South Africa salvaged some pride in Pretoria thanks to a thrilling 44-31 win over Australia, a Test that will go down as one of the best.
South Africa salvaged some pride in Pretoria thanks to a thrilling 44-31 Tri-Nations win over Australia, a Test that will go down as one of the classics.
Nine scintillating tries were scored at Loftus Versfeld in a fast and furious encounter – five of them coming from the Springboks – but the one that counted the most belonged to JP Pietersen who sealed the deal in the last minute of play.
The result brought South Africa's four-game losing streak to an end in emphatic fashion, and moves the Springboks one point above the Wallabies on the tournament standings.
The bonus-point win also allowed vice-captain Victor Matfield to enjoy a triumphant 100th Test on his home ground – the first of the three Bok centurions to have this satisfaction.
With New Zealand having already clinched the Tri-Nations title last week, the best both sides could aim for was second place in the remaining games. But while the competition may be over as a contest, the hunger to win is still very much alive as witnessed in the Republic tonight.
South Africa were 14-0 behind after five minutes and trailed 28-24 at the break, but came back well in the second half. However, as memorable as the breathless battle was, the defensive performances from both sides was one of the most inept in Tri-Nations history.
The Springboks were certainly the worse of the two for much of the contest, conceding four tries in the first half alone – three of them thanks to defensive incompetence of the very highest order. A year ago these same players were defensive giants, granitic in nature. Now they're being dwarfed by a younger, fitter outfit.
The Wallabies should have been ahead inside the opening two minutes when good work from their backs set up Drew Mitchell, who looked to have scored on the left corner, only to be denied by the television official.
But it mattered little as Will Genia then picked up at the base of a ruck and sold a dummy to Flip van der Merwe and ran through Matfield before crossing.
After Matt Giteau converted, the lead was extended after some exceptional manoeuvring by Kurtley Beale in his own half, which saw the full-back ghost his way past at least five Springbok defenders. He then found Rocky Elsom and picked out James O'Connor for his fifth Test try.
Another Giteau conversion followed, but the hosts finally managed to get on the board after nine minutes when Francois Hougaard's switched pass let flank Juan Smith run in under the posts.
Morne Steyn added the extras, although, Bryan Habana did his side little favour by gifting the advantage back to the tourists – the Stormers winger made a mess of trying to take a high ball from the kick-off, allowing O'Connor in for his second.
Giteau made it three out of three to take the score to 21-7.
A remarkable fifth try of the game came in the 14th minute when captain John Smit cleverly chose to set up a line-out rather than take the points and he was rewarded when Matfield's powerful shift allowed prop Gurthro Steenkamp to barge his way over – with Morne Steyn converting.
A 60m penalty from the Springbok number ten then cut the deficit even further and when Beale tried to do the same thing and missed, there was a sense from the home crowd that their luck was about to change.
However, it was again not to be – Wallabies lock Dean Mumm landing the bonus-point try for his side after 26 minutes. Mitchell's kick in-field from the left put Habana under pressure for the second time and the ensuing tap-and-go penalty led to the Waratahs lock powering his way over.
But the tries didn't stop there. Nine minutes before the break Hougaard latched onto a pop pass, slipped through a gap and then found Pierre Spies who went over under the posts.
Morne Steyn reduced the deficit to four with his conversion to complete a rare 52-point half in international rugby.
The Bulls fly-half and Giteau exchanged penalties after the restart, before Habana's third blunder arised when he overran a pop pass from Morne Steyn that fortuitously bounced for Francois Steyn – returning to the side for the first time since June -to dot down and give the Boks the lead for the first time after 50 minutes.
Morne Steyn completed a tough conversion putting Peter de Villiers' team three points ahead (34-31).
The hosts were then put under pressure when they failed to score with a lost ball on the Wallabies' line, and the visitors ran the length of the field -sparked by more Beale brilliance -only to be denied by poor handling after a ruck or two on the Springboks line.
The visitors sustained the pressure and this time it took Hougaard to bring off a try-saving tackle on Adam Ashley Cooper metres from South Africa's tryline.
Francois Steyn, noted for his booming right boot, then landed a penalty from his own half to stretch the lead to six with 11 minutes to play. And Pietersen added a late score, converted by Butch James, as the world champions closed out the win.
Man of the match: South Africa largely have scrum-half Francois Hougaard to thank for the win. He set up three of the Boks' five tries and made a try-saving – even match-saving – tackle when the home side were on the rack in the last quarter.
Moment of the match: Nine tries! Take your pick. But with both sides' defence exhibiting the resistant qualities of a weathered, old barn door and the intensity of touch rugby players at the tackle point – Hougaard's tackle on Ashley-Cooper takes the cake.
Villain of the match: No cards, but one feels that Australia were their own worst enemies in the second half at Loftus. The Wallabies' high error count prevented them from winning at altitude in South Africa for the first time since 1963!
For South Africa:
Tries: Smith, Steenkamp, Spies, F Steyn, Pietersen
Cons: M Steyn 4, James
Pens: M Steyn 2, F Steyn
Tries: Genia, O'Connor 2, Mumm
Cons: Giteau 4
South Africa: 15 Francois Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Janie du Plessis, 2 John Smit, 1 Gurtho Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Butch James, 22 Juan de Jongh.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (captain), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Saia Faainga, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Ben McCalman, 19 Scott Higginbotham, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Anthony Faainga.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)