Wallabies hold on to clinch thriller
July 27, 2002
Ben Tune reaches out to score the opening try
© Getty Images
The Wallabies held off a spirited Springbok comeback to keep their Tri Nations defence alive with a 38-27 victory in an ill-tempered Test at the Gabba in Brisbane.
The Springboks trailed by 21 points after 29 minutes following three Wallaby tries, but then scored four unanswered tries in an enthralling fightback. When replacement Brent Russell crossed for the Springboks' fourth try in the 73rd minute, the visitors trailed 33-27 and a capacity crowd of 37,258 was being treated to a classic encounter.
But it was the Australians who finished on top with their fourth try to fullback Chris Latham two minutes into injury time to end the brave South African revival.
Both sides picked up bonus points for scoring four tries each with the Tri Nations still wide open. And the result sets up a Bledisloe Cup blockbuster in Sydney next week between the Wallabies and All Blacks with the Wallabies still needing to win to stay in the race.
Despite tonight's loss, the Springboks will be cheering on the Wallabies next week as an Australian victory will still give them a chance to take the trophy with the final two Tri Nations games to be played in South Africa.
The South Africans will be bitterly disappointed with the first-half effort at the Gabba and they will be ruing their poor discipline that ensured the Wallabies always had their noses in front.
The game looked gone for the Springboks after an explosive start by the Wallabies opened up a 24-3 lead on 29 minutes. But two tries to impressive Springbok centre Marius Joubert either side of half-time reduced the lead to 27-17 soon after the break to ensure a thrilling second-half.
Matt Burke extended the Wallabies' lead to 30-17 with a penalty, but the game was evenly poised when Springbok lock Bob Skinstad crossed for his side's third try to reduce the lead to 30-22 with 24 minutes remaining.
Burke and Springbok five-eighth André Pretorius missed penalty shots, but Wallaby winger Stirling Mortlock then stepped up to put the Wallabies ahead 33-22 in the 70th minute before the dramatic final seven minutes that saw Russell and Latham cross.
Earlier, needing to win the game to remain a chance to defend their Tri Nations title, the "soft" Wallabies responded to a week of criticism from the South Africans with a dominant first-half display.
In a spectacular opening, Wallaby winger Ben Tune, the target all week of severe criticism following revelations he was part of a dope cover-up last year, crossed for a try in the third minute of play.
The powerful Wallaby backs struggled in the wet two weeks ago against the All Blacks in Christchurch, but on a dry deck at the Gabba there were at their best.
Winger Stirling Mortlock finished off a powerful 40m burst by Latham to score in the 20th minute. Latham then crossed for his own try just minutes later after a sweeping backline movement and the Wallabies held a 21-3 lead after 25 minutes.
Burke added a penalty to put the Wallabies ahead 24-3 after 29 minutes, but the game took a dramatic turn just as it seemed the hosts were set for a big score.
A week of personal sniping between both camps erupted in the 32nd minute in an ugly brawl.
The result saw Wallaby hooker Jeremy Paul and lock Justin Harrison get 10 minutes in the sinbin for fighting. And they were joined by Springbok fullback Werner Greeff for tackling Latham in the air, which sparked the incident.
The Springboks were also dealt a blow when inspirational captain Corne Krige did not return to the field after half-time due to a sternum injury.
AUSTRALIA 38 Tries: Chris Latham 2, Ben Tune, Stirling Mortlock tries Conversions: Matt Burke 3 goals, Burke 3 pen, Mortlock pen
SOUTH AFRICA 27 Tries: Marius Joubert 2, Bob Skinstad, Brent Russell tries Conversions: Andre Pretorius 2 goals; Pretorius pen
At the Gabba Referee: Steve Lander (Eng). Crowd: 37,258.