South Africa 44-31 Australia, Tri-Nations, Pretoria, August 28
Springboks battle past Wallabies
August 28, 2010
South Africa's Juan Smith crosses for a try against Australia at Loftus Versfeld
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South Africa produced a superb battling display to beat Australia 44-31 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria and notch their first win in this year's Tri-Nations.
Tries from Juan Smith, Gurthro Steenkamp, Pierre Spies, Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen saw the Springboks snap a four-game losing streak and ensure veteran lock Victor Matfield celebrated his 100th Test cap in style. A brace from James O'Connor and further scores from Will Genia and Dean Mumm had given the Wallabies a deserved half-time lead but they were unable to maintain their impressive tempo with the hosts weathering the storm thanks to some impressive scrambling defence.
In a scintillating opening, the visitors exploded into life and snatched a 14-0 lead inside just four minutes. The Wallabies began well and looked like they had been rewarded for their early endeavour when winger Drew Mitchell forced his way over in the opening minute. After a lengthy delay his effort was ruled out by the TMO but the Wallabies were not to be denied. The Wallabies continued to press and good continuity laid the platform for Genia to capitalise with the electric scrum-half offering a little show-and-go before darting over from close range.
Giteau added the extras to give the visitors a deserved lead and they would soon be celebrating again. A great break from fullback Kurtley Beale just moments later split the Springboks defence and he found support in the form of skipper Rocky Elsom who was hauled down just short of the line. But Genia again was the link man - feeding O'Connor for the game's second try which Giteau again converted.
Back came the Springboks and with their first significant piece of possession, Smith carved his way through the Wallabies defence on a great angle before coasting in under the posts. Morne Steyn added the extras to halve the Wallabies' lead but their joy was short-lived. Winger Bryan Habana coughed up the ball from the re-start and O'Connor pounced before speeding over for his second try. Giteau produced another superb kick for the conversion but there was yet more to come in a breath-taking opening.
Another set move, this time from a lineout deep inside the Wallabies' 22, created the opening for Steenkamp to burrow over for the game's fifth try with just a quarter of an hour on the clock. Steyn slotted the conversion and added a long-range penalty from just inside the Wallabies' half midway through the half. Beale attempted to cancel out that effort with a testing kick of his own shortly after and although the distance was not a problem, his accuracy let him down.
Luckily for Beale, the Wallabies' running game continued to excel at full throttle. The visitors sparked a move from deep with Mitchell then putting boot to ball as he ran out of room out wide. Habana found himself under pressure in the shadow of his own posts and Frans Steyn was penalised at the breakdown as he looked to snuff out the danger. Beale opted for the quick-tap and Mumm was the lucky recipient of the simple scoring pass - crashing over to silence the home crowd once again. Giteau added the conversion to cement his side's lead but the Springboks would not buckle.
Continuity was again the key for the home side with flanker Schalk Burger and scrum-half Francois Hougaard making gains inside the Wallabies' 22 before a gap opened up for Spies who powered over under the posts to make Steyn's conversion a formality.
A high tackle against Wallabies hooker Saia Faingaa on Hougaard handed Morne Steyn the chance to close his side to within a point at the start of the second half and he made no mistake from straight in front - to move to third on the Springboks' all-time points scorers list behind Percy Montgomery and Naas Botha. But Steyn was guilty of a similar offence himself just a minute later on O'Connor and Giteau was also on target.
An error at the re-start from the Wallabies then gifted the Springboks great field position with centre Jaque Fourie, Steenkamp and then Morne Steyn going close before Frans Steyn pounced on a loose ball to score in the corner and give his side the lead for the first time in the game. Morne Steyn added to his personal tally with an excellent conversion from out wide.
The Boks continued to control proceedings and the forwards turned the screw with only some desperate denying first Fourie and then Spies from extending the hosts' lead. Smith spilled the ball on the Wallabies' line with another score looking certain and the visitors immediately looked to counter with Beale and O'Connor combining for another sensational break up the touchline. The home side were stretched and the ball was recycled but this time it was Adam Ashley-Cooper's turn to cough up the ball with a try-saving tackle from Hougaard forcing the ball from the fullback's grasp.
Australia were not deterred and replacement James Slipper barged his way towards the line only to be denied by the Boks' defence and when the ball was recycled O'Connor failed to find Ashley-Cooper on his outside - passing the ball into touch.
Frans Steyn looked to edge his side nearer victory with a long-range penalty from just inside his own half and his kick sailed over with ease with a little over ten minutes left in the match. Chasing the game, the Wallabies kicked to the corner for the lineout with a little over ten minutes remaining but Matfield rose highest to steal the ball to the delight of the home crowd.
The Wallabies were soon knocking on the door again but this time they were their own enemies with an accidental obstruction robbing them of momentum. And instead it was the Springboks who produced the match-winning counter.
Hougaard snaffled the ball on half way and injected some pace into one final attack with able support coming from Spies. The ball was then worked wide to Pietersen and the winger ducked inside of the last tackle from Beale to grab his side's fifth and final try. Replacement Butch James slotted the conversion with the last kick of the game to set the seal on an epic battle.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.