Wallabies cling on to win a classic
September 4, 2010
Kurtley Beale celebrates his match-winning penalty in Bloemfontein
© Getty Images
Australia held their nerve to win a classic Tri-Nations battle with South Africa 41-39 at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday, sealing the Mandela Challenge Plate in the process.
Fullback Kurtley Beale landed a monster 55-metre penalty with the last kick of the game to secure the Wallabies' first win on the high veldt since 1963, having seen a 31-13 half-time advantage wiped out by a fired-up Springbok fightback in the second period. Defeat condemned the Springboks to the wooden spoon, a year on from their all-conquering exploits in last season's tournament.
The visitors, who slumped to defeat in Pretoria last weekend after similarly quick start, scored five tries to the hosts' three, with Beale, James O'Connor, Stephen Moore, Rocky Elsom and Drew Mitchell all breaching the South African defence. The bonus-point was wrapped up before 25 minutes had passed but from there on in it was a South African onslaught, with Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers and Gurthro Steenkamp scoring tries to complement 24 points from the masterful boot of Morne Steyn.
As they did at Loftus Versfeld, the Wallabies hit the ground running. The Springboks had no answer to the pace of the visitors' offence or their continuity, which allowed them to seamlessly change the point of attack against leaden-footed defenders. Beale rounded off a superb team move for the opening try and benefited from precision work by Quade Cooper, Adam Ashley-Cooper and O'Connor. Cooper's long pass stretched the defence and with space in front of them the Wallabies' 13-14 combination made quick work of sending Beale over under the posts.
Their second followed five minutes later and was presented to them on a platter. John Smit horribly overthrew his jumpers at the lineout and with the Springboks scrambling to cover their lines the ball was quickly shipped to O'Connor, who stepped off his right to score.
Steyn kicked six points for the Springboks to momentarily take the attention away from the carnage at the other end but his side were soon on the back-foot again. Moore powered over from close range for Australia's third try, adding weight to his selection ahead of the less physical Saia Faingaa.
The bonus-point was wrapped up four minutes later and again the Bok defence was made to look alarmingly lightweight by O'Connor's burst, with Elsom providing support on his inside. The Wallabies skipper loped clear and crashed over under the sticks, silencing the crowd until they found their voice to boo former golden boy Bryan Habana following an error.
The Springboks showed heart to claw themselves back onto an even keel. Moments before the break Victor Matfield had the crowd in raptures as he broke from a ruck before collecting his own chip and chase. The finishing touches were expertly laid on as his offload was collected by Fourie, who scored his 30th Test try unopposed.
The wave of good feeling generated by Matfield's grandstand moment continued after the break. Steenkamp again showed his nose for a try by barging over from close range, the TMO awarding the score before Steyn landed a third penalty to bring his side within eight points.
A colossal error from Beale gifted South Africa their third try and closed the gap to one. The Wallaby fullback dropped in at scrum-half five metres from his line and fired his pass a metre over the fly-half's head and out of play. From the ensuing scrum the Springboks wasted no time in unleashing Jean de Villiers on the crash ball and the former Munster centre breezed past Cooper to notch another five points.
Steyn converted and following a lull in proceedings sent over a beautiful kick to snatch the lead for his side. The Wallabies retreated further into their shells, making regular errors and allowing the Boks to be swept along by a partisan crowd. The home side's task was made considerably easier by a moment of stupidity from replacement hooker Faingaa, a nasty spear tackle on Flip van der Merwe which luckily for him did not prove to be as costly as it was witless.
Steyn slotted three more points as Faingaa trooped to the bin but Australia showed their true colours with a gung ho try to tip the game back into the balance. Replacement scrum-half Luke Burgess took a quick tap on the South African 22 and allowed Cooper and Berrick Barnes to conjure sublime passes in the build-up to Mitchell's swan dive across the line.
A calamitous rebound off the face of Beale as Cooper looked to spread the ball wide led to Steyn's next shot at goal and the fly-half held his nerve to apparently hammer the final nail into the Wallabies' coffin. Van der Merwe could not keep his hands to himself at a last minute ruck however and Beale smashed over the winning points in the grandest tradition of John Eales and Stirling Mortlock. Next up is another shot at the All Blacks in Sydney, with another hoodoo to be broken.