranded front-rowers. The Reds scrum-half needed only a yard of space to put provincial team-mate Ioane on a charge to the line and the winger made light work of fullback Gio Aplon and the covering Morne Steyn to make it 12-0 on the 10-minute mark.
O'Connor's conversion was off-target but with the scent of blood in the water Australia continued to press, with a knock-on from Cooper butchering a possible try after more lightning work along the touchline from Genia and Ioane.
Australia's line-speed and intensity was greatly improved from their last outing, leaving South Africa struggling for momentum in the middle part of the half. A short burst from Lwazi Mvovo represented the sum of their attacking threat until Steyn broke their duck with an effortless penalty after 30 minutes.
O'Connor cancelled out that effort with three points of his own - secured thanks to a welcome scrum penalty in favour of the Wallabies - and the hosts kept their foot down as Beale and O'Connor again combined to break clear, only for a wild offload to end their progress.
Steyn ended the half with his second penalty as the Wallabies' pack showed a moment's carelessness for the first time, but the home side grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck immeditaely after the restart. Cooper was again the architect, carving his way through a yawning gap between the South African centres, Wynand Olivier and Juan de Jongh, before flinging the ball out to O'Connor.
The Western Force wing collected the ball at full stretch before recovering to score, adding the touchline conversion for good measure and a 22-6 lead on 43 minutes. Moore joined the party to secure a bonus-point for the Wallabies, capitalising on another strong charge from McCabe and sleight of hand from Genia. The Brumbies hooker carried Danie Rossouw across the whitewash with him, the TMO awarding the score before another successful conversion by O'Connor.
The Wallabies wing took the lead out to 32-6 after a further scrum penalty on 50 minutes and another long-range try soon followed. O'Connor was again involved, linking up with Alexander after McCabe had picked off a speculative ball by Ruan Pienaar. Cooper unlocked the defence with an audacious flick to put Ashley-Cooper into space and the outside-centre stepped past a paper-thin Steyn tackle to score.
O'Connor's conversion was another beauty but South Africa bit back almost immediately through their replacement hooker. Having thrown in to a lineout on the Australian five-metre line, Ralepelle re-joined proceedings and peeled off a maul to score from close-range, with Steyn's replacement, Sharks playmaker Pat Lambie, landing the conversion to make it 39-13 after an hour.
As the game opened up in the latter stages the Springboks created a couple of further openings but Bjorn Basson and Lambie were both denied what looked to be certain tries by a combination of bad luck and more aggressive one-on-one tackling from the Wallabies. They did find the added grunt to break the hosts' resolve eventually, with Smit grounding the ball against the post following a rumble forward from replacement prop CJ van der Linde, but it was very much too little, too late.
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