Despite the loss of three stars in the lead-up the Wallabies somehow held on to edge a error-prone Springboks 23-18 in Brisbane.
This will go down as one the most courageous victories in Wallabies history.
Here’s our report card from the battle of Brisbane.
Powerful bench: With the Springboks leading 18-17 at half time and holding the physical upper-hand, the introduction of some youthful power from Wallabies replacements Folau Faingaa and Taniela Tupou turned the game Australia’s way. Tupou especially made a huge difference at scrum-time with Australia’s pack winning some big scrums in the closing stages.
Siya Kolisi: The Springbok captain was an inspiration for the tourists and the most dangerous runner on the park. He made a game-high 33 metres from eight runs, with one clean break, seven defenders beaten and even one offload. Kolisi was constantly lurking on the fringes waiting for that half gap to exploit. Defensively he also did a job with seven tackles made and none missed.
Backline cohesion: With such a patchwork Wallabies side, plus three late changes, there was always going to be a settling-in period but with a week to practice the backs should have had more fluidity. Kurtley Beale played a lot more direct than the man he replaced (Bernard Foley) usually does and with that knowledge Reece Hodge, Matt Toomua and Marika Koroibete should have been camped on his shoulder to exploit any opening.
Springboks mistakes: If the loss to Argentina in Mendoza was embarrassing, it’s hard to imagine how South African coach Rassie Erasmus will describe this one. The Boks were totally in control in the first half and dominated overall possession (56 per cent) and territory (60 per cent). A combination of poor attacking (11 handling errors to just four from the Wallabies) and defensive mistakes allowed the Wallabies to snatch it.
2 mins: Wallabies start brightly. A good break from Lukhan Tui down the left sets up a ruck just metres out from the Boks’ line. Australia stay patient and Michael Hooper dives over for the opening try.
15 mins: Too easy for the Boks. They set up a lineout close to the Wallabies line, then go for the rolling maul and stroll over. Bongi Mbonambi comes up with the five-pointer.
29 mins: Now it’s the Boks’ turn to attack close to the Wallabies line. South Africa stay patient and after the forwards suck in the defenders Faf de Klerk goes wide with a pinpoint pass to Makazole Mapimpi, who dives over.
33 mins: Madness from the Boks. A lineout close to their line and Mbonambi goes for the long throw. It skids away from Kolisi on the slippery Brisbane turf and straight into the arms of Matt Toomua who collects and slides under the posts.
39 mins: Wallabies have a defensive scrum five metres out but the Boks turn on the power and win a penalty, which Elton Jantjies lands. Important points just before half-time.
44 mins: Will Genia breaks and sets up play on the Boks’ line. Jack Maddocks is stopped inches short and the ball comes the other way to Rob Simmons who knocks on. Big chance missed for Wallabies.
48 mins: Another scrum five metres out and the Wallabies throw everything at the South African line but somehow the Boks hold on. Eben Etzebeth takes an intercept to clear the danger.
54 mins: A Toomua penalty goal puts the Wallabies in front but three points are scant reward for 88 per cent possession since half time.
61 mins: The Wallabies time to defend on their own line and the Boks look set to score but Elton Jantjies grubbers it through and it’s too long – the ball dribbles into touch.
66 mins: Incorrect call on Folau Fainga’a for a crooked throw – his second in a row. But from the resulting scrum the Wallabies win a penalty as Tupou dominates. Toomua nicks another three points.
77 mins: Francois Louw looks like he’s scored for the Boks but it’s called back for a tiny knock-on in the lead up by the TMO. Wallabies clinging to their lead.
80+ mins: It comes down to the last scrum five metres out, right in front of the Wallabies’ posts. The Boks go to the right and De Klerk’s pass is intercepted by Foley. Beale boots it into touch. Wallabies celebrate a heroic victory.
TACTICAL TURNING POINTS
The Springboks were confident that they were more powerful upfront, especially with the late withdrawal of Adam Coleman, and that proved to be the case – at least in the first half.
South Africa sought the contact while the Wallabies tried to play an up-tempo ball-in-hand game. But Australia, especially with so many changes and the greasy conditions, did not have the combination or skills to play an All Blacks brand of rugby.
The Wallabies fought hard to stay in the game and in the second half it was surprisingly Australia’s bench, with big contributions from young front-rowers Fainga’a and Tupou, that turned the tide.
Australia’s scrum in the second half was a different beast to the first and made a crucial contribution at the death.
For simple guts Australia get full marks. To lose three of your top stars – David Pocock on the day before the game, and Coleman and Israel Folau on match day itself, and still win: hats off to Messrs Cheika and Hooper. Courageous effort.
It will be hard for Rassie Erasmus to find anything worthwhile in this performance. Mapimpi’s try was well taken but the school-boy mistake to gift Toomua his try was comical and kept the Wallabies in the game at a crucial point. Error-strewn.